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When I had my first (and last) child three years ago, Lord Blahblah skipped off on paternity leave when I was admitted to hospital to be induced on Wednesday morning (he may or may not have harboured dreams of writing his first novel, a week-long bender wetting the baby’s head and 14 hours sleep a night – none of which came to fruition). Unfortunately, my daughter inherited the famously tardy gene from both parents and didn’t actually put in an appearance until the Saturday. By then his Lordship had already used three days of his paternity leave.

I ended up in hospital until the next Tuesday, so we only really had one week of getting used to our new family structure. After a traumatic birth, I was hardly able to sit down never mind make myself lunch with a crying baby, when he went back to work after his allocated two weeks.

I was naturally panic stricken. Ordinarily, I’d have been barely able to look after myself with such limited mobility, and here I was with full responsibility for another human being who needed breastfeeding (ouch) all the time, hated being out of our arms and rarely slept for longer than half an hour. I had to brush my teeth, have a shower, make drinks, tidy the flat, keep on top of the washing the ‘real’ nappies (OK, so I quickly learnt to lower my standards, but this was what was going through my mind!) – this really wasn’t what I thought maternity leave would be like!

Obviously, we got through it all, and soon enough I was getting my teeth brushed and getting dressed before my husband came home at 6pm, but my memories of paternity leave are that it all goes by in a flash! So it was with some surprise that I read today that according the Working Families, four in ten men don’t take any paternity leave at all. But then of course, his Lordship works in the public sector and got full pay while he took his two week sabbatical. Statutory Paternity Pay is just £123.06 a week, which even if you’re earning minimum wage is a significant drop in income. Yes, having a baby is an expensive time, and you should be prepared financially, but it’s bad enough one of you having a huge drop in income without the other one (who could technically go to work) giving up some of his too.

Working Families are campaigning for employers to encourage fathers to take paternity leave and Harriet Harman is arguing that parents should be able to share maternity/paternity leave between them. I can’t help thinking of all the babies who are missing out at the moment on the chance to bond with both parents, and the fathers who aren’t given the chance to get their heads around the new addition before being expected to perform as usual at work. And then there’s the mother who may have had a difficult birth experience, be struggling with breastfeeding or keeping on top of sterilising bottles and the torturous lack of sleep and question if it’s any wonder so many of us end up with Post Natal Depression when we get so little support. I have no idea at all how women manage when they have one or more other children to deal with too…

Looking after babies may well have been ‘Women’s work’ back in the day when it was WOMEN looking after them, but most new mothers don’t have an army of grandmothers, siblings and friends coming round to cook meals, hold the screaming baby while you have a shower, give you a hug when you can’t get your baby to stop crying but have run out of ways to calm them down; we don’t have communities raising children anymore.

Parenting takes more than one person and babies and men deserve the right to bond – which takes much longer than two measly weeks. Come on government, put your money where your mouth is, and moany employer, just be glad the average family has just 1.8 children in the UK, surely you can fund this for the future generation?

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