Debate: Fathers Attending Labor and Birth of Their Babies

I read an interesting post on CafeStir where the author was slamming Sarkozy for not being present at the birth of his daughter. It brought to mind a stir that went through the childbirth community about a couple years or so ago when renowned OB, Dr. Micheal Odent, wrote an article about how fathers being present at birth is harmful to the mother.

Both these posts use the word, “Never.” Amy says it is NEVER ok for a father to miss his child’s birth. Dr. Odent says fathers should NEVER be present. I disagree with both of them.

Amy says it is selfish and inappropriate for a father to miss the birth of a child. There is definitely a recent mindset that seems to “require” fathers to be present and active in what was once largely considered a female-only occurrence. And while my own husband has always been present at the birth of our children, and gladly so, some men are not in a position, emotionally or physically, to be able to do so.

Some men are unable to be present at the birth of their children. I had a childbirth education student who had such a severe phobia of hospitals that when his wife risked out of a home birth due to pre-eclampsia, she labored with a doula and her mother, instead of a husband. Of course, many men are deployed or unavailable because of their employment situations, leaving their wives to find other means of labor support. And sometimes a man might just not be the right person a woman wants with her: I’ve met two women recently who specifically did not want their husbands present at their labors for differing reasons.

Dr. Odent hints at some of the emotional or circumstantial reasons why a man might NOT be present even when he’s physically in the same town (ie, not deployed overseas or forced to be in another location for work, etc).

In a difficult or traumatic birth, a man’s emotional distress can rival that of a woman’s depression postpartum. I have personally witnessed a traumatic birth experience after which the husband ran off with the babysitter less than a month later – both the wife and the husband say that her traumatic hospital birth experience was a huge factor in what happened during that period of infidelity. One health care provider mentions noticing an increase in “flu or illness” in the father’s postpartum which could be physical signs of mild depression.

Another reason Dr. Odent gives for why men should not be present is the difference in hormones and how his presence can actually slow a labor. I’m not sure how much I agree with this as a blanket statement – especially given the fact that my own precipitous 2 hour labor was almost entirely spent with my husband as sole labor support, and my mom taking over the “midwife” role. I have, however, seen – and studies have shown – the importance of a FEMALE support person being present during a woman’s labor.

And that’s where I think the key to this issue lies. If we, as women, are expecting our husbands to take the place of the traditionally-female-to-female labor support people, we are doing them a huge disservice. That’s like getting married and expecting your husband to suddenly change personalities!

There’s a reason why labors are shorter, reported as less painful, have a better chance of ending with vaginal vs. surgical deliveries, require fewer epidurals, etc when women have a dedicate female support person present. Because women connect with women on a primal level during childbirth in a way that the male brain (yes – there are proven physiological differences between male and female brains – this isn’t a judgement, only an observation) cannot.

So I do believe that a woman should have the option for dedicated labor support from another woman (be that midwife, doula, or knowledgeable friend/family member it doesn’t matter). I don’t think it’s fair to expect a husband to magically set aside his masculinity and become that for his wife.

HOWEVER – I also know that my husband played an important part in my own labors. And many women have reported the same. I do not think that a blanket “men shouldn’t be present” statement is any more valid than “all men should be there no matter what” statement. If I had a scary or medically involved birth experience I don’t think I would want my husband there to witness it.

I also know some men who don’t WANT to be there – and I think that their feelings are as valid as the woman’s feelings in that regard. I also know women – two of them in person – for whom the presence of their husbands during their labor would have been too distracting and they ASKED him not to be there.

I think that birth, like parenting, is so variable, with such a strong emotional component to it, that there is no one-size-fits-all snapshot that is the picture of “perfect birth situation” for everyone.

What do you think? Should men be at their children’s birth – no excuses? Or does Dr. Odent’s arguments against men being at their wives’ birth make sense? Or do you fall somewhere in the middle, as I do?


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