Wednesday 21 October 2009

How Times have changed, or have they?

Picture this scene. It is 1957 and I discover that I am pregnant. What is the procedure?
After confirmation and a given date I have to go and see the Matron (a very formidable lady) of our local maternity home. Here I am given the once-over and labelled "Mother". I am booked in for the birth and for ante natal classes and henceforth I shall be known as Mother. As far as I am aware, nobody ever called me by name.
On the appointed day I am taken to hospital by my husband, who says goodbye on the doorstep. I give birth, see my son for about ten minutes whilst they are cleaning us both up. Then he is popped into his cot and wheeled away to the baby unit. It is 5pm. At 7pm fathers are admitted to the ward and new fathers are taken to view - through a large plate glass window - their new son or daughter. At feeding times (every four hours, no more, no less) the babies are wheeled into the ward in their tiny cribs and handed out to Mothers, fed, burped and returned to the baby unit. After three days Mothers are allowed into the area to first help with and finally bath their offspring. After ten days Mother and baby are collected by Father and taken home. This is the first time Father has been able to touch/hold/kiss/smell/cuddle his offspring.

Now picture this scene in 2009. Husband drives wife, who is seriously in labour, to the maternity unit, leaving their two year old with grannie. Husband is welcomed into the unit with wife, scrubs up, comforts wife during labour, is there to see his son/daughter emerge into the world. Wife is wheeled back to the ward, he accompanies and seconds later baby in his/her crib is placed at the side of the bed. Mother and father can pick the baby up, cuddle her, look closely to see he/she has all the right bits and pieces (always a worry for mothers), even be photographed holding the baby. Then father drives home, picking toddler up on the way. Baby has been born at 8am. At 6pm father gets a call to say he can collect Mother and baby and by the toddler's bedtime the whole family are well-acquainted.

Which scenario strikes you as being the most civilised?I suspect you will reveal your age by your answer. Apparently more than 90% of men are now present at the birth. But now, Dr Michael Odent has thrown a spanner in the works.

He claims that the presence of the father at the birth increases the likelihood of Caesarean section, subsequent marriage break up and even mental illness. He says this may be because
having a man present makes the mother more tense, which makes her produce more adrenaline and this in turn slows down the production of the right hormones and therefore slows down the birth process.

If you are a man reading this - were you in at the births of your children? Did you enjoy the experience and did it make for good bonding all round? If you weren't do you wish you had been? If you are a woman, what do you think about it. We really cannot dismiss Dr Odent's remarks as rubbish - he is after all a leading obstetrician.


Anonymous said...

I think the real problem on either end of the spectrum is people being too doctrinaire.
1957 sounds a bit grim but 10 days of rest sounds great.
Going home the same day when all bashed up and stitched up sounds stressful too.
Nowadays husbands are made to feel awful if they do not witness this sometimes messy miracle.

So we need to think what might suit the individual rather than adhere to the current fashion.
I'm sure you will get deluged with input on this one.
ps first grandchild expected in Jan. I am doing my best not to hand out too much free 'advice'!

Anonymous said...

Well my children were born in 1989 and 1996. Their father was with me during the birth and I'de have it no other way. We were in it together and he was a comfort. In both cases we were home within days, and the babies were with me in the hospital room 24 hrs a day. I had help when I needed it, but I generally didn't need it. 1957 sounds grim indeed. I don't much care for this obstetrician's view, but I also don't claim to have all the answers, just my own. I do believe the experience is highly personal and should be the decision of the people involved without judgement.

CHummelKornell said...

Different strokes for different husband was not at the birth of my sons. He had little or no interest in the process, looking more forward to handing out cigars to his drinking buddies at the bar following the birth. That was then (1969 and 1971). My current husband would have been by my side and would have actually been a calming factor during my long (27 hour) labor. He would have been Johnny on the spot to hold his sons and to become a father. Both my sons have been present at their children's births and would have it no other way. We now have family birthing rooms at our hospitals (Spokane, WA) which lend themselves to a more home like environment. I believe this is so much better than the sterile, scary operating rooms I was placed in. Perhaps they should look at infant mortality rates in the two eras to determine which might be best. If a wife is fearful of her husband or is in an unhappy relationship I can see that his presence might be disturbing. If, however, they have a strong marital bond, sharing a birth should only make it stronger.

Note: I was born in 1945 in a country hospital in rural hospital in Iowa. My Father was scrubbed and in the delivery room. As my Mother was giving birth (the messy part), my Father passed out and was left lying on the hospital floor until they could get to him. Immediately following my birth (their second child) my Father had a vasectomy which I think was not a common thing back then. He was so afraid that my Mother would die going through another birth.

Aren't times different?

Unknown said...

Hello Weaver,

I am not qualified to speak in this debate but I think it should all be personal choice. I do think, though, that if a father witnesses the birth it gives him a proper understanding of what his partner goes through. It has also helped to reinforce the idea that fathers need to be more involved with their children and not see child rearing simply as the mother's role.

Titus said...

I suspect I'm with ewix on this - as long as it's a joint decision!

My personal experience makes me very glad my husband was present at the twins' emergency caesarean. I would have been mega-outnumbered if not - anaesthetist plus assistant, 2 midwives, 2 paediatric doctors,the gynaecologist and the theatre sister. Both boys alive and healthy, which they probably wouldn't have been otherwise, but the medicalisation of childbirth was rather extreme in my case! It felt more like a West End theatre than an operating theatre. Plus Craig was the only one of us who could see what was going - they put a sheet in front of me. He supplied the running commentary.

I must say it never occurred to me that he wouldn't be there.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I feel it is definitely a family by family decision.

Jinksy said...

My first was supposed to arrive at home, but I ended up with an ambulance ride at 3.45am, sirens and blue lights flashing, with Hubby and my Ma in a car behind us! Daughter arrived with the aid of forceps, so no Hubby present then, and for my second, Hubby was in Scotland, so that was a solo effort too... What's that saying about best laid plans?

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Weaver of Grass, thank you for your comment on my blog and your link to that very Irish-sounding blog. First time I heard the expression Fuckineejit it was seeing the film The Commitments which plunged me into Roddy Doyle's novels.
I visited many places in Ireland, also on horseback, almost every year, and twice a year, in the 90's.
Ireland is for me much more familiar than England.
Sebastian Barry is one of my favourite novelists. Brendan Kennelly a myth. And Seamus Heaney my favourite poet.

Unknown said...

When our first baby Kathy 1973 was born, Barry was invited to the delivery room for the birth. Our doctor was thoroughly enjoying Barry's company. Barry was invited to help the doctor complete the series of tests they give the baby. For the longest time the baby, the doctor and Barry were off in a corner doing all these tests. I said, "Excuse me, may I see my daughter?" I hadn't seen her yet.
Apologies and laughter filled the room. I finally did get to see her.
Barry was sent home before Heather 1975 was born. She had a few complications with her birth. None of this has had any effect on our relationship or our marriage. It's been a happy forty years.
This is an interesting post, Weaver. I liked the scenarios you presented. They were so real.

Jenn Jilks said...

Interesting comparisons, Weaver.

When I was pregnant 30 years ago midwives were fighting for recognition. I gave birth, went home 12 hours later.

My daughter had the benefit of a midwife with hospital privileges, the midwife came to her house daily for a week after the birth and gave her tips on breastfeeding. She gave birth in a birthing room, in a calm, caring environment at 4:00 a.m., and went home at 9:00 a.m. and by that time I had driven 5 hrs. to see them and help them out!

Not to say that this is for everyone. This gives the OB-GYN specialists time for the pregnant women with problems.

I think we are making much progress and we are going back to where childbirth is a 'normal' event and not an illness.

Heather said...

My experience of childbirth was very different from yours, yet possibly in the same year. In 1957 my son was born having had the pregnancy confirmed 6 or 7 months earlier by our GP. I was given the name of the midwife who would attend me and came home armed with free milk tokens, etc., and details of anti-natal classes. The birth took place at home, my husband was present but I don't think he enjoyed the experience. Our three older daughters were all born at home too and he didn't attend until it was all over. Finally, when no.4 daughter came along I was invited into hospital as an 'aged parent' at 39!! Knowing how my husband felt I didn't mind his absence for the other births and think the father's presence should be a matter of choice. There is plenty of time for bonding later. Having said that, he gets on better with our son than with our daughters, but then he is a 'man's man', so maybe that's irrelevant. It is much nicer for children already in the family to have Mum at home for a new birth, but Mum doesn't get much of a rest with little ones clamouring for attention. Pros and cons. What does amuse me from time to time, is discovering that some things are now done the way they were when I was young, and regarded as the latest thing.

Rachel Fox said...

I think it depends on the couple and their relationship as to whether the Dad should be present or not.
Mark was there throughout (hours and hours...and hours...the slowest exit possible). I was too tired (and wild on gas and air) to hold her when she finally appeared so I needed him for that (and lots of other things).
I've been a birth partner too (for a friend). I really enjoyed it and it certainly helped me going into my own labour situation. I had seen it happen - seen a baby come out healthy and in one piece. It's quite different to seeing it happen on film.

Tess Kincaid said...

It was a little less frightening having WT at the births of all three of our children in 1980, 1982 and 1986. I would have loved a little longer stay in the hospital, though.

Unknown said...

I think it's up to the individuals, really. Dr. Michel Odent - hmm. He's a man, isn't he? So, what does he really know about giving birth, then..?

gleaner said...

I concur with Barbara said, "what would Dr Odent know.." and agree with others here who say its up to the individuals.

Even if we exclude the argument that he is a man, then simply because he is an OBs. means he is definitely not present during the whole birthing process. Obs only want to be contacted if there is a problem. If there are no complications and the patient is private, then their role is to be there at the end stage of labour to pass the baby to the mother with the intent of "being seen to doing one's job".

I laugh when I think back to my time in delivery rooms - some husbands sat in the corner of the room with their eyes firmly fixed on the sports section of the paper, others couldn't last the distance and would faint, some I think went to the pub and never came back, others were truly amazed, many seemed to be focused on getting something to eat and drink for themselves (maybe just a ploy to get out of the room)...

As Jenn said, birthing is a natural process and the move away from it being an illness is still an ongoing challenge. I think some European countries have great systems operating so mothers can rest during the post-partum period at home but still receive identical care and supervision.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

How can this doctor make such a blanket, all-encompassing statement. Perhaps some husbands can raise the adrenalin of their labouring mates - but I would guess many prove to be a great comfort. Perhaps Odent should educate the fathers rather than ban them!

You won't believe this! The word identification for me is:
"nofalis". Kind of fitting for a post talking about not wanting men in the delivery room!!!!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Luckily a Stork brought ours while we were away.Nice surprise on return home.

Cloudia said...

New way is really the ancient way, I think.

Aloha, Weaver Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Elisabeth said...

Before she came to Australia, my mothers' babies were born at home, a midwife in attendance and my father hovering in the background. It changed when she came here. She tells a terrible story of being left alone on the veranda of the Diamond Valley Memorial hospital in 1951 when her baby boy arrived suddenly. She spoke little English then and could scarcely call for help.

I have had babies in the early 1980s and my last child was born in 1993. I noticed changes even within a ten year period from the first in 1982 when I had to weigh my baby before and after each feed to see whether her weight had increased during the feed and then later in 1993 when my last daughter was born when no such schedules applied.
This is a tiny illustration of how much fashions change in this regard.
Similarly with the business of giving birth. I think it should be a matter of choice as to who is present during birth. No one should be pressured to be there or to be absent.
Research indicates that twenty years ago mothers were preoccupied with issues to do with feeding, battles over food with babies and small children. These days at least in western societies, such as here in Australia, mothers are preoccupied with whether or not and how much their babies sleep.
It's sure to have societal underpinnings, such as the pressure of life these days, and the wish for control. Once it was more often over food, now it's over time.

Sarah Lee said...

Just discovered your blog via 'Welsh Hills Again'. The birth you describe could have been mine. It is just as my mother described it - in 1974 in a cottage hospital in Hampshire, England.

I live in New Zealand now and all my midwife visits are in my own home. After the birth the midwife visits every day for two week's (my first midwife brought me home-made soup - she really was incredible!). She stayed with me for my entire 36 hours of labour. My husband provided fabulous moral support, humour and strength when the going got tough.

Due to the circumstances of birth we ended up in hospital for 3 day's and he was allowed to stay on a bed in the room with me. We shared so much joy (and tears) in that time. We still talk about it to this day. I couldn't have done it without him (especially since both our families live in the UK).

I am so thankful for the choices available to women in NZ. Birth is a very personal thing and having freedom of choice means everything.

The incredible support I received and having baby close by from the outset, with fantastic guidance and support with regards breastfeeding and the importance of demand feeding to establish a good milk supply in the first month, helped get us off to a great start as a family.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Gwil W said...

The best is to have the choice. Each couple is different. I think if the man has been going to the maternity classes with his partner they will both be prepared, or should be.
I was born in hospital with all you describe doubtless going on. It was a rather tricky forceps delivery. I can imagine the scene of great panic if my father, not the world's calmest person, had been present there!
My three siblings were all born at home with just the nurse in attendance. I suppose they figured that anyone following me would have an easy time of it. And so it proved.

Dinesh chandra said...

I m father of Two SON I enjoy the every moment of my wife"s pregnancy. delevery, I love my child both . I feel the bonding.

But I enjoy your writing and feel good.


Dinesh Chandra

Elisabeth said...

Sarah Lee
I was so taken by your comments. It reminds me that I have a cousin who moved to New Zealand a short time ago because she is a midwife and wants to practice as one helping out with home births.
She left Australia reluctantly recently because the government's refusal to support insurance premiums for midwives has made it impossible for her to continue here.
I cannot believe that home births in New Zealand are any less dangerous than in here Australia.

It reminds me yet again of the politics behind trends.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Sometimes the comments are far more interesting than the original blog - and here is a perfect example. How I wish we were all sitting round a table discussing this rather than writing about it.
TFE has lightened the mood somewhat - as is his wont - but please do take the time to read through the comments - together they make an interesting story. All together it seems to me that the general opinion is that it is up to individuals - and not obstetricians to make the decisions. He might be able to quote statistics at us, but it is rather like people dictating what we should eat - if we read and took notice of all the advice we would end up eating almost nothing.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the debate.

Jane Moxey said...

I really like how the younger generation seem to be onto something really good with the idea of parenting their offspring together. To have the father be a part of the whole process (which without him the whole thing would be null and void anyway!) seems to be a good idea. To have both mother and father take pre natal classes to inform themselves of what's going to happen is such a good idea. I had two emergency sort of situations and was glad to have trained people at hand in the hospital. My husband would have been there for the birth of our first son, but the baby came so fast, butt first, that once he had parked the car, baby was out - so he missed the whole thing. However he was able to be with me in the neo natal intensive care unit and we went through all that scary stuff together. So - in our case - the pre natal classes, while helpful, didn't address the part about emergency situations! I was still doing some very deep breathing exercises when I should have been and the huff and puff stage of the Lamaze experience! Second babe was a C-Section and my husband was caretaking child #1 so I was on my own with that delivery. Both times I was able to stay in the hospital longer than the usual couple of days since both babies had a way to go before release from the hospital. Hard to rest when you're worried, however.

In hindsight, I wish I'd chosen a female OB who'd been through childbirth. I do think it's cheeky for male OBs to hold forth about the emotional issues of childbirth.

Golden West said...

Definitely a personal decision between the parents. I could hardly wait to get out of the hospital and back to the comfort of my normal surroundings. Daughter born at 5:30pm and on the way home the next morning at 9.

Amy said...

i read this article - having had 3 children of my own i cant imagine not having my dh in the room with me but thats just my two cents

Margaret Gosden said...

Perhaps it is the presence of husbands that irritates the doctor who would prefer not to have to deal with onlookers and 'helpers'! I would like to think that, today, mother has the right to say who she wants present besides her doctor and nurse. I do not like the sound of there being a 'leading' OB - reminds me too much of a certain doctor in the 1960s whose word was the law!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Having picked up my "baby" at the animal shelter, I really don't feel qualified to offer an opinion. I will say that I find it rather amazing that the father's presence can cause mental illness!!

thousandflower said...

Let's see, for the record, my first two children were delivered without their father present and that marriage didn't last. My last one had my husband with me and we've been happily together for 25 years.