I'm on a toot this week about the cliché that American Dads are totally lame when it comes to the birth of their children. They're not. They rock. I had dinner recently with a group of acquaintances. One woman asked what I did for a living and I told her: writer and labor nurse. Inevitably this gets people talking about "their births." The conversation touched on sweet birth stories, horror stories and the phenomenon of women inviting an entourage to watch them deliver. Eventually, one woman made the comment I've heard so darn many times it makes me mad. "American men are so disconnected from their children's birth; so uninvolved. Most wouldn't even be there if women didn't make them."
I disagreed, "Dads are almost always in the delivery room these days."
She countered with, "Only in the last 10 years."
"Nope, a lot longer than that. I've worked in women's health for 25 years and the guys have been there the whole time. There was that unfortunate stretch between the 1940's and 70's when fathers were kicked out of the delivery room but that wasn't their idea."
"Well, they don't really want to be there, I'm sure," she said.
"Have you been to a lot of births? Do you have children?" I was curious where she got her information.
"No, but women talk. That's just how men are," she said with authority.
For the last 30 years, we've welcomed, needed and expected dads in the delivery room. They're extremely useful; providing vital services nurses don't always have time for like back rubs, breathing exercises, moral support, leg holding, brow wiping, ice chip fetching. We nurses barely know our patients before we get up close and personal with them. Dad loves Mom and generally knows how to provide emotional support way better than we do.
Let me tell you about a few Dads I met "in labor" this week. They sure didn't seem disconnected or uninvolved to me. There was an African Dad in a Muslim family—the only guy allowed in the room filled with women wearing gorgeous head coverings. He wiped his wife's brow, cleaned up her vomit (believe me, I'd have done that but he was totally on it), and supported her legs while she pushed. He sat down and prayed shortly after the birth of his daughter. That seems pretty involved to me.
Another Dad had studied hypnobirthing with his girlfriend. He'd participated in weeks of classes and spent "labor day" coaching for hours with intense focus to a truly beautiful birth. He helped the midwife guide baby from the perineum to Mom's arms, helped the nurse dry his daughter off, cut the cord and cradled both his girlfriend and daughter while tears streamed down his face. Pretty darn connected.
In another room, Dad played Scrabble with his laboring wife who was comfortable with an epidural. They spent the hours leading up to the birth listening to music and talking. After the baby was born and his wife needed to rest, Dad rocked his son, who sucked on his finger while they stared into each other's eyes. Once again—mighty involved.
There was the terrified 16-year-old-Dad who held his girlfriend's hand all day. He cut the cord, changed the first diaper and sung a sweet lullaby to his son when he thought we weren't listening.
Then there was the room where an entourage of well-meaning women treated Dad like an interloper, essentially pushing him out of his own child's birth. The poor guy didn't stand a chance to support his wife with all the girlfriends, aunts, sisters and cousins doing all the coaching for him. Every time he tried to get anywhere near the bed, he was teased or shooed away. When the ladies went to get coffee I asked Mom how'd she'd envisioned labor going—if we were helping her meet her goals. "I thought it would be just me and Jon but then all my girls showed up." I pointed out that Jon was being left out of the experience; this birth was more about the girls than him. Jon quietly said, "I'm right here, honey. I thought I'd be able to help but I don't know. Just tell me what I can do." Jon looked so sad—like he'd crashed the birthday party and nobody wanted him there. It was heartbreaking. With all their "support," the posse had forgotten this was Jon's baby too. Who was supporting him?
When labor got intense, Mom wanted Jon to help her through the relaxation techniques they'd practiced. The party was over and it was time to work. I suggested the girls head to the lobby to give them time together. There were a few huffy-breaths but they complied. Mom and Jon made a great team and when their baby arrived Jon was in the place of honor—a father's place—by his wife's side.
Of all the babies we delivered last week, the rooms without dads were the exceptions. Sure, some Dads are more "present" than others but then again, so are some moms. The point is, Dads are overwhelmingly willing to do anything to help the process along and ease the experience for Mom. They're respectful of mom's right to hold the baby first but please don't get in the way when it's his turn next.
To all you women who "know how men are," it's time for another look. Dad's right there. He's been there for decades, for centuries. Sure, in some cultures, birth's an all-girl event but that's not how it goes in America. Give them the credit they deserve. Happy Fathers Day, guys. You're welcome in my delivery room anytime.
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