A woman’s world?

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.

17 thoughts on “A woman’s world?

  1. This is an interesting (again !) post ! Mr Husband was partly there for the birth of our eldest son and it was a rather traumatic experience fir him (the birth was not an easy one) – he felt better at the very second he could hold his son for the first time (ie less than 5 mn after birth) though.
    And for our second son, he was not there. He wanted to be, and the midwife assured him he could go back home, take care and bring our eldest to daycare and cone back because the labor work had slowed down (epidural). But when he came back, baby was there 🙂 the final steps of labor very suddenly went so fast no one could really call him to hurry 🙂 but he was ok and i was ok with that as well – it’s been a joke between us ever since then !
    My point would be for every couple to take the time to think about what they really want (like TM and you did) and act accordingly. And no one should influence them in a way or another.
    I also know this is easy to say but probably not easy to do everywhere 🙂

    1. Do you think that it would have helped him to be more prepared for labor (by attending classes for example)? And if this were the case, how do you think you can prepare yourself as an accompanying spouse?

      Also, are people shocked when they heard about Paul not being present for E’s arrival? Do you think there is an expectation for men to attend a birth? I know in our circles there is, but perhaps that is more specific to the model we chose.

      1. I guess the answer to better preparation is definitively YES ! Paul wasn’t with me for the last 3 months of my first pregnancy so did not come with me to the preparation. As a result, I was super prepared for what finally happened and therefore not at all stressed (which quite helped the process according to the midwife). Paul wasn’t prepared and was panicked. The other point with him is that he is quite an hyperactive guy and staying with me all day in a closed room was not something he was ready for … But not one second did I resent him or feel he was a bad spouse/bad father because of that 🙂
        I don’t think people are shocked when we tell them he wasn’t with me for the birth of E. Surprised maybe, because he’s really involved in his son’s life and it might be suprising he was not involved at this particular stage but shocked, no.

  2. Je rajoute un commentaire en français. Paul yvait très envie d’être présent et impliqué dans la vie de ses fils dès la première minute. Mais il craignait vraiment l’accouchement, et je n’ai jamais voulu le forcer à être présent. Je ne voulais pas qu’il soit là pour me faire plaisir. Il a quand même assisté à la naissance de Yann, mais ça n’a pas été facile pour lui. Du coup, quand Ewan est né “sans lui”, ça a été moralement plus facile pour moi car je ne me suis pas fait de souci pour lui 🙂
    Je crois que c’est réellement une discussion primordiale au stin d’un couple et chacun devrait avoir l’espace de dire ce qu’il ressent 🙂

    1. Super intéressant que tu dises que c’était moralement plus facile pour toi, sans lui. C’est précisément l’hypothèse d’Odent). L’absence de Paul au deuxième tour ne veut évidemment pas dire qu’il n’est pas investi dans la vie de ses fils. Je suis d’accord que c’est à chacun de décider pour soi.

      1. C’était même assez marrant en fait, quand E était sur moi (peau contre peau) et qu’on papotait avec le médecin et la sage-femme, le médecin (que je connais très bien) a soudain demandé où était P. Elle n’avait même pas remarqué son absence tellement tout a été vite 🙂 Je lui ai dit que c’était la faute de la sage-femme (qui nous avait dit qu’avant 8h, le bébé ne serait probablement pas là, ce qui laissait largement le temps à Paul de rentrer, déjeuner, lever Yann, l’emmener à la crèche et revenir), qui a éclaté de rire et a reconnu qu’elle s’était bien trompée sur ce coup-là 🙂
        Mais encore une fois, c’était presque plus facile pour moi, cet accouchement entre femmes (le médecin était aussi une femme) 🙂

  3. i hardly think women labored in vain to get men into the birthing room. just today a new papa who had seen his daughter being born, gushed over being able to experience that with his wife and he marveled at how amazing a woman’s body really is. i think the idea that for a man to watch a woman give birth is in some ways tarnishing his view of the woman’s body into something less than sexy is a bunch of horse poo…it shows a man who owns his wife body in a terribly controlling way. i personally think giving birth gives a woman strength and shows her body to be a powerful tool- one that can be gentle and soft but also one that grunt and groan a child into the world. i believe it should be an honor for a husband to work hard with his wife to bring their children into the world. some men are squeamish and birth is not clean or quiet- and for those men who can’t stomach all of it- i feel sorry their make-up doesn’t get them to experience the miracle it is to watch your own flesh and blood breathe in their first. education is of utmost importance, though, in helping first time parents cross that line of “i am afraid birth will be gross and scary” into “i don’t know what my child’s birth will look exactly like, but i know what should and could happen.”

    all this from someone, like you, who thinks birth is A-mazing… and who has a husband who wouldn’t have missed those babies being born for anything in the world…and never fainted.

    1. I completely do agree with you. My Husband is one of those men fainting at the simple sight of blood and was not there for the birth of our second son (see above) and I’m not so sure education and preparation would have completely helped him overcome this. But nonetheless he is a remarkable father and spouse and has always been the first to remind me how beautiful I am when I whine about my overweight or the changes in my body 🙂
      When I gave birth there was not birthing center in my area. There are two now (I found that thanks to TCK) and if I would consider having a third kid I would probably go there as well 🙂

      1. i recently attended another birth where the daddy was present and the whole time we were all concerned that he was going to pass out. while mama labored great despite being concerned for her husband, she now thinks she won’t have any more biological children because her husband didn’t handle the labor very well. i wonder if perhaps he had not been in the room, if things would be different. . . it’s just that way for some men (even some women!)

        i think presence at birth in no way determines whether men will be good/involved fathers. what a blessing your husband is such an encouragement to you and a good father to your children!

  4. My hubby was with me the whole, time we had talked about it before and he definetly didn’t want to miss it ! He was even looking forward to cutting the umbilical cord !
    And I must say I was sooo happy he was there, he was such a good support, and it was nice seeing him a lil lost at times (lol he’s the type he knows what he’s doing and where he’s going) ! During my whole labor we were just the two of us, the midwife would come in every 2h I’d say! so it was nice just being “en famille” especially since the hospital was the only option (no birth centers in this part of France) ! During the birth he did great just being next to me and encouraging me with the midwifes ! And is still super proud when he says that he’s the one who caught Maylène and cut the umbilical cord ! and to quote was Leen said : “i personally think giving birth gives a woman strength and shows her body to be a powerful tool- one that can be gentle and soft but also one that grunt and groan a child into the world”! That’s exactly what he told me after birth ! I loved him beeing there and he loved beeing there!! The importance is, for the guy to informed, and to talk it over to see if he’d want to or not, all guys are different.

    1. I love that they let you catch and cut in the hospital! That wouldn’t happen in a hosp. here, I don’t think.

      1. Yeah ! I really liked my hospital room (salle nature so with a bath and a ball) and crew! they were great ! after the advice of the midwife doing the birth classes we told the midwife who was going to be at my birth “the plan” we wanted !

      2. talked it over with M!
        and she told me, that normally they wouldn’t be allowed, it’s because she was followed by a doula, who was for the baby coming all naturaly (the doc wanted to induce M)

  5. I agree with you and Andrew, Esther, some of our most treasured memories as a couple have happened during labor and delivery. The best by far was during my most difficult labor (Harper’s). I couldn’t hear anyone’s voice but Lucas’. It was like there was a light surrounding him saying some of the most romantic words I have heard him utter. I cannot remember anyone else being in the room-though others were there-and my love for him deepened so much that day. I was so surprised by that considering Harper is our 3rd child. I thought lessons of love and commitment had already been learned with our other births. But no, each one has been its own beautiful experience.

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