Final year Undergraduate student Ebbi Witt became a mother during her degree. Here she explains how her family dealt with lockdown, and how it provided a special opportunity for her husband Ishtar to spend time with baby Boaz…
It is often taken for granted that from the moment your child is born, an instant and unbreakable bond is formed. For most, this transition into parenthood is far from smooth. There are many variables that affect the connection between a newborn and their doting parents.
My husband, Ishtar suggested that he “definitely felt guilty” for not instantly connecting with Boaz when he was born, and I directly related to this gentle confession. It’s a condemning feeling, and a lot more common than you’d think. The nine-month journey into motherhood is a physical experience that can’t be ignored. Although it still took me some time to adjust to the new reality of having a tiny human depending on me every hour of every day, we quickly formed an attachment. But the process of becoming a father is very different.
‘Slow bonding’ is a term used by healthcare professionals to describe the natural process of relationship building with a newborn overtime. This process is rarely talked about although experienced by countless new mums and dads alike. As the NHS states that one in ten women experience post-natal depression, it is unsurprising that according to the National Childbirth Trust, one in ten men suffer from depression during their partner’s pregnancy and after birth. Ishtar shared with me that although he didn’t experience depression, he “definitely felt very lonely at times.” Becoming a stay-at-home dad during a global pandemic is understandably an incredibly isolating experience. But it provided an invaluable opportunity for Ishtar to connect with our son.
Statutory paternity leave is limited to two weeks in the UK. Although Ishtar was furloughed from the first lockdown, there was a potential that he’d be called back into work at short notice. After an initial two months together as a family, we quickly realized that the benefits of Ishtar being at home far outweighed the financial implications of losing a monthly pay cheque. As I continued to study full-time, and we joined the 1.2% of families where the father is the primary caregiver. It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
In comparison to support offered by other countries, paternity rights in the UK are far from generous. There is flexibility for couples to take shared leave for up to 37 weeks but the joint factors of my desire to breastfeed and complete my studies disqualified this as an option for us. Spain, on the other hand, is currently leading Europe with regards to financial support for paternity leave. A new policy introduced in January 2021 entitles both parties to sixteen weeks of leave on full pay. This settlement is non-transferable which encourages parents to take the entirety of the time offered in full. It also provides much needed space for new parents to connect with their newborns whilst also establishing a precedent for fathers as caregivers. South Korea and Japan currently offer the most progressive paternity support consisting of 52 weeks leave fully paid.
However, these figures are moot due to the cultural norms within these societies discouraging fathers from taking this time, as raising children is considered as the mother’s responsibility. Sweden also offers excellent paternity support as both parents share 480 days of leave on 80% of their average salary. Couples are legally required to split this time with extra days being added for twins. This leave also has a healthy shelf life, not expiring until the child turns eight. Home to the ‘latte dads’, Sweden’s paternity policy has normalized the daily occurrence of groups of prampushing fathers regularly meeting for coffee.
In an interview with the BBC, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, Health and Social Affairs Minister for Finland outlined her reformed support package for new families starting in 2021. With the aim of “promoting wellbeing and gender equality” couples will be entitled to a state issued allowance for 14 months equating to 164 days per parent. All couples will have access to the scheme regardless of gender or whether they are the biological parents of the child. New Zealand supports new fathers with 26 weeks of primary care weeks leave fully paid by the state. An additional 26 weeks of extended parental leave can also be taken with the same financial offering.
As an acclaimed progressive and liberal nation, the UK has a long way to go with regards to paternity rights. If parents didn’t have to choose between family and finance, the journey into parenthood would be an enriched experience. You only have to look at Ishtar and Boaz to see the benefit of creating space to develop relationships from an early stage.