Friday, June 4, 2010

Fathers and Childbirth

Now, however, new research has appeared giving males an opt-out from the nonsense of being forced to attend antenatal classes and birth. According to Dr Jonathan Ives of the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Birmingham, men who are obliged to attend antenatal classes and be present for the birth of their children can actually become “deskilled” at parenting.

Dr Ives is working on a treatise named The Moral Habitus of Fatherhood, but let’s not hold that against him, because the rest of what he says makes eminent sense. He describes the dogma of “equal involvement” in childbirth as, “false, modern rhetoric”, and argues that men who feel a sense of duty to become actively involved in pregnancies are left disenchanted and self-doubting as they realise that they can offer little more than passive support to their partners.
Men are Better Off Building the Cot than Going to Antenatal Classes

"False, modern rhetoric?" My antenna went up when I read that because, thanks to Princess Grace of Monaco, I had already begun re-thinking my support of women expecting their husbands to attend their children's births. I read last week that she believed that men had no place in the delivery room. Until then I had assumed it was a good thing. My husband attended childbirth preparation classes with me and stayed with me through each delivery.

Would he rather not have been there? I don't know.

As I pondered Princess Grace's belief, I thought about the reasons I wanted my husband with me during birth. Primarily, I realized, it was because I felt so vulnerable, and I knew he would protect me and be my voice if needed. Despite the focus of prenatal classes, it was not because I needed him to comfort me or coach me.

Not only that, we had made a pact that if something was wrong, and our newborn had to be taken from me, he would go with him. This brought me immeasurable comfort, as I had a great fear that something would be done to the baby that I did not want or that our baby would accidentally get switched with another.

So I am not sure if fathers attending births goes hand-in-hand with the revolutionary spirit that laid waste to our culture beginning in the 1960s, or if it is a reasonable response to the drastic change from having our babies in the nurturing environment of the home to the cold, clinical, de-humanizing hospital maternity ward.

It is hard for me to fathom that "being there" actually can cause the father to become "de-skilled" at parenting as stated in the article. But the older I get, the more I understand how different men and women are. In my own limited experience with raising a boy and a girl, I have certainly seen it. Maybe the way they handled animal births here at home is really the way it is supposed to be. When our goats birthed, Emma would pull up a chair and station herself as close as she could to the receiving end of the expected kid. Nathaniel would run and hide around the corner of the barn and wait for Emma to give him the all-clear.

Artwork: Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto (Madonna in Labor)


Emily G. said...

I am very much supportive of husbands at births. However, I can see that if birth took place in a different environment than it usually does nowdays, I would not be quite as adamant about having my husband there.
I want him there to stand by me. So that when I'm in pain and I ask for something, or say no to something, there is always someone who is not preoccupied with labor to make sure my decisions are honoured. Also, same as you, I want him there in case the baby needs to be taken away, so he can be with the baby. I also think that, though so many people get involved in childbirth, the most important people are you two. You were the only two people in the room when that child came into being. You should at least be together as your child enters the world.
If birth was a laid-back, at home affair like it used to be, when mothers and sisters and midwives surrounded a woman during birth, perhaps I would not feel the need to have my husband there quite as much. But it's not. I gave birth in a hospital. My midwife was wonderful, but she was in and out. She wasn't there with me constantly. My mom was there for part of it. There were other people running in and out constantly. Pediatricians coming to introduce themselves. Anthony chased them out. No laboring woman wants to make small talk with a male resident pediatrician when her entire backside is bare. Anesthesiologists to offer their services. Cleaning people, often male cleaning people. A few times, I had my husband bring me a towel or sheet to cover up with because of the abundance of other males in the room. Worrying about your husband being a male involved with childbirth is pretty irrelevant when you are in a hospital situation. If anything, he can help preserve your modesty.
Anthony thinks that birth is disgusting. If I was totally comfortable with it, I think he would probably opt to spend most of labor and birth in the hallway. But I need someone to support me. If I can't afford a doula, and my mom isn't enough, and my sisters are too young to help in such a situation, he's my only choice. Plus, he knows be better than anyone else in the world. I think the bottom line is he belongs at my side. And he understands why I think that. In this upcoming birth, we think there are going to be even more things we want to stand up and say no too, and he knows it will be important for him to be at my side.
Birth is also dangerous, even now. If you should suddenly be at the point of death, or your child, how sad would it be if your husband was in the waiting room and someone didn't let him know in time?
Anyway, there's a smattering of thoughts on why I think husbands belong at birth.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Emily,

Thanks for the great comment. I especially appreciate all the detail about who all tracked through your room while you were in labor. I mostly wanted my husband's protection from the doctors and nurses, because I have a different mindset (it's natural, not an illness) about birth than they do. But when I read about all the other males in your room, I agreed with you. Your husband needs to be there. I don't remember having that problem, but it's been 17 years since I had a baby.

Kristyn said...

My last three babies have been born at home. I have needed my husband as much then as I did with my three hospital births. He was certainly more involved at home (in the hospital he was made to feel like the audience, rather than an active participant). I can understand the previous poster's point of view, but I have a different perspective, having given birth both in the hospital and here at home. My home births were very laid back, but I have long, drawn-out labors and quick, intense deliveries and I needed Tim's support and steadiness as I went through the highs and lows. Part of the reason we decided to have the babies at home would be so that he could bring his own baby into the world along with me. Our midwives were there to support us both, but my husband did most of the work. I will never regret that.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Kristyn,

Thanks for contributing a perspective that compares hospital and home birth experiences. You made the same point as the article, that your husband felt like he was in the audience at the hospital, but instead of it being because he was not needed, it was because hospital births did not allow him the involvement that he wanted. So, at least in your case, the problem was not that the father did not want to be there, it was that he wanted a more active role, which the hospital setting could not accommodate.

It sounds like your husband would not say that his parenting was compromised by assisting. That's reassuring!

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Matterhorn said...

I just wanted to say- that is such a beautiful painting! I have always loved it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mrs. Haught,
I hope you don't mind my saying...Coming from a family of 9 kids with 6 born at makes perfect sense to have the husband at the birth hospital and home..after all it is His baby too..=)
When our goats delivered their "kids"
Our whole Homeschool group was present...boys and girls...and it went perfectly fine,part of life you know...

Wendy Haught said...

Matterhorn--I love the painting too! Especially the colors.

Ali--Thanks for your input! I love it when I get to hear from young folks. I think you and Emma may differ on this one. I got the impression from her yesterday that she would rather have women assisting her and her husband right outside the door, waiting for the baby's first cry. I'm not completely sure, though.

Maybe Nathaniel could have handled all the birthing around the homestead if he had had the company (or the peer pressure) of other males. I sure would like to hear from some young men on this topic. And some dads!

Emily G. said...

I was thinking more about this after reading Kristyn's comment and thinking of the other home birth stories I have read and been told. I think that I would want my husband with me, no matter where I gave birth. His very presence comforts me like no one else's, even if he isn't actively involved.

Goat birthing was my dad's thing before I took over (though Mom is-a mom!- and a nurse). My dad delivered the goat kids. He taught me how to care for the kids after birth, and how to help the doe if something was wrong. It was my dad who gave mouth-to-mouth to a baby goat once, saving her life after she was born not breathing and a slap didn't do the trick. My brothers and sisters were all in attendance when I goat kidded, and the boys never acted funny about it-they were in fact less squeamish than the girls. It was just part of life.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure most of the Dads (I know,at least)do not become "deskilled" as far as parenting, but rather it's the beginning of their "parenting" and do not mind being there at all...labor\Birth is a hard
thing...matter of preference of course, but I would have my husband there for love and support...:)

Wendy Haught said...


Your parents are both so amazing. Your dad is a home brewer and gives mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to baby goats. I love him!

Anonymous said...

I haven't commented here before, but I feel I have something to offer on this post. Before I gave birth (at home, with midwives) I was of the opinion that I didn't want my husband there for the birth. We are inclined toward traditionalism, and we knew that women in childbirth have traditionally been attended by other women and fathers have generally not been present. Also, I had lost one unborn baby in a miscarriage, and on the basis of that experience suspected that during labor I would mentally turn inward and want quiet and to be left alone as much as possible--not handholding and support in the form of touch or encouraging words, or what have you. This did turn out to be true for me during the first stage of labor. But during the pushing stage of labor, which for me lasted more well over two hours, my husband ended up being an immense help--I still didn't want to be touched or spoken to for emotional support, but I did end up needing physical support. I gave birth in a supported squat position, with one of the midwives holding my hands and my husband pulling up on the ends of a sheet under my belly during each contraction. The midwife suggested this, and it was so very helpful to me. I have a small frame and was able to give birth to a 9 lb. baby this way without medical intervention! Neither of the midwives had the physical strength to perform this maneuver in the way that my husband did. So to other women who may be considering having their husbands out of the room during home birth, I would say, that's absolutely fine, just have him in earshot because you might end up needing him after all!


Wendy Haught said...

Dear Sarah,

I'm so glad you decided to comment. I love what you said! I never thought about needing his physical strength, and I've never heard of the sheet technique. Wow!
I bet your husband was so proud to be help you that way.

Kristyn said...

Isn't this becoming an interesting discussion? :)

I wanted to comment again after reading Sarah's story. I have also needed my husband's brute strength ;) during labor. My labors are always long and the last two times it was exacerbated by the baby being in a slightly off position, making my contractions not as effective as they needed to be. My midwife had Tim stand behind me and "lift" my belly during the contractions to help the baby move down more easily. My midwife is shorter than I am and this would have been awkward if she had to do it. Tim was the perfect person for the job. :)

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Kristyn,

"Isn't this becoming an interesting discussion?"

Yes, indeed!:)

I just loving birthing stories!