No Dads In the Delivery Room?

BlogHer Original Post

The following headline, at the Daily Mail, caused my eyes to pop just a little earlier this week: 

A top obstetrician on why men should NEVER be at the birth of their child

Certain that no one could seriously be advocating such a radical notion, I eagerly clicked over to read the whole story.  As it turns out, the piece is an editorial by Dr. Michel Odent.  Odent is a French obstetrician who is considered by many to be the father of natural childbirth.  He's been a pioneer in researching and applying low-intervention childbirth, and he is a prominent participant in Ricki Lake's most recent documentary, The Business Of Being Born.

No matter how shocking the headline might be, the man has delivered thousands of babies.  I figured I should at least hear him out.

In this piece, Odent explains his reasoning:

...there is little good to come for either sex from having a man at the birth of a child.

For her, his presence is a hindrance, and a significant factor in why labours are longer, more painful and more likely to result in intervention than ever.

In addition to his concern about the increased stress for the mother, Odent shares some anecdotes in which men, having seen their wives give birth, could not overcome the "emotional fallout" of watching a woman give birth:

I've known of perfectly well-balanced men who held their wife's hand through labour then left the next day never to return again.

And in the most graphic example, one perfectly healthy man had his first experience of schizophrenia two days after watching his wife give birth. Was this his way of escaping reality?

Okay, so I'll admit he lost me there.  That seems like some serious melodrama to me.  Schizophrenia?  Really?  Just because a few men haven't had the emotional maturity to handle watching childbirth is hardly reason to discredit their entire gender.  Additionally, as Madeline Holler of Stroller Derby points out:

[Odent complains] later that there hasn't been any scientific study on the effect of men's presence, so [his] anecdotes aren't exactly meaningful. Third, a couple of divorces/mother-child abandonments after 15,000 births? That's actually pretty good, non?   

A Midwife's Muse suggests that her own husband was a little more resilient that Odent generally considers men to be:

He understood that when I told the staff to ‘put me down. You wouldn’t let an animal suffer like this’ I was not really dying, that this is not abnormal behaviour during labour. He was not traumatised, he was elated at seeing his children being born. Me? Well I knew that he appreciated what I had endured to produce our family.

When Gretchen of Lifenut shared the Odent story, one of her commenters, Stephanie, pointed out:

I suppose if a husband only thought of his wife as a sex kitten then maybe it would be a little unsettling to see a baby emerge from her. Fortunately, my husband sees me as more than that. He was there for the births of both girls and it made him a better person for it. It would have been devastating to me if he hadn’t been there, so I’m glad he was very supportive!

Odent's piece continues, suggesting that:

A woman in labour needs to be in a private world where she doesn't have to think or talk.

Yet, motivated by a desire to "share the experience", the man asks questions and offers words of reassurance and advice.

In doing so, he denies his partner the quiet mind that she needs.

Now that argument holds a little more water than the whole schizophrenia issue.  He should've started with it.  Danell Swim at admits to being initially skeptical at Odent's ideas, until she gave it more thought:

My husband described the birth, not as traumatic, but “stressful.” And so I have to wonder if some of that stress was transmitted to me; because after all, I was in labor for 3 days, and we assume that there was something that was inhibiting that labor. How strange it would be if the one person I thought I could not do it without, was the one that was holding me back from letting go.

Odent may make some decent points in the end of his piece, but I believe they would have been more powerful had he stayed away from generalizations about ALL men in ALL delivery rooms.  Perhaps a more logical conclusion could've been that a shared birth experience might not be optimal for every couple, but an overwhelming majority seem to be making it work.

It is certainly true that the increasing incidents of medical interventions in American births requires some serious investigation.  But let's not (pardon the pun) throw out the baby with the bathwater.  For the couples who are successfully sharing their birth experience, I hope the medical community will give them the room to make it work.

Shannon Lowe is a BlogHer contributing editor (mommy/family), and she blogs at Rocks In My Dryer. 


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