Dads in the delivery room- help or hindrance?

There’s been a lot said recently about the role of dads in the delivery room and it’s been playing on my mind. 

From the moment the sperm meets the egg, more than a potential baby has begun forming- so too your journey towards parenthood has begun its formation, and you dont even know it yet. Your body is gearing up for some major changes, your mind is gearing up for some major changes too, and the impact on your relationship? You really don’t know what you are in for! Many women and men report mixed feelings- overwhelming joy and happiness, mixed with fear and apprehension. And the ever-present thought in the background “What will this mean for “us”?”

You are about to go from just the 2 of you to 3 (or maybe more)…and I think we’re all familiar with that saying “Three’s a crowd”! Well, sometimes I think that old chestnut applies here. Women go through the physical symptoms of pregnancy, and the emotional/hormonal upheaval….from the outside looking in, it would seem that our men just tag along for the ride, staying out of the emotional equation for fear of intruding on this sacred womens business….but do they really? If so, do they do it not by choice but by default, because that is all they know?  Do they develop an attachment to that little bean just as much as we do, but in a different way? Or is birthing just women’s business? Do men have a place in all of this at all? 

To me, a very obvious cultural shift has taken place in Australia over the last 2 decades- men have been invited into the secret world of childbirth, and they no longer need a doctors white coat and stethoscope to get the invite. They can hold our hand while we grip it in the throes of  labour, wipe sweat from our brow, offer encouragement and support  (or in my case feed me ice-chip after ice-chip- no talking, just ice- NOW!!)

Is this a good thing? I say yes!

Is it any coincidence that more dads are playing an active role in their childrens lives nowadays, partly as a result of being allowed “in” to this amazing event, the birth of their child?

They witness possibly the first breath of their baby outside of the womb, many gain an in-awe appreciation for the amazing ability of the female body, they get an insight into the reason why we usually dont desire to have sex a week after giving birth (very important!) , and they make all kinds of new and wonderful discoveries: from the wet-patch-of-a-different-kind on the sheets between you; baby poo and spew and their amazing ability to end up on every lounge cushion you own, they learn that “let-down” takes on a whole new meaning and lets not forget every new parents best friend- sleep deprivation! You’ve entered the world of parenthood together my dear friends- ENJOY!

So why not share it all, birth included (and that milky wet-patch!)

But seriously, if men are educated on all aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and the care and requirements of a baby, as well as the ongoing needs of a mother post-partum, surely their ability to provide real and lasting support to us and their children will be increased? This too applies to ongoing support of us during breastfeeding; in-depth knowledge and support of which is usually lacking by many (and not just men!).

I think that the concept of banning men from the delivery suite plays into the stereotype of the dumb male (aside from the omnipotent obstetrician of course ); that men are incapable of feeling emotion, a bit useless when it comes to things of the heart or soul. The outdated image of the bumbling dad & harried husband, which reminds me of old sitcoms (and some new ones!) comes to mind.

 Back in the day when men were banned from delivery suites, did they actively help raise their children, or were they emotionally distant from their day-to-day lives? Did they change nappies, help bathe their children, tell their kids they loved them on a regular basis and hug them frequently- all the things that were solely considered a womans domain? 

 Today, amongst our circle of friends, most of the guys are changing the nappies, cooking while mum does baths or vice versa, helping with homework and doing home readers. They are talking with their kids, not at them- the most pertinent distinction of all!

And I know that many men still dont do these things, but I am positive that things are changing. Sure, we women dont have 50/50 equality in a great many things in modern society, but I do believe the expectations of men as fathers has increased, and rightly so. Many more men are stepping up to the shared responsibilities of parenthood, and seeing themselves as more than just “breadwinners” but as nurturers. I see banning them from the delivery suite as taking a major step backwards, and making a lot of sweeping assumptions that are potentially detrimental. I mean what man wants that image of a stretched perineum burned in his mind forever more *rolls eyes* (oh come on, they’ve never minded looking before- what possible difference does one teeny little conehead poking out of a vagina make!) 

I also think it incorrectly adds weight to the old “woman as a commodity” idea- out-of-date concepts like : oh the poor husband, how horrifying to see his partners vagina from that angle, he will be scarred for life and never see her as sexually desirable again.

Women in our society are no longer here just existing to serve their hubands sexual desires!  Hmmmm, maybe, just maybe, for most men, the actual witnessing of their child being born, whether it is vaginally or by c-section, of taking their first breath out of the womb, of meeting them for the first time, is somewhat symbolic too, and a wonderful shared experience for both parents! And the sexual function of the vagina is furthest from their mind?

If we know they will provide inadequate support during birth, of course it makes sense to not have them there. But as for the rest, what is wrong with a man seeing what his partner’s body is actually capable of in all its glory? I think we underestimate the depth of emotion or potential depth of emotion that being an active part of the birthing process can facilitate. If we don’t “let them in” while we birth, how can we expect them to want to be there during any other important emotional experience? If they say they dont want to be there during the birth, can we offer guidance and information, empower them with knowledge lest they regret this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? What do we, as mothers, really expect of fathers today? Do we want them, ideally, to be actively involved from the very beginning, or would it be easier to have them be passive bystanders to the wonders of parenthood like they were in the past? 

We will always benefit from a network of supportive women surrounding us while we are pregnant, and more often than not women can provide invaluable support to us during childbirth and during motherhood- but I think we are long past the era of men sitting in the waiting room, cigars at the ready, waiting for that all-important announcement “Its a ….”

And I for one, am very glad.

3 responses to this post.

  1. My husband missed our first daughter’s birth because she was early and he couldn’t get there in time, it’s something that still upsets him very much. The second birth with him there was unquestionably better. There were lots of other things that were different, but having him there made a huge difference to me.


  2. Posted by Capricious on August 15, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    My husband was a lifeline for me when I was in labour, he was my voice and (as coined in a birthing partner book that he read while I was pregnant) was the guardian of our birth. It was the proudest moment of his life and was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between him and our son.


  3. My DH was present for the birth of our daughter, the thought that he would not be there never crossed our minds! Even though I got more *practical* help/advice from the women in my family, it was extremely important to know he was there.
    Interestingly, my FIL was the “midwife” at 4 out of 5 of his children’s home births!


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