There was this article that has recently been printed in which Dr. Michel Odent, world-famous obstetrician, says that he has long thought that men hinder the birth process. One of my fellow independent childbirth members emailed him directly, and he said that the article was not written by him, but by a journalist after a telephone interview, and that he has never said that men “should not be at the birth of their child.” Still, it opens up an avenue of thinking and questioning for me.
First, my personal experience — I was glad that my husband was there with me when our first child was born, but he didn’t really help that much; the midwife and doula were much better at the whole “labor thing” (which stands to reason, since it is their job and calling, and what they do all the time, while it was the first time for my husband). It is one of my biggest regrets that my husband missed the birth of our second child, being out of town and unable to make it back in time.
When I’ve posed this question or made a statement along this line in my birth-related email groups, there have generally been two types of response: 1) women who gush about their husbands and say that they couldn’t have done it without them; and 2) women who have the same thoughts as me — that men are not really that beneficial at a birth.
There are some men who should not be at a birth. I’ve recently read a blog post in which a woman said that although she felt like she was handling labor fine, her husband talked her into getting a C-section because he couldn’t stand seeing her in pain. (I guess that a C-section recovery isn’t painful?) One of my brothers-in-law watched TV the whole time my sister was in labor, and was glad when she got an epidural so he wouldn’t have to listen to her vocalize during contractions. I’m not saying that these types of men are hopeless causes, but that if they’re not willing to be supportive of their wives during labor, then why should they be there at all?
Back in the 50s, it was taken for granted that the father’s “place” in labor was pacing in the waiting room. Then came the “natural childbirth” revolution of the 70s and the pendulum quickly swung to where it was taken for granted that the father’s place in labor was to be right by the mother’s side as a labor coach. I will posit that neither of these extremes is totally accurate or healthy. Most men fall somewhere in the middle.
Some men may start out having to be coerced to attend the birth of their baby, and then be ecstatic when they are there to witness the birth. Other men may not even entertain a thought of not being there, but be disturbed by what actually happens at birth. (There may be sexual side effects either from seeing the birth itself, or having so many strangers touch his wife’s genitals, etc. It may be disturbing to many men to see their wives in pain yet be unable to stop it — they may even feel guilty for getting them pregnant in the first place. Some birth attendants may be rude or unfeeling, and leave the man feeling like he should have done something, but didn’t know what.)
While having your husband at the birth may be the best thing to happen, it would be extremely beneficial to have certain things ironed out beforehand, to make sure you’re both on the same page. Men are different from women. I think it’s an extremely important fact that for all of recorded history, up until fairly recently, childbirth was “women’s business,” and the usual order of things in almost every society in the world was to have other women attending the laboring mother. Sometimes the father of the baby was there, but this is the exception to the rule. Don’t expect a man to act like a woman. Hire a doula or a midwife if you want the unique benefits that a woman offers. Men can be wonderful — may even be surprising!
Case in point — a friend of mine realized that her husband would not be the kind of man to support her in labor as she felt like she needed to be supported. On one of the long drives back from a childbirth class, she had the painful discussion with him, and basically let him off the hook, and mentally lowered her standards of what she expected from him. In labor he was “P-E-R-F-E-C-T” she said — he read her cues, did what she wanted without asking, etc. Perhaps it was that he was able to relax, and feel like he wasn’t being held to an impossibly high standard. Perhaps he just wanted to prove her wrong. 🙂
Childbirth is an amazing, life-changing time — for both mother and father. While I think it is unfair to bar all men from attending the births of their children, I think it equally unfair to mandate all men to attend the births of their children. Think about it. Ask him what he wants. Ask yourself what you want. Have the difficult discussion with him if necessary. Hire a doula as a labor support — both for you and for him — having a knowledgeable and well-trained person to “fall back on” or suggest helpful things can ease the pressure. And be realistic about your husband’s personality. Don’t try to force your husband to become a perfect female labor companion. Men are different from women. Enjoy that! And be realistic.
For another perspective, click here.