It Takes Two to Tango? Men and Childbirth

On a recent outing with a few friends I found myself in a discussion on the various options for childbirth.  Having just watched ‘The Business of Being Born’ and having read up on different articles addressing the same issue, I felt that I had a few insights to bring to the table. However, this being a group of mostly women I found myself defending not my opinions, but my right to an opinion.  The logic was simple.  Since I do not have to suffer the physical pains and risks of child birth why should I have a say in how a child is born?  This got me thinking.  I began to consider the man’s role in the birthing process and how much influence he should have in the decision making process.  We all know the phrase ‘It takes two to tango’.  But what about after the tango?  Do the two partners separate as soon as the music ends?  Or does the duality mentioned in this common saying extend past the basic stages of this proverbial dance and continue well into birth process?
First off I want to preface my post by pointing out that, in the end, it is the woman who takes the brunt of the physical and mental travails involved in the birthing process.  As such it is the woman that must give the final stamp of approval to any decision regarding the childbirth. None the less I do feel there is a balance that can and should be met in all of the decisions revolving around this amazing process.

Michael Odent, A leading obstetrician, states that delivering children would be a much easier process is women were left alone in the care of their midwife and that “The ideal birth environment involves no men.”  While this may describe his experience with childbirth I do not believe it represents an answer to the argument but instead reveals a byproduct of the way modern society defines female and male roles in the birthing process.  In Jerrold Shapiro’s book ‘When Men Are Pregnant: Needs and Concerns of Expectant Fathers’ he discusses how society pressures men into abiding by a set of contradicting expectations during child birth.  ‘The modern man is to let himself be vulnerable and emotional while simultaneously being stoic and guarded.’  Dr. Shapiro states that it is common for the father in a pregnancy to feel unable to talk with his partner about his emotional world during their pregnancy. This lack of deeper communication would naturally lead to an isolation of each partner in their respective roles.  The woman then turns to her female peers as a support group and the male continues to emotionally detach himself from the process while providing verbal support at best.  With little to no emotional connection regarding the pregnancy It can be understood then how professionals would prefer separation of the man and women during labor since that is the way the pregnancy was defined from the get go.

Just as in all other decision making in a relationship there stands the potential for both isolation and separation or for the strengthening and solidifying of each partner.  To suggest that the male partner has no say in the birthing choices suggests a hierarchical relationship in which the male’s opinion has little to no meaning.  The man should want to take an active role in the birthing process just as much as the woman should want him too.  When facing the positives and negatives of birthing options each partner’s opinion should be held as significant and be considered when making a final decision.

Now the purpose of this post was not to discussing the positives and negatives of a natural birth, or when a cesarean is necessary.  I think those decisions should be made case by case between the expecting parents.  Just as with anything, it is unproductive to go into a conversation with a ‘it’s my way or the highway’ mentality.  Rarely are things so black and white.  What I did want to get across was the need for clearly defined roles throughout the birthing process.  Each partner needs to feel as though their voice is needed in order to bring their child into this world.  I hope that when that time comes for me to start a family my wife and I will be able to sit down and put in the time to do the research on our different options.  But in the end, after all is said and done, if my wife prefers a different method than what I think is best,  then I will respect her decision and support her in whatever she chooses.

—by NG


4 thoughts on “It Takes Two to Tango? Men and Childbirth

  1. Janille says:

    It disturbs me that both pregnant women and physicians want prospective fathers to be left out of the birthing process. From my own personal experience (multiple times) and that of other couples I know, the prepared father-to-be can be one of the best advocates for the woman. He is the one who can have the best chance of interpreting her emotions and wants in the pregnancy and birth process, he can be the one to support her concerns in discussion with physicians (even midwives!). A prepared father-to-be makes the likelihood of a positive birth outcome even more likely. Conversely, the uninformed, distanced and/or isolated father can contribute to negative pregnancy and birth outcomes. I would think that anyone wishing to promote a positive maternal outcome and experience would support and encourage fathers, not marginalize and dismiss them.

  2. GoodReason says:

    I think your wife (and children) will be very lucky to have a husband (and dad) that will actually take the time to research different birth options! A true partnership calls for this type of response.

  3. arigoose says:

    This is very interesting and led to many discussions between my husband and myself. I never gave much thought to the father’s role in the birthing process.

  4. Victoria Fox says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. The birth of a child is a defining moment in a marital relationship, and to turn to peers instead of your partner? That’s sad. Equally shared parenting has to start from day one.

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