Dad in the Delivery Room

The subject of “dad in the delivery room” has come up a lot lately and, surprisingly, it has often been by people saying they are against it.

They suggest a return to keeping dads out.

Some dads have written about witnessing the birth of their child having caused a loss in the spark of their marital intimacy with their wife. One “expert” claims that a man’s presence causes the mother to be more stressed out, prolonging labor and increasing the need for more drugs 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 get men out of the room entirely, I guess 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 around the trauma of 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 to stay uninvolved though.

On the day that my son was born, I was right there, actively involved for every single amazing moment of it. We weren’t following any specific “method” or anything, but I was still essentially my wife’s coach through her labor and delivery. Obviously my wife 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.”

It used to be that men were an entirely unwelcome presence at the birth of their own child. Through most of history, and 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 pretty quickly, and drastically, in the last couple of generations. It was a gradual process, but things are completely different now than they were just 40 years ago. Before the 1960′s, few hospitals even allowed men into the “labor room”, and it would be the 1970′s 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 is, generally, no question that he’ll be there, assuming a good relationship with mom. There are exceptions, of course — men who choose, or are expected, to play no role in the actual birth, even just the role of “being there”. Situations like that are pretty rare now, 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.

I learned something new about my family’s “birthing history” today though. 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 breech, 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.

Join the Discussion!
Cory says:

Probably one of the most amazing events in my life…being handed our newborn son right after he was cleaned up by the nurses. I wouldn’t trade that feeling or memory for all the gold in the world.

Pam says:

Anna’s dad took care of her mom throughout the process as well, even though he fainted watching a taped birthing before the actual event. He did great in real time!

Tebriel says:

I was in the delivery room for all three of my kids birth. Nowadays, I’d have been somewhat hurt if my wife didn’t want me in there. I can understand why it’s been a women-only thing for so long, but I am very glad I was able to both support my wife in such a time of need AND witness the birth of my children. Like you said, it wasn’t pretty, but it was beautiful.

I have to also say that I think I have _more_ of an appreciation for my wife having seen what she went through in the labors. Bearing witness to the beginning (heh) and the end of the whole conception/birth process, I came to understand a bit more about the feminine mystery and who my wife is as a woman and as a mother.

Rutkowski says:

I was in the delivery room when my son was born back in July and I don’t regret it one bit. Sure, my wife banned me from helping her(but then, what could I do? She didn’t want anything to drink and I wasn’t allowed to touch her during the delivery) so it ended up with me reading some WWI books during the entire delivery(which made the staff quite perplexed) but still, being there helped both her and myself calm down. I wouldn’t take that away from anyone.