The presence of fathers in the delivery room is a 20th century occurrence. Historically, the role of the father in pregnancy was that of a “sperm donor”. All deliveries, until the 20th Century, were taken place at home. From time immemorial lay midwives attended the parturient. Towards the middle of the 19th century physicians became part of the picture and, in part, displaced the midwife and attended the woman in labor, if called upon. Fathers were relegated, together with the rest of the family, to kitchen or any other part of the house.
Once the baby was born, fathers and family members were told by the midwife or physician that the new member of the family arrived. In movies you hear a crying baby but rarely you see the father in the bedroom. The fact is that women did not want for their husbands to see them sweating, tired, or in pain.
Deliveries move from homes to hospitals
By the second part of the 20th century, when deliveries had moved from homes to hospitals, fathers were still out of the delivery room and it was only sometime after the delivery that they were able to see their baby through the nursery window. The concern of the medical profession was that they feared the newborn may catch an infection from the father or rest of the family. After delivery women were in the hospitals for a week or so.
Until beginning of the 20th century, prenatal care was unknown. Having a baby was not considered a disease and the first time a pregnant woman came to see the doctor or midwife was when labor started. By 1901 some doctors and nurses in Boston, decided to open a clinic to check the blood pressure of pregnant women. High blood pressure in pregnancy, also known at that time as “Toxemia”, was known to be a serious complication and pregnant women were dying because of untreated toxemia. It took almost 50 years for the concept of prenatal care to be accepted by the medical profession and patients alike. But the concept of fathers in the delivery room never crossed anybody’s mind.
Obstetrical care begins to change in 1950s
Starting in the 1950s, obstetrical care began to change. Hospitals started catering to pregnant women, offering prenatal care classes and the labor room went from a common delivery room to private labor rooms.
Women started demanding privacy and information about their upcoming delivery. In addition to prenatal care, prenatal classes, which were/are attended by the future mother and her partner, were offered. That was the first time that fathers started to become involved in their wife’s or partner’s pregnancy. The taboos where husbands were relegated to the kitchen during labor and delivery, became history. Literarily fathers got out of the kitchen and went into the delivery room.
Doctors and midwives adjusted rapidly and accepted the change and considered it progress.
Most prospective fathers choose to take part of delivery
Most prospective fathers do not have any problem with being part of this major event in their lives. In some cases, however, that may not be the case. A minority do not cherish the idea of watching their partner in labor, seeing blood and all that goes with delivery or, in cases of cesarean delivery, being in an operating room. That may create a conflict between mother and father. The pregnant woman wants her partner with her throughout labor, delivery or surgery, while some men don’t want any part of this arrangement. What is the answer?
Through my years of practice, I have learned that those men that relent and finally decide to be with their wives, make poor support and some become a problem. I have had men fainting and falling on the floor and they must be removed and transferred to emergency room to make sure they did not injure themselves. Others leave in the middle of labor and I have seen some vomiting on the floor or the labor bed. One patient related to me that her husband, who was in the operating room during a cesarean section, later refused to have any physical contact anymore because all he was thinking about was of her with the abdomen opened and blood coming from inside.
Certainly, these men are exceptions. Most men have no problem being present with their wives during labor and delivery or surgery. But some do.
Forcing attendance is not a good idea
The bottom line is that, in my opinion, forcing attendance is not a good idea. It does not mean that the man doesn’t love you, doesn’t care for you, is not interested, or what ever else you, the mother, may think. Some people, men and women for that matter, are hypersensitive to the sight of blood, to procedures that are performed on a family member, to pain that a loved one may have and so forth. You may want to avoid the unpleasant results that an unwilling partner will go through and which may make him miss the event anyhow. Sometimes love means understanding the other person’s feelings.
SILVIO ALADJEM MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist and Maternal Fetal Medicine (high risk pregnancy) specialist, is Professor Emeritus in obstetrics and gynecology at Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine, in Lansing, MI. He is the author of “10,000 babies: my life in the delivery room” now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and elsewhere. where books are sold. You may contact Dr. Aladjem at: firstname.lastname@example.org