Fathers in the Birth Space
By Rachel Haun
Preparing for the birth of a child, presents women with a plethora of questions that they must think about. Among baby names, epidural preferences and hospital choices, most women have to answer the question of, “who’s hand am I going to hold while I push this baby out?” The widespread belief in America right now, is that the father should be in the delivery room. However, this is an issue that has caused a great deal of heat between couples, and disagreement throughout the world.
For most of human history, men were not involved in birth. The women of the village would come together and provide a support web for the laboring mother, and a midwife would deliver the baby. Men were not expected to be near the birthing space, and in some cultures, not even allowed to be present if they wanted to be. Eventually, men started to enter the birth space as doctors, as midwives were slowly pushed out of the medical system with witchcraft charges and intellectual scorn. It has only been roughly the past 40 years or so, since the discussion of the father of the child being in the room for delivery has come to the table. Now, it is expected that men be in the room with their wives or partners, though many are still highly uncomfortable with the concept.
The reasons for men not wanting to be involved in the birth of their child vary, but common reasons include not wanting to see their partners in a birthing state with blood, vomit and feces, fear about their sex life after the birth, or feeling like an inadequate support during birth. In addition to many men not wanting to be in the room, there are also a large number of women that do not want their partners to see them give birth. Many women worry about their sexuality after birth as well, and several would rather be surrounded with other women, not men.
There are also many men and women that think it is unacceptable for the man to not be involved in the birth process. Why should men be allowed to check out of the birth, and will that set a standard for their ability to be a parent after the baby is born? Some also hold the opinion that it is the man’s right to be in the room for the birth, as it is their child being born too. Birth is messy but beautiful and life changing, and denying men of that right to be involved in it is not fair. Some feel that missing out on the birth might also impact their ability to bond with their child.
The opinions surrounding this topic are strong. However, I believe that there are three needs of the family that couples need to consider in making this decision. The first is that women need support during birth. Whether the father of the child feels he can be that support or not, all women need to have someone to support them through the process. Doulas, mothers, and friends can provide incredible support to laboring women regardless of where her partner is. The second need is that fathers need to be given ample time to bond with the baby. Some men feel that this process will be richer if they are there for the birth, while others are okay waiting until after to meet their child. And lastly, couples must be able to feel connected. While one couple may feel more connected going through the birth together, others may prefer to see each other at the end as a new family. Ultimately, the choice is different for each couple, but if the choice is made with the support of the mother, the ability of the father to bond with the baby, and the ability of the couple to connect in mind, it will lead to the right choice for each family.