The XX Factor

Let’s Not Send Dad Back to the Waiting Room

Babble has a post today that asks whether we should give expectant fathers a get-out-of-labor-free card. Some British researchers have concocted the theory that setting such high expectations for men in regards to pregnancy, labor, and delivery leads them to be majorly bummed that they can’t do more, a funk that can linger into parenthood.

The author of the Babble post, Ceridwen Morris, doesn’t totally buy into the theory but thinks “these researchers are actually onto something.” She also cites a French obstetrician who claims that women have easier births when there is “just one other woman in the room with them. No men. No male doctor. No male partner. Guys slow things down.” For her part, Morris, a childbirth educator, wanted her husband present at the birth of their children and thinks that the downside of kicking the dad out-and making him feel alienated-is as bad as the risk of making him feel passive and useless. I love her comment here: “Let’s set the tone for working together and being supportive of one another as we bumble through this experience that will continue to be a unique experience for each partner.” (Because parenthood involves a LOT of bumbling.)

But then she cites research being done in Britain on fatherhood and wishes for similar money to be spent on “studies looking at innovations in the maternity care system that give more support to women (from women) and ways we can help dad’s understand what they can do .” And I have to wonder, do we need MORE studies, or maybe fewer? Is it possible we’ve gotten to the point where maybe, just maybe, we’re overthinking this whole thing? Certainly there are improvements to be made to maternity care in this country-the C-section rate is too high, the maternal death rate is too high. Those are big-picture things. It’s the little stuff that we’re wringing our hands over too much. When my mom had me, my dad was in the waiting room and she got zero drugs until the end, when the doctor knocked her out with a “twilight” shot (just like Betty Draper ). When I had my first, I had a private delivery room, my own nurse, and not only my husband but my mom and dad (who still ended up in the waiting room when I got wheeled to the OR for a C-section). We’ve come a long way, baby.

But now expectant parents have become cartoonish helicopter-parents-in-training. You have your birth plan, with its aromatherapy candles and soothing playlist for your iPod. You have online baby sites that tell you how much your baby should weigh this week and what’s going on with her development and how much weight you should gain and 30,000 ideas for the perfect name. You have entire walls of books at Barnes & Noble telling you how to be good parents. You can hyper-focus on that stuff and spend hours upon hours as a couple planning for the most specialest childbirth experience ever. Or … you can both catch some sleep while you still have that luxury, and if your husband wants to help, send him out for ice cream at 3 a.m. He might as well get used to being up at that hour, and he won’t have any time for existential crises.