Hubby in the Delivery Room?
Conception and parentage are collaborative efforts between the spouses. But nature has bestowed a unique privilege on women – the life-creating and life nurturing ability. It is widely accepted that, during pregnancy, the wife needs emotional support and the companionship of the husband. But in non – western countries, the wife is mostly alone at the most important moment, childbirth. Why should it be so? Why should the wife be denied the presence of her husband during delivery?
Before the advent of institutional deliveries, women gave birth in their homes under the supervision of experienced midwives. Though the husband was not near her side during childbirth, the wife had the psychological satisfaction of knowing that the hubby was within calling distance inside the home.
When deliveries shifted to hospitals, relatives were banished from the labour room. In the West, perceptions about husband-assisted childbirth began to change in the late seventies and eighties. In 1974, Robert Bradley published his bestselling book Husband – Coached Childbirth. This book prompted more men to take an active part in the birth of their children.
Gradually it began to be accepted that women had the right to demand that their husbands remain by their side in the labour room during the important hour. It was considered beneficial for both the mother and the father-to-be.
What are the perceived advantages for allowing the husband near his wife during childbirth?
- First, childbirth can be both exciting and traumatizing for women. It is an intensely emotional and physically draining process which a woman should not be expected to undergo all alone. The physical presence of the spouse comforts the wife and adds to her confidence. A mere touch or caress can work wonders in helping the wife to cope with labour pain.
- Second, the presence of the husband can strengthen the bond between partners. Marital harmony draws strength from shared experiences.
- Third, the father-to-be develops a special feeling of affection and kinship towards the child whose birth he has witnessed. The seeds of healthy and strong father-child relationship are sown in the labour room.
- Fourth, the task of the medical professionals is made easier as calm and reassured couple facilitates a normal delivery.
- Fifth, with the husband as witness, the possibility of wrong accusations for medical malpractice is minimized.
But there are downsides as well.
- First, equanimity is not a strong point with many men. A scary and nervous husband can transfer his negative feelings to the wife.
- Second, an overanxious husband can interfere with the procedure and obstruct the medical staff from doing their duty.
- Third, some men are reported to have developed sexual dysfunction after witnessing the birth of their children.
- Fourth, the husband may not like to have another child after seeing the pain and trauma undergone by his wife. This could lead to marital discord.
The debate on the issue is yet to be settled. Leading French obstetrician Dr Michael Odent is of the view that fathers don’t have a place in the delivery room. According to him, the presence of fathers often makes the laboring mother anxious.
This will interrupt the production of a hormone oxytocin critical to the birth process. A normal delivery could end up as a Caesarean section. Thus much can be said for and against the presence of the hubby in the delivery room. But the bottom line is that it is for the couple to decide whether the father-to-be should be at the side of his wife when his baby is born.
Husband’s Role Is Crucial
In India, medical practice is still in the paternalistic mode. Doctors feel that they can take care of everything that the mother needs. Relatives are generally discouraged from entering the labour room. Natural birthing centers run by foreign midwives in Kerala and Goa encourage husbands to be present during labour and birth. But Indian husbands do not seem to be too eager to be at the side of their wives. Many are squeamish about witnessing the birth of the baby.
Some are weighed down by entrenched societal attitudes that frown upon the hubby’s physical proximity with his wife during labour. But winds of change are blowing. Some private hospitals have started allowing husbands to participate in the births of their children. The concept of husband-assisted child birth will gradually find acceptance. What is required is perhaps a tipping point.