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Dads That Deliver, and Dads That Skip Out Altogether

Dads That Deliver, and Dads That Skip Out Altogether

I think it was around the time my wife was pregnant with our first child that I had this curious conversation with a good friend of mine. Twice a father (and a devoted one at that), this friend was just brimming with opinions and empirical wisdom about the trials and tribulations of parenthood. “The one thing I regret,” he paused and then brought his tenor down to a hushed tone, “…was being there for the birth: I should have skipped it.” This was an unexpected sentiment from someone who makes a point of being ready and available for his family whenever needed. In his mind, being there during, and throughout, his wife’s labor was not really somewhere he needed to be, and in some respects had a lasting, semi-negative, impact on their relationship. His detailed justification for this conviction was highly personal, so I figure I should stop here with my account. However, the idea of fathers-to-be sitting out the birth of their child seemed justifiably retrograde in my mind and unappealing, to say the least.

But my friend is hardly alone. While I don’t have hard numbers on how many participate in the birth of their children vs. fathers who opt out, it is fair to say that since the 1970s, the number of hands-on fathers has increased. Men used to be relegated to the waiting room with other dads-in-waiting, as they caught up on sports scores and chain smoking. Now, while hardly requisite, men are welcomed in the delivery room/birthing room (if not expected) and not just to hold the video camera steady. Still there exists a marked disinclination by some fathers, which has been somewhat justified by a new bit of research out of Centre for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Researchers at the Centre believe that a father’s involvement in both childbirth and pregnancy are just setting him up for profound (and possibly irreparable) failure once he realized that, for all of his effort, he is ultimately passive compared to the mother. To hear Dr Jonathan Ives, co-author of the paper state it, “It can then be very difficult for him to regain faith in himself once the baby is born and move from that passive state to being a proactive father.” In essence, these researchers are saying that if dad passes on the birthing classes, the exercises and the child birth itself, he will, as a result, be all the more confident of a parent.

As a way to (almost) strengthen the argument for this separation, the New York Times ran an article some years back about witnessing their wives/partners giving birth (maybe multiple times) basically killed their sexual desire for their respective partners. “Honestly,” one man, married for 12 years, told the New York Times in the 2005 article, “I think one of the main reasons I don’t feel attracted to my wife is that I saw her give birth three times. It’s like I know too much about that part of her.”

Now I have read that the presence of a man (whether he be a doctor, husband, or videographer) in the delivery/birthing room can sufficiently stress the mother out, and effectively works against a smooth and relaxed delivery. While I did not experience this firsthand, I was keenly aware during my wife’s labor that my role was largely supportive, and almost marginal, and at moments when I tried to verbally engage her, she would quietly “shush” me. However, I took no offense and have no regrets about sitting out the 13+ hours by my wife’s side. While I wasn’t exactly engaging every muscle in my body in an effort to pass an 8lb baby through my loins, I was making a worthy contribution.

But we contemporary minded breeders love the idea of equality, and embrace the idea that a couple should, and will, experience birth together. But needless to say, gestating and birthing a baby just isn’t quite the same thing for a man as it is for a woman. While the partnership can be established with a certain parity and equality in mind, when it comes to the physiological experience of childbirth, mother and partner are just in two distinct camps.

Does this mean dad has to take a holiday from involvement once his partner becomes pregnant (I can’t help but wonder if this particular dynamic is at all present with lesbian couples where one is the biological parent and the other takes a more supportive role)? Or instead of relegating fathers-to-be to the waiting room, maybe we just need to recognize that pregnancy and birth might just be a bit intimidating and awkward for the father-to-be, but an experience worth going through? If you are there for the conception, shouldn’t you be there for the delivery? It might just have to be OK that the miracle of both pregnancy and childbirth brings forth two very distinct experiences for both parents with one very unified result – a baby.

Read more: Babies, Children, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, Pregnancy, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

53 comments

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11:51AM PDT on Aug 1, 2010

“Honestly,” one man, married for 12 years, told the New York Times in the 2005 article, “I think one of the main reasons I don’t feel attracted to my wife is that I saw her give birth three times. It’s like I know too much about that part of her.”

Personally, I think the man who said this is a horrible person. It reminds me a story that a co-worker told us. Her boyfriend and her were visiting a friend and his girlfriend who recently had a baby. The friend put down his girlfriend for having stretch marks from being pregnant with their child!

The man needs to take a good, long, hard look at himself as a human being and at his relationship with his wife.

4:00AM PDT on Aug 1, 2010

:)

10:06PM PDT on Jul 29, 2010

Two sides of the coin.

11:28AM PDT on Jul 29, 2010

I had my husband and a doula along with a midwife at my home birth. I think he was helpful but I'm not sure how it was for him.

7:35AM PDT on Jul 28, 2010

The father of my child and I decided early that he will be attending the birth of our child, and I do look forward to it as a bonding experience.. I do not think that a woman is at her worse at this time, but there is a quote a friend sent me that does apply here.. If a man cannot be with his woman at the worst times, he does not deserve to have her in the best.. REAL men support their partners and bond with their babies. .anything else is a poor excuse for a relationship. simply put.

7:08AM PDT on Jul 28, 2010

interesting,
I think it varies from person to person,
some women want to be only with other women when giving birth, some with only women with the exception of her partner,
and some men want to be there, and others might not.

3:29AM PDT on Jul 28, 2010

Thanks.

3:23AM PDT on Jul 28, 2010

thanks

11:36PM PDT on Jul 27, 2010

thanks

1:38AM PDT on Jul 27, 2010

The author of this article has a healthy attitude about labor and delivery. Thing is, is that the father to be doesn't need to sit there where he is going to SEE everything. Sitting up by her head just relaxing is just as good.

Ultimately, if you're overly squeamish, don't go, but then again, it's amazing what you can withstand when it's all about those who you care about. Moms, don't push too hard. Dads, don't dig your heels in. Go with the flow, and let it come out with ease. What ever is to work, compromise. Waiting out the door isn't the worst thing either.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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