In days past, fathers never set foot into delivery rooms. But now, nearly ever dad-to-be takes part in their child's birth. What about dads who just don't know if they want to, or can handle, being present for their child's birth?
Until the mid-1970s, fathers-to-be weren't allowed in many hospital delivery rooms to witness the birth of their children. Labor was viewed as women's work, and fathers' jobs consisted of worrying, pacing the hospital's halls, and handing out cigars when it was all over. But now, fathers are not only encouraged to participate in the birth of their children, they're practically pressured into it. As John, a 28-year-old father-to-be puts it, "Fathers in the delivery room are the 'in' thing—everybody's doing it. I feel as if I have to defend myself for not wanting to be there."
How popular is the delivering-dads phenomenon? A random, informal sampling of hospitals across the country indicated that 70 to 95 percent of all women giving birth in the past year had husbands or other "support persons" present during labor—even in cases of C-sections.
But not all fathers have a desire to witness their child's birth. Some men simply feel squeamish about the idea. "I'm just not a fan of blood," explains John.
"It would embarrass some men to be in the delivery room," says Kermit E. Krantz, Chairman of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the University of Kansas College of Health Sciences and Hospital. "After all, a man would see his wife in a whole new light. His role as a father, loverc and husband is fine, but don't ask him to become part of the nitty-gritty of having children."
One of the most common reasons dads give for not being present during birth is a fear of seeing their wives suffer. Reveals Jim, a 37-year-old father of three. "It's not pleasurable to see someone you love going through such a painful process."
And it's not merely being a witness to pain but also not being able to do anything to alleviate that pain. "A father has no control over the situation," explains Robert Austin, PhD, a psychologist in Boston, Massachusetts. "He can't take the pain away. He's put in a weak and powerless position, and for some men, this is intolerable." Echoes one father, "I wouldn't be in any position to help. The only thing I could do is offer encouragement—but encouragement to do what? To bear the pain differently? I think a father's presence is more of a hindrance than help. Instead of giving in to the pain and calling out for help or relief, the mother might try to put on a brave front."