“Dads in the delivery room” has arisen as a topic several times lately and, to my surprising, it has often been by people saying they are against it.
Instead, they want a return to keeping dads out.
Some dads I know have written about witnessing the birth of their child having dampened the spark of marital intimacy with their wife. One “expert” claims a man’s presence causes the mother more stress, prolonging labor and increasing the need for more medications or C-sections. Another even suggests that if a man is there he can’t really do anything and ends up feeling like a failure of a father from the start — making him less likely to be involved later, his ego shattered.
For all of them, the answer is apparently to go sit with Don Draper in the waiting room.
Frankly, I think this is mostly baloney. I can understand a man needing a while to get his head straight after seeing what his wife goes through, especially if it’s a particularly complicated birth. Some men take what they see harder than others. It’s beautiful, but it ain’t necessarily pretty. I think fear of this happening is a poor excuse not to be involved, though.
The day my son was born, I was right there, actively involved for every single amazing moment. We weren’t following any specific “method” or anything, but I was still essentially my wife’s coach through labor and delivery. My wife obviously did the hard part, but my job was to help keep her focused, calm and reassured. I also tried to help absorb some of her pain by letting her squeeze it out on my forearm (this location chosen after she almost broke my hand). I got to hold one of her legs and witness our beautiful baby boy come into the world. I was also under strict orders that, until he was safely out, I had to be the strong one and not cry. I did pretty well. Once he was delivered, though, I burst forth like a fountain with tears of joy. All I could do was weep uncontrollably and say: “He’s perfect. He’s perfect. He’s perfect.”
Men once were an entirely unwelcome presence at their children’s birth. Across most major cultures, it was pretty much the same: when it comes time for birthin’ babies, men, just stay out of the way. For a long time even male doctors were largely only called in if there was a problem the midwife couldn’t handle, as they went about what was unapologetically considered “women’s work.”
This has changed in the past couple of generations. Before the 1960s, few hospitals even allowed men into the “labor room,” and it would be the 1970s before they would widely get permission to be in the delivery room, too.
The idea of dad being in the delivery room for the birth of his child is almost ubiquitous today. There are exceptions, of course, and men who show no interest in being there tend to be, sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly, seen as some kind of “throwback.”
Knowing I wanted to write about this subject, I emailed my dad to ask about his experience. I’d always been under the assumption that when I was born my father probably didn’t even have the choice to be in the delivery room with my mother, if he even wanted to be. If he did have the choice, I’d assumed he probably sat it out. That isn’t to imply anything negative about him as a father, I just figured it was how things still worked most of the time, and he did what was expected of him.
As it turns out, I was wrong.
In 1973, when my brother was born, dad was with mom through 18 hours of labor and only left the room when the doctor said that the baby was breach, and suggested that dad may not wish to witness forceps being used. So he waited in the next room and rejoined my mom and still slimy brother just seconds after he was out.
With both me (’76) and my sister (’77) he says, “I was with Mom through the whole, unforgettable, amazing, miraculous, incredible event.”
They were not the revolutionaries, breaking new ground on gender role expectations, but they were “early adopters” (dad’s words) of something still quite new to society. I sort of feel like my choice to be a stay-at-home-dad is similar, and a natural extension of the similarities between my father and I that I already knew about.
It makes me happy.
A version of this first appeared on The Full Routly.