A few weeks ago at the MADs Awards for mummy and daddy bloggers I met Ben Wakeling - a daddy blogger, and, I discovered, author of the incredibly funny (not to mention astute and insightful) Goodbye, Pert Breasts book and blog.
When he first started telling me about it, I must confess I thought, hmmm, okay, dad-to-be writes about his wife's pregnancy. Why would I, as a woman, be interested in that?
Then I got a copy and, after spending ten minutes snorting with laughter just at the glossary, I had to concede he was on to something. Not only can Ben write like a dream and engage the reader (his delivery is brutally hilarious - telling-it-as-it-is doesn't even come close) but he has that rare ability to package up dollops of sterling advice and wisdom in a way that's neither condescending or patronising - and that's a rare treat in a parenting book. I caught up with him post-read to find out a bit more about his chosen, specialised subject...
So, Ben, you certainly don't shy away from the business end of childbirth - have you always been something of a 'new man'?
I guess so – I'm certainly not a butch bloke, put it that way; I think my 3 year-old son has more chest hair than me. In my day job as a Quantity Surveyor I spend a lot of time on construction sites, and stick out like a sore thumb when sat with all the workmen as they dive face-first into bacon butties and yell "Waaaaaaayyyy!" at page 3 of The Sun. I don't mean to portray myself as some kind of Nancy, though – I do play and watch sports, y'know, drink beer and stuff. I also tend to say what I'm thinking without filtering out anything that might be offensive or inappropriate, which gets me into trouble from time to time. The great thing about writing a book is that I have the freedom to write whatever I like and deal with any repercussions later...
You are very open and matter of fact about the more 'messy' aspects of pregnancy and birth - did anything gross you out at all about childbirth - either in your experience or when writing the book?
The fluids. Oh my word, the fluids. As if the sound of my wife's waters breaking wasn't enough, having to see them almost tipped me over the edge of consciousness. But I can't fault her, she was amazing. I was expecting the kind of air-raid siren wailing I'd seen on TV, but a couple of grunts and my son was out – fantastic.
And then there's the mucus - one thing about pregnancy that amazed (and kind of repulsed) me is how open expectant mothers are about the level of their cervical mucus. It's completely bizarre: if I was to stroll into work and politely ask the receptionist about her mucous, I'd get a slap in the face and a P45, but I could quite easily have a full-blown conversation with a pregnant mum I'd never met before about it, and she wouldn't bat an eyelid. If we have the time, we might even start talking about how soft her cervix is.
Your glossary has an entry relating to mid-delivery poos - is that the kind of thing new dads chat about down the pub?
Perhaps, but only after a few beers, and once all chat about football had been depleted. But I don't think it would be an in-depth discussion about meconium: what it is, why it happens, and the like. I think we'd just share our individual poo tales: for example, when my first son was born, he did a poo on my arm while I was holding him. I didn't notice and wiped my face once I'd passed him back to my wife. For about five minutes I looked like a minstrel chocolate, and didn't even realise it.
What do you think men NEED to know about pregnancy and birth?
That the man is completely, solely and indisputably to blame for any discomfort, aches and pains that the mum might experience during the nine months of gestation - despite the initial act being a two-way affair, however quick it was. But dads should also take any flak that comes their way on the chin, and not rise to the bait (*whispers* that's what they WANT you to do.) Oh, and, a cup of tea followed by a good foot massage will earn you untold Brownie points.
What do the other men in your life think of your book? Your dad, your granddad?
My dad really likes it, purely because I've not included any embarrassing stories about him, and I dedicate a good few sentences to how great he is at buttering toast. My granddad on my father's side hasn't read it, I don't think – he wouldn't get the humour and would probably be deeply offended at the fact the word 'breasts' is in the title. My granddad on my mother's side also hasn't read it, but is very proud – he was a writer himself.
And your mum? Did she think you had no right meddling in 'women's business?!'
No, my mum wasn't fussed. I talk to her about pretty much everything under the sun – it makes other people very uncomfortable. She loves the book as far as I know, although she did message me the other day to tell me the 'Letter to my Foetus' had made her cry. Not the intended reaction but I think she's menopausal, so she's entitled to a few random hormone levels.
And your wife...your poor, poor, wife... Was there anything she would not allow you to put in or comment on?
Everything I wrote was passed by my wife first, for two reasons: we share the same sense of humour, so if she laughed I knew it was funny; and to check that she was OK with everything I had written about her. To be honest, there's not a lot she disallowed me to talk about, which I'm very grateful for. Otherwise, the diary would be pretty boring, and would read something like "Week Twenty: Still pregnant. Week Twenty One: Still pregnant..."
How have her friends reacted to the book?
They absolutely love it, which is great. Even the ones who don't have kids reckon it's a jolly good read. I know there are some ladies who are bound to take offence to the title, but hopefully once they read it they will realise that it's a cheeky title to a very cheeky book!
You can order Goodbye, Pert Breasts direct from Ben's blog at http://goodbyepertbreasts.com/
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