Those of you who are Archers fans will be aware of the storyline around the characters Vicky and Mike. Vicky and Mike are older parents-to-be and pre-natal testing indicated that the baby was highly likely to have Down’s Syndrome, which was later confirmed by an amniocentesis test.
The story is highlighting the issues that all parents face at such a difficult time, particularly around the acceptance of having a child born with a disability. Whilst Vicky decided she wanted to go ahead with the pregnancy, Mike found the news difficult to face, and said he didn’t know what was the best for the future. Like many other couples who have been in a similar position, Vicky and Mike found it hard to discuss the issue with each other.
The Archers has handled this issue in a very sensitive manner. Parents react to having a disabled child in different ways – this is perfectly natural and every parent is different in the way they accept such a situation. We have undertaken research in this area and found similar responses. In our research called ‘First Impressions’ we found that relationships between partners can come under great strain following a diagnosis.
Fathers do not always have the opportunity to bond in the same way as mothers, nor do they have the support (if available) from healthcare professionals. As one mother told us “It can have a devastating effect on your relationship ... I was angry with my husband for being self-centred, self-indulgent … it’s difficult for blokes because they don’t have the same sort of bond - especially if they’re not physically there and also, he is not a talker and he would have been overwhelmed by me wanting to talk about it. He was fearful of people and having to say things to people at work and I feel there isn’t much support.”
This then led us to focus in more depth the specific support required by fathers. We interviewed fathers who had children under the age of 11 with learning disabilities and they told us that they valued being involved in their children’s lives but sometimes things worked against this, such as services talking to mothers and ignoring dads; employers thinking fathers should not need to take time off for their children’s appointments. We followed up this with a national survey and found out that fathers have a strong sense of responsibility about providing care for their child and supporting their partner. Many are trying to spend more time with their child to meet these responsibilities, but their main motivation is that they enjoy their child’s company. They also feel that their involvement has a positive impact on their child’s life.
Whilst some services encourage fathers to attend and participate in meetings about their child, some meetings are arranged in ways that make it difficult for them to attend, or they are not asked for their views. Fathers need flexibility at work in order to be involved in their child’s care.
Relationships can breakdown when there is a child with a disability in the family and the current ‘Archers’ storyline is realistic in highlighting the different support needs of couples during this time, along with the need for more specialist support for parents-to-be. We look forward to listening to the ‘Archers’ to find out what happens with this storyline.