Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Men and Childbirth

Michael Odent is apparently a famous obstetrician, and apparently he has opinions about having fathers in the delivery room when their children are born. I just read the whole article, and I have opinions.

I suppose it's possible that there are couples for whom the experience of going through childbirth together could interfere with their future sexual relationship. I mean, there are lots of different kinds of people in the world, and if someone's husband is going to get all weirded out when he sees his wife's body doing what nature designed it to do, and have post-traumatic sex disorder, well, ok. I don't understand it, but I can see how it's possible.

I can also imagine that there are women who would feel inhibited by the presence of their husband in the delivery room. I am not one of these women. I have never had an inhibited moment in my life. There are a lot of women who have a bowel movement when they're pushing. This is so normal and so routine, and even if you're like me, so embarrassing, and I can imagine that there are women out there who wouldn't be able to let go and do what they need to do (because pushing out a baby feels an awful lot like pushing for other purposes). So, yeah, for these ladies, I can imagine that the presence of the husband could, possibly, slow things down.

But then I realized that, like with all things related to pregnancy and birth and childrearing and family and nearly everything else in life... There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer.

Personally, I can't imagine going through labor without BJ. He is the World's Greatest Labor Coach. If I had sat down and designed a perfect script for him to follow during labor and delivery, I couldn't have done any better than he did all on his own. When Claire was born, he and I were so "in the zone" together that we didn't even see the lights or hear the sirens that went off (because she came really fast, and no one was ready - my dad, step-mom, and sister, who were also in the room - told us about it later) (yes, I gave birth in front of my dad, step-mom, and sister. I told you "inhibited" wasn't in my vocabulary). He was, quite literally, everything I wanted him and needed him to be and more. In my opinion, that's what partners do for each other. That kind of support is the cornerstone of our marriage. But that's us.

I recognize that not everyone is married to BJ. My friend Julie calls him a "pod person" and is convinced that he is an alien. Not everyone has the same sort of relationship that he and I have, and so I guess it's possible that the new (relatively... dads weren't just beginning to be "allowed" in the delivery room when I was born (and I'm sorry, but if I'm the one doing the pushing, I am the one who gets to decide who is and is not present, thank you very much, it's a good thing I didn't have to try to navigate the 50s and 60s, and I wasn't paying much attention in the 70s. It wouldn't have gone well for anyone.)) expectation that dads should be there could be uncomfortable for some couples, and could, in fact, cause a stall in labor.

With c-section rates where they are (right around 35%, depending on where you live, last time I checked), I think it's worth examining all possible causes of the increase. Maybe, maybe, dads are causing labor to stall in some situations.

(I would like to pause here and point out that this is a very different point of view than the first reaction I had to this article which was, basically, "Baloney..." See? I'm getting so mature in my old age. I posted a comment at Strollerderby that said, "Baloney," then thought about it for a while and toned down my own opinion. This is progress.)

I guess, if other doctors and medical professionals think this may be true, the answer would be to counsel couples on what to expect during labor, and how their own personalities might cause them to react to the experience. Questions like, "Do you feel comfortable going to the bathroom in front of your husband?" and "Does blood make you faint?" would be worth asking. Maybe we shouldn't assume that a father should be in the delivery room, any more than people should have assumed that fathers shouldn't be in the delivery room a generation ago.

My grandfather actually got special permission to be in the delivery room when my mom was born (in 1951) by saying that he was writing an article or a paper or some crazy thing, and it was "research." He was not allowed in the room when my uncle was born in 1954, and I remember hearing it told (is any of this true?) that there was a nurse at the door with a hypodermic needle, waiting to knock him out if he tried to come in (my uncle was 12 pounds, 2 ounces, and the hospital told my grandfather that my grandmother was going to die, and she very nearly did, I guess, and that's why there were threats and stuff, because Papa didn't like that prognosis, but anyway they all lived happily ever after for a long time after that, and someone who remembers the rest of the details can fill them in). My dad wasn't present for my birth, but he was there for my brother and sister's homebirths. I was there for my brother's too, actually, but they didn't let me in for my sister's because the cord was around her neck. (She's fine, too). BJ's dad wasn't there for BJ's birth, or for BJ's brother's birth. He doesn't do well with medical stuff. I had to convince him that it was ok to watch my ultrasound video - and that it looked more like a black and white weather map than the inside of my body.

I guess my point is that there are a lot of different kinds of people, a lot of different kinds of relationships, and a lot of different kinds of marriages. All of these different folks have different comfort levels, expectations, feelings, preferences, and so on, and all of the above should really be respected by the people who decide these things. If a mother doesn't feel like she can get comfortable enough to have a baby if her husband is present, then she should have the right to decide that he doesn't get to be there. If a husband doesn't feel that he'd ever be able to look at his wife the same way again after watching her give birth, or if he doesn't think he could handle the blood and guts and stuff, he shouldn't be expected to be there. (However, he and the mom should definitely work together to make sure that the mom has enough support, whether that's her mother or her sister or a doula or the neighbor or whoever. I'll even loan BJ to you if you find yourself in that situation).

I'm really grateful that I live in a time when the cultural norm (dads are present) was consistent with what I wanted and needed when I was in labor, and that I chose a dad for my kids who rose to the occasion so beautifully. I hope that as we evolve as a culture, we can move away from rigid expectations ("Dad WILL be there!" or "Dad WON'T be there!") and toward a more flexible model - not just in birth, but in lots of areas.

What were your birth experiences? Who was there? Would you do it the same way, or differently?


Rob Monroe said...

I was in the room for Abby's birth, as was my Mother In Law. I am told that I was much more helpful than my medically trained In Law, but I don't flaunt that.

Here's our story, as told by both of us:

My father, at the time a medical professional in the Navy, was watching football while I was born. Yeah, I really don't feel the need to be around him, even to this day. Oh well.

Erin said...

Going through labor has been on my mind a lot lately, especially since a friend of ours is undergoing a home birth with her 4th child. Last we heard (as of Monday) her water had broken and labor had stalled at 4cm dilation. She's been this way for about a week. They have been consulting the midwife a lot though as you can imagine.

So I've been wondering what would we do the second time around. Matt would definitely be there. I know I need him there-no question about that! In fact I was pretty ticked off when I was given the epidural and the staff ordered Matt & my mom out of the room and locked them out of the ward. (Upon further reflection, Matt said he should have just stayed outside the door instead of leaving the ward to hang out in the waiting room. But we will not be at that hospital again.)

Anyway, I did have an interesting story for you. My mom, uncle and two aunts were born at the same hospital with the same doctor in 1940, 1943, 1945 & 1947 respectively. When Mom was born (she's the oldest) my grandfather assumed he'd be waiting in the waiting room. The doctor actually invited him to stay in the delivery room. When my uncle and aunt were born, he stayed in the delivery room again. When my youngest aunt was born he assumed that he'd be allowed in again, but no. He was ordered to the waiting room. His reaction was, "What do you mean? You know I was present for my other childrens' births!" It was the same staff and everything, but apparently the rules had changed.

Incidentally, my grandmother had no memory of her deliveries. I guess they knocked her out or something. She honestly didn't know what all was entailed until my oldest cousin requested having our grandma be present when she delivered her daughter. The first person who held my little cousin was our grandma at her mom's insistance.

Jen said...

At that point, I didn't care WHO was there - I just wanted to be done with it. Anyone who is truly worried about an errant bodily function must be in the early stages...

Third Culture Mamma said...

I think expected parents are pressured into feeling that birth has to be a two-person experience, which is not always conducive to a successful birth. I don't think Odent is saying men should never be there, but that it's often more complex then just wanting to have the father of the child present.