pregnant
Labour is often a grizzly experience - and men generally don't help.Reuters

One of the brilliant things about Mumsnet is the astonishing breadth of topics discussed on our Talk boards. Need a recommendation for a decent power drill? Want to thrash out the hot-button political issues of the day? Swap stories about inept partners? Mumsnet has it all covered.

Thus it was that one user asked: "What unhelpful things did your partner do while you were in labour?" She kicked things off by describing how, in the vain hope of taking her mind off the pain of childbirth, she'd agreed to play a game of 20 questions with her horrifically competitive other half.

After she's asked "maybe 100 questions" and *still* hadn't guessed correctly (her husband refused point blank to make allowances for the fact that she was *giving birth to a human being*) he triumphantly revealed that the answer to the conundrum was "the Nobel Prize for sodding Physics. To this day, whenever I hear of any Nobel Prize, I get the rag."

Reciprocal stories came thick and fast. Along with the usual tales of husbands who were in *much* more pain than you (headaches, a mouth ulcer, and tennis elbow were cited as examples of agonies which men felt at the very least matched the pain of labour) came the husband who not only fainted (twice) but also "at one point, during an internal examination, zipped his face up in his coat. Idiot."

My own lovely partner decided to give the gas and air a try during a break between my contractions - only to choke on his chewing gum and suffer a lengthy coughing fit that had all ward staff rushing over to offer the Heimlich manoeuvre.

Rather that, I suppose, than the guy who remarked, as his wife gathered all her strength to push his firstborn into the world, "Ewww, attractive face!" (her response is not recorded, but I think we can imagine).

Then there are those who are somewhat over-invested in the birth partner role. "I opened my eyes at the end of a long push to find him this close to my face", smugly modelling the breathing they'd been taught at antenatal classes, says one respondent. "Fortunately for him, I was too entangled in wires to smack him."

Another Mumsnetter's other half was glued to the monitor she was wired up to, and provided a running commentary when she was having a particularly big contraction. "I had already noticed, thanks."

'Don't you want some curry while you give birth?'

Generally, though, men seem prone to taking things less seriously than their labouring womenfolk would wish. "'Are you sure you don't want a bit of this biryani?'" asked one husband, while his wife was writhing in agonies. Another strolled to the DIY store, returned to the labour ward insouciantly swinging a carrier bag full of cans of emulsion. "I thought he was nipping to the toilet," lamented his partner.

A sense of urgency is also often sadly lacking. On discovering that the taxi firm couldn't send a cab for some time, one yelled up the stairs, "They're saying 40 minutes. Can you wait?" "I don't know," replied his wife, "Ask the other passenger currently boring down through my pelvic floor."

Then there's your basic common or garden ineptitude, like the poor man who "got my hair caught in the bloody mini fan we had to cool me down, and suggested cutting it out." Or the one who "fainted, slipped under the bed and banged his head on the way down. A nice lady from the coffee shop took him for a ride round the grounds in a wheelchair."

Pregnancy angry
This woman's expression so often sums up how we feel.iStock

It dawned on me the other day that maybe denial is just a form of self-preservation, a kind of cognitive dissonance that while uncomfortable is better than embracing the awful truth of what is actually occurring in those nether regions. As evidenced by the partner who, tasked with fetching some clean underwear for his recently delivered wife, turned up "an hour later with the tiniest thong he could find in my drawer, screwed up in his hand."

Bad, yes, but not as bad, as the husband who - inexplicably - answered his wife's mobile as the contractions came thick and fast. "'Hello? Oh, right. Yes, hang on, I'll just pass you over [tries to hand phone to me]. It's the bank.' I look at the midwife. The midwife looks at me. We both look at him. He takes phone back. 'I'm sorry, could you ring back another time? She's having a baby at the moment.'"

Given the propensity of otherwise lovely fathers-to-be to behave like eejits, it's a wonder second children are ever born. As one Mumsnetter wearily remarked: "Next time I think I'm just going to velcro him to the wall."

Justine Roberts is founder and chief executive of Mumsnet and Gransnet. She has also sat on the Expert Steering Group on Family Support Services, the Consultative Council of the British Board of Film Classification and the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement.

You can find her own Twitter @Justine_Roberts, or visit the Mumsnet page @MumsnetTowers. Alternatively, for all information about Mumsnet please visit the website here.

On 16 May Mumsnet is holding its annual Workfest event in London, featuring talks from the likes of Jo Swinson MP, Shami Chakrabarti and Anabel Karmel MBE. For more information please visit the website here.