Dads told to stay away from delivery room

October 19, 2009


This article in this mornings New Zealand Herald, and blog reply, misses an important point.

Michel Odent, a ‘childbirth specialist’ tells us that birth would be so much easier if men, both doctors and fathers, were not present during labour, with his focus on the presence or absence of fathers. We are told this is because labouring women sense the anxiety of their male partners and become nervous. This nervousness upsets hormones, and slows labour. While this seems logical, and if the men present are not helpful and supportive, then it surely could be a hindrance to labour. However, it is the focus on fathers presence that is problematic in both the original article and the blog reply.

The masculinisation of the birth environment is more about male doctors and specialists than fathers being present. The cesarean rate, which is relatively high in New Zealand, is more about the medicalisation of birth driven by a largely male dominated medical system. The usual story goes something like this: labouring woman enters hospital, monitoring equipment is strapped to her and she is left alone for some time. The use of monitoring equipment has been shown to increase cesarean rates. Monitoring equipment hinders movement and is not supportive of labour, it is unnecessarily intrusive. With pain relief, gas is followed by pethidine, followed by an epidural. By the time she has to push, when the epidural wears off, she has built up no natural reserves of endorphins to help cope with strong contractions. If the epidural has not worn off, she may be able to push enough to allow a forceps delivery. If not, a cesarean may be called for.

The very male environment and medicalisation of labour, as Odent says the ‘industrialisation of labour’ probably has a lot more to do with difficulties in childbirth than a father’s presence. For many women, the presence of a support person who knows their needs and wants and is able to speak for them when they are at in a very vulnerable position is to be encouraged (if that’s what the woman wants). To blame difficult labours on fathers being present seems somehow like an attempt to remove support for women in labour, and leave them further to the mercy of Odent’s ‘industraialised labour’.

The article even goes so far as to insinuate that it is all womens fault anyway, because they are the ones forcing men to attend during labour and birth, with Mary Newburn of the UK’s National Childbirth Trust stating “There’s such a feeling among women that ‘you got me into this, I have carried the baby for nine months and now I have to go through labour and birth, so the least you can do is be with me, and if you feel a bit squeamish, then tough’ “.

Further, we are told that men witnessing childbirth can ruin sexual attraction between couples and lead to divorce. Men may go of and play golf and computer games, to avoid their reality. This probably has more to do with the problems of a nuclear family than men’s presence during childbirth! And if that’s how men are behaving, they really need to put on some big boy pants and grow up.

At the end of the day it is the woman’s needs during labour that must be paramount. It is she after all who has to do the work (it’s called labour for a good reason). If she wants the support of the father, she should have it. If she wants the doctors to stop fussing and monitoring and actually help rather than hinder, they should.

This article is problematic in the insinuation that it is women (and to some degree, their partners) wanting fathers present during childbirth that has led to problems of masculinisation of the process. No where in this article is the issue of the male dominated and technology dominated medicalisation of childbirth given any weight or mention.


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