Our African friends just gave birth to a precious baby girl. This was their first birth in the United States, so it felt natural to ask about how this experience differed from their birthing experience in Africa. They of course mentioned the hospital’s amazing technology, chuckled at how seriously the newborn hearing screenings are taken and the number of birth attendants that came out of nowhere. What I wasn’t expecting to hear was their surprise that men attend births in the States. Dad confided in Tall Mountain that labor was way too intense around 2am so he went home to clear his mind. Baby of course didn’t wait for dad to return and was born without him at 5am.
“Were you in the room when Ayo was born?” he then asked Tall Mountain.
Was he ever in the room. I’m pretty sure he didn’t miss more than five contractions. By choosing to give birth at a birthing center, that was pretty much what we signed up for. In this model, much is required of the father, who is considered the primary birth coach. He isn’t expected to have a natural gift in midwifery. Through countless hours spent in classes at the birthing center, he is given the tools to understand labor and offer critical support to the laboring woman.
Tall Mountain was very much my co-laborer that day, prepared (as much as you can be) for the roller coaster of childbirth and offering the psychological and physical support I desperately needed to deliver a small human. He was profoundly moved by experiencing each stage of the birth of his child, and will readily agree that Ayo’s birth was the single most beautiful day of our life as a couple.
Not all proponents for natural birth would agree that men need to be or even should be present at the birth of their children. Surprisingly, the natural birth guru Michel Odent makes an ardent case against fathers present during labor and delivery. After all his work to revolutionize the birth room. He views birth as a sacred bubble in which the laboring woman must retreat uninhibited, if necessary with the support of another woman. Odent talks about fathers’ irreparable trauma after watching their lover suffer and her body stretch in unimaginable ways. Dad’s stress in the room may also prevent the release of mother’s oxytocin, slowing down childbirth and maternal bonding. It’s almost as if Odent didn’t believe there could be any adequate way to prepare men for what they would experience – and certainly no way men could be helpful in this long and tedious process women have to go through. (More on the subject here and here). But, perhaps ironically, Michel Odent is a man.
So, what do you think ladies? Was it pointless to fight to allow men into the labor room? Can you women see the case for birth in the presence of only women? How would your birth have been different without the presence of your spouse? Should all fathers feel an obligation to attend the birth of their children or should they be relieved of that pressure?
Though in this day and age it does sound somewhat surprising to miss the birth of your own daughter, I don’t blame our friend for not wanting to be in the labor room. Coming from his cultural context and not given much information, he must have felt so very out of place in a woman’s world and utterly helpless watching his wife endure the pains of labor. We loved that he could laugh in retrospect, about leaving his laboring wife to go home and nap. He still beamed with pride as he showed off his beautiful, first American daughter.