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Birthing Fathers

Birthing Fathers: The Transformation of Men in American Rites of Birth

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Birthing Fathers
    Book Description:

    "Treating birth as ritual, Reed makes clever use of his anthropological expertise, qualitative data, and personal experience to bring to life the frustrations and joys men often encounter as they navigate the medical model of birthing."-William Marsiglio, author Sex, Men, and Babies: Stories of Awareness and ResponsibilityIn the past two decades, men have gone from being excluded from the delivery room to being admitted, then invited, and, finally, expected to participate actively in the birth of their children. No longer mere observers, fathers attend baby showers, go to birthing classes, and share in the intimate, everyday details of their partners' pregnancies.In this unique study, Richard Reed draws on the feminist critique of professionalized medical birthing to argue that the clinical nature of medical intervention distances fathers from child delivery. He explores men's roles in childbirth and the ways in which birth transforms a man's identity and his relations with his partner, his new baby, and society. In other societies, birth is recognized as an important rite of passage for fathers. Yet, in American culture, despite the fact that fathers are admitted into delivery rooms, little attention is given to their transition to fatherhood.The book concludes with an exploration of what men's roles in childbirth tell us about gender and American society. Reed suggests that it is no coincidence that men's participation in the birthing process developed in parallel to changing definitions of fatherhood more broadly. Over the past twenty years, it has become expected that fathers, in addition to being strong and dependable, will be empathetic and nurturing.Well-researched, candidly written, and enriched with personal accounts of over fifty men from all parts of the world, this book is as much about the birth of fathers as it is about fathers in birth.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-3781-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 American Fathers and Hospital Childbirth
    (pp. 1-31)

    Kevin hunched forward in the booth of the coffee shop, rolling the mug slowly in his calloused hands. “We didn’t really know what we were getting into; hell we didn’t even know we were going to get pregnant.” His shock of blonde hair and his slight, muscular frame suggested an inner tension that energized his slow movements. He looked up at me, catching my eye for just a moment. “But once Sara was born, I was blown away, I was totally into it.”

    Kevin’s baby entered the world one hot July night. “I had watched a lot of those birthing-class...

  5. 2 Couvade in Society and History
    (pp. 32-75)

    In June 2002, international news services reported that doctors had implanted an embryo into the abdomen of a thirty-five-year-old man. The fetus was said to be developing normally and the world could follow its progress at the Web site of the father, Mingwei Lee, and his partner Virgil Wong (Lee and Wong 2002). After frantic scrambling (What did this mean for my research!), I discovered that Lee, when not online, was a performance artist whose work defies traditional concepts of humanity and masculinity. Althoughvirtuallypregnant, he was notactuallypregnant.

    Lee’s artistic imagination challenges our scientific understanding of men...

  6. 3 Standing Vigil: Fathers in the Waiting Room, 1920–1970
    (pp. 76-103)

    The traditional role of fathers in American childbirth is captured in the image of the distraught husband pacing the waiting room floor. For most of the last century, as birthing mothers were admitted to hospitals, delivery room doors swung forcefully closed behind them. Hospital policy and physicians’ directives prohibited the father’s presence at the birth of his own child. The father of the 1950s was left outside to wring his hands and add yet another cigarette to an overflowing ashtray. He paced anxiously in the maternity waiting room, heard the good news from the doctor, and then rushed out to...

  7. 4 Birthing Revolution: Men to the Barricades
    (pp. 104-134)

    In 1968, the United States seemed poised on the brink of social revolution. Students demonstrated against war in Vietnam; women organized against patriarchy; and Blacks took to the streets to demand power. These public conflicts were accompanied by a much more private movement to change one of life’s most intimate moments—the birth of a child. American couples who had redefined sexual attitudes and rewritten marriage vows now rejected conventional birth. They refused to submit to a sterile surgical event that removed babies from somnolent bodies; they wanted to birth babies with comfort, control, and confidence. These maternity ward radicals...

  8. 5 Birthing Classes: Training Men to Birth
    (pp. 135-160)

    Men in the United States do not learn about birth from their fathers around the campfire, nor do they watch other dads in the delivery room. They do not generally talk about it over beer or basketball. In fact, men are not much of a source of information for birthing fathers. When experienced dads do talk to young fathers about birth, their advice is usually supportive, but perfunctory; as one put it, “The one friend I talked with said my part is to stay on my feet where she can see me.”

    Mothers and fathers prepare differently for birth. Pregnant...

  9. 6 Menʹs Experience of Birth
    (pp. 161-210)

    Mark fought through the grogginess of early morning sleep, responding to a voice that sounded important. Warm flannel sheets conspired against him. Words assembled as images in his mind, even before he understood their meaning. “Mark, wake up.” His eyes flew open and he stared at the ceiling. The voice came again: “Wake up, I think she’s coming!”

    Mary’s voice was gritty with anxiety, as if he might curl back under the covers. Mark’s mind raced. She was in labor! The baby was coming! There was no way that he could have fallen back to sleep; nor, however, could he...

  10. 7 Fathers, Birth, and Society
    (pp. 211-242)

    Kevin, who opened the first chapter, was initiated into fatherhood by the powerful rituals of hospital childbirth. As he cut the cord and handed out cigars, he filled a much larger role—he was the stage manager in the drama of birth. He performed a carefully scripted performance in birthing classes, the labor room, and during the final delivery. Kevin played the part of a good provider, a trained coach, and a supportive husband in the long and difficult birthing. He left the hospital exhilarated by the little bundle in his arms, yet he was confused and conflicted about what...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 243-246)
    (pp. 247-256)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 257-259)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 260-260)