A friend posted an article today from the UK Mail on the presence of men at childbirth. The article is called ” A father’s presence during childbirth makes labour longer and harder and could damage mother and child’s health. Upon reading just the title alone (though I invite you to read the entire article for yourself), you could say I have a few thoughts to share. And one of them is “What??”
Let me first outline the key points in the article along with some of my immediate criticism. Then I’ll give a summary of my thoughts on this eye opening article. So bear with me as I lay this out. Please stick with me until the end.
A male obstetrician from the UK claims that from his observations over the last fifty years, fathers being present during childbirth can do more harm than good. The father causes the mother to get stressed and not release hormones properly.
The apparent reason for labor becoming longer and more difficult is because of the “inappropriate environment.” Oh, and one more gem of insight, as long as we’re blaming men and babies for women’s troubles. The drop in sexual attraction after childbirth can apparently lead straight to a divorce. As if there is nothing more holding this couple together. Granted, this is fairly common after childbirth. But a direct connection like that? Come on.
And Mary Newburn, someone from the National Childbirth Trust, seems to point the finger at social pressures for men to be there – a “you got me into this” type of attitude from women. She goes on to say that it can be OK for the mom to prefer having a woman present rather than the father, which sounds like a fine option on its own. But on the way to that message of openness and choice, Ms Newburn manages to make a generalized insult to the growing number of moms who do want dads present. She makes them sound snide and resentful of pregnancy, making sure the dads go through their share of childbirth misery. Thanks for the compliment, Mary.
Now first, you should know that there isn’t a research study in sight throughout this article. No measured evidence, no controls put on the state of the parents’ relationship prior to birth, history of mental health problems, other extenuating factors that could lead to distressing birth, etc. Nothing. From what I can tell, his conclusion is purely anecdotal.
Second, I have to comment on the overdramatic nature of the article’s title. “Damage to the baby’s health” appears nowhere in this article, just the title. And I guess you could construe that longer labor could be damaging to the mother’s health, but that’s a bit strong. Lots of reasons labor could be longer or more strenuous.
And let me highlight one important thing I learned in grad school when it comes to interpreting a conclusion from information – correlation does not mean causation. This means that just because two things happen together does not mean they are connected in a this-caused-that type of way.
How could you put so much blame on one person? Rather than labeling it as the man’s fault, how about highlighting the positive outcomes of couples being able to choose what they are comfortable with regardless of gender? Or, maybe moms who have a lot of trouble with the dad’s anxiety have other reasons they tend to get anxious. And for that matter, maybe their anxious mom in the room would make them anxious, too.
Maybe labor hit suddenly. Maybe they were worrying about arrangements for their older child when they gave birth. Maybe they picked a husband who’s an anxious person by nature. Maybe they were just a little overwhelmed by, I don’t know, the realization that they brought a new whole person into the world. Heck, lots of reasons they could be anxious and with good reason. Do we have to pin it solely on the man being around??
I know I’ve rambled on here quite a bit. I don’t doubt that some individual moms may have experienced more trouble at the same time that their husbands were present. And yes, maybe some women would prefer having another woman present instead of the father. That’s cool, and make no mistake – I’m criticizing this doctor’s wide sweeping conclusions, not the value of a woman helping a mom through labor. I have serious doubts that the “men area bad influence” theory is a generalizable truth, especially not worthy of a title spewing such alarm.
I say for an expectant mom, it’s more important to get a plan you and your partner are comfortable with, and be ready with a plan B because stuff happens. You may get uncomfortable, emotional, and overwhelmed anyway because childbirth is a big deal to go through no matter who’s in the room (or not).