Should men attend the birth of their baby?

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.


10 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your perspective. It’s something I’ve given a considerable amount of thought to over the years.

    I think giving a man something to do, such as photography or video taping might be one way to have him present and not feel like the most intense part of labor is falling on him.

    Some men, because of how society has so changed could end up being hurt deeply if their wife were to altogether disclude them from the birth.

  2. Thank you for daring to mention the 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.” The lady calling from the hospital to schedule my “prepared child birth classes” was aghast that I don’t expect for my husband to attend the classes much less the delivery. We are both happy “living in the 50’s”! What happened to a woman retaining a bit of mystery?

  3. The question of whether a man is capable of being of much help is something I’ve touched upon in my book “Men at Birth.” You see men are not educated or socialized in the US for birth. They can be educated, but it requires a willingness. Many women expect an uneducated man to become sensitive and nurturing and able to handle the high level of emotion involved in birth — it is no wonder that physicians perform so many surgeries in this country thinking they are fixing women. Aren’t they coming out of a man’s perspective?

    The idea that women are in pain is very emotionally trying to men. They want their mates happy, and since 98 percent of births are in hospitals, there is constant access to drugs and interventionist procedures that frankly are a man’s way of handing birth.

    So ladies, don’t expect men to know what to do, for we are only going to agree with c-sections and pitocin and drugs as many of us can’t handle childbirth’s emots and emotions. That is until we are educated and understand how natural childbirth works.

    For most guys attending a birth is like standing on an artic slab of ice with nothing on and the wind howling. We are told by other men about how wonderful childbirth is — we don’t tell birth stories — men almost never talk about birth — it is an event that is foreign.

    Women need to change that if they want childbirth in America to change. If men understood how harmful a c-section was, and understood how dissatisfying a woman’s experience was when they are forced to have interventions and not allowed to birth naturally, then they would either be a real support, hiring a doula or midwife. But society itself is still teaching the birthing is done the male way in the hospital with the woman on her back with her feet up, etc. Look at how birth is shown in the movies.

    Your article is great by the way.

  4. Good piece Kathy. Not sure if you or your readers can help but I need to interview a father who DID NOT attend the birth of his child. Can you help?

    • Are you wanting to speak to a man who could have attended the birth but chose not to, or someone who wanted to attend but happened to miss out?

  5. […] Should Men Attend the Birth of Their Baby? […]

  6. The birth of our first child was traumatic. My husband was very encouraging and really sucked it up. But I don’t think he’s going to be there for the next one. He voiced that he didn’t think he could handle it. A lot of my girlfriends get indignant about how he’s not really the one going through anything….but he is…and he did go through a lot last time…so I understand why he would want to sit it out. I support him if that’s his choice next time. It’s then my responsibility to make sure I have the support I need. He’ll be there, supporting the family after the baby’s born and beyond 🙂

  7. No. A husband should be present at child rearing, and a husband should continue to be sexually attracted to his wife. Feminism (which encouraged men to be present at birth in the first place) has ensured that the former only happens occasionally, with a 50% divorce rate followed by very limited visitation rights for most dads. Meanwhile, the latter–sexual attraction–is probably decreased (leading to an increase in divorces, maybe). For a man, a woman’s “parts” should be organs of pleasure, just as a man’s should be for a woman. That pleasure is what releases all those hormones that we call love and that keep marriages strong (among other things).

    Ask yourself this: if we performed circumcisions at the age of 30 for some reason, should a woman be present at that?

    Manginas should be present at birth. Men should not. In most cultures, childbirth is one of the few moments completely controlled by women and is sacred for them. Let’s keep it a rite of the goddess. There’s no room for a patriarch at birth.

    Manginas should be present at birth. Men should not.

  8. Nicely written. I completely agree. Men should not feel they have to be there. And a PG women telling her husband she *cant* do it with out him is putting that man in a tricky spot. However this should not discount theme who want to be there/should be there. Their should be room for both and we should not make any man feel less than for decided to wait it out.

    I wrote a short blog myself on it.

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