Notes from the stork room

The role of dads in the birth of their children is so well established, it’s hard to remember there was a time when fathers were firmly relegated to the waiting room.

Just in time for Father’s Day, Judith Leavitt, a professor of medical history and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, has published a book about how men’s role in childbirth has evolved:  "Make Room for Daddy: The Journey from Waiting Room to Birthing Room."

Leavitt originally planned to write about childbirth from a woman’s perspective. Then, while doing research among the archives at a Chicago hospital, she came across a stack of journals from the 1940s and 1950s, filled with reflections and worries written by men as they sat in the waiting room.

In an online interview, Leavitt describes how these journals captured her attention:

In these books, the men wrote entries in which they poured their hearts out with the emotion of the time. They prayed to God and wished for male children; they gave each other advice. Then, when other men came into the room, they read what the men before them had written and wrote their own poignant messages. These books made me realize the importance of men’s roles in childbirth and enticed me to write their stories.

The new focus of her book became the evolving role of fathers in childbirth. Besides the journals, Leavitt sought out oral histories, interviews, men’s writings and writings in medical and nursing journals and the popular press.

Today, most fathers accompany their wife or partner through labor and delivery, Leavitt said. But many of them feel ambivalent about being there. She notes that "as men participate more, they find that some of their own needs around impending fatherhood are not yet satisfied by the hospital experience." As a result, many hospitals are starting to take steps to help fulfill the father’s expectations about being part of the labor and delivery experience, Leavitt said.

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