by John Hoffman
Last June, the Huffington Post published a nice photo essay about fathers at the birth of their babies. They used a title that was total click bait: 35 Raw Birth Photos of Dads Welcoming Their Babies into the World. I usual ignore click bait but, since it was dads and birth I couldn’t resist having a peek. And they are great photos.
Having been at three births myself – each of which I remember so clearly – the photo essay got me thinking about the significance of fathers at birth. It may seem routine now. But dads in the delivery room was a revolutionary change when it starting happening in the mid 1970s. To me, being able to participate in the birth of children is the single most important change to take place in modern fatherhood. I remember a conversation I had with a fellow fatherhood geek 25 years ago when Bill Clinton was elected president. He pointed out that Clinton would be the first American president to have seen his child born. The fellow seemed to think that would have a profound impact Mr. Clinton’s presidency.
I don’t know how true that was. But I do think that being present at the birth of your child is a very formative experience in a man’s life. For one thing, you get to experience the miracle of life. No matter what you’ve been taught, or read about human reproduction, seeing your child come out of your partner’s body really does seem like a miracle – every time. Surely that changes the way you look at life at least a bit.
Then, of course, there is the significance of seeing your child at the moment of birth. I’m not much of a believer in instant bonding (I know lots of adoptive dads who bonded with older children just fine over time.). But I do think that being a child’s birth is a great way to kickstart a father-child relationship.
And let’s not forget the significance of men supporting their partner during labour. The Huffington Post photo essay was billed as being about dads welcoming their babies into the world. But some of the photos showed very intimate scenes of fathers and their partners in the heat of labour. Sometimes they were sort of wrapped around each other. Other times they were locking hands or eyes. The sense of connection was very powerful.
I can’t say that supporting your partner in birth gives you a lock on a great relationship forever. But I do think it’s just about the most intimate thing a man can do with his partner. Even more intimate than sex. And generally speaking, shared intimacy is a good thing for relationships. I remember one father who summed up the experience like this, “You can’t speed birth up. You can’t slow it down. You can’t make it all better. But she’ll remember what you did for her for the rest of her life.”
Fathers being at birth also helped pave the way towards more father involvement in baby care. I have to think that supporting your partner through labour and pregnancy, seeing babies being born and then being more involved in their care changes a male perspective on what is important about human life. It gives men hands-on experience in understanding the needs of women and children. And any man who understands those needs is a better man, one who is less inclined to violence and more inclined to help make the world a safer and more caring place.
So I salute all the dads who have been there with and for their partners during labour and helped to welcome their children to the world. (Of course, I’m even more in awe of women who have given birth!) Each of my birth experiences was different. And they sure were challenging. But I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. Being at my children’s birth – and playing a big role in their care and upbringing – have helped make me the (middle-aged) man and father I am today.
What about you? How did being at your partner’s birth impact you as a father and a man? We’d love to here your thoughts and stories.
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