Dear Dr. Faizal,
My wife and I are expecting our first child and we’re very excited. But for the last few weeks, my wife has been upset with me. She wants me to be with her during her labour and delivery. I thought she was joking but she is quite serious about it. I don’t think men should be with their wives at this time. Where I come from, it is the women of the family who stay with a woman when she is giving birth. How can I make my wife understand this?
– I’ll Wait Outside
Dear I’ll Wait Outside,
Historically, in every culture, men waited in another room (or in the hospital waiting room) while their wife was giving birth. They were only told of the birth after it happened. There are a few reasons as to why it was this way. Comedians have made fun of this, but in reality, some men feel nauseous and faint in the birthing room, creating an environment of added stress for their partner.
With the anguish of delivering a baby, some women release their pain by directing their frustrations at the father of their soon-to-be-born child. As one of my male clients, a loving husband and a proud father shared about his experience in the delivery room: “I didn’t faint, but I was black and blue. While giving birth, my wife was constantly punching me.”
In some societies, the culture is such that it was considered shameful for a man, any man (except for the OB/GYN), to see a woman in this compromising situation. There is perhaps a sexual element here since I’ve heard that in certain cultures, men don’t want to see their wife giving birth because from then on, they only view their wife as a mother and regard the wife’s vagina in a maternal way instead of in a sexual way. This creates issues with sexual arousal and erectile challenges in these men.
If these reasons (or others) apply, tell your wife so she can understand your resistance. Simply stating that you “don’t think men should be with their wives at this time” is not enough. Your wife – the future mother of your child – needs more. She needs to appreciate (not necessarily agree with, though) your position so she doesn’t continue to be “upset” with you.
To resolve this conflict, you both must understand each other’s position. I believe that it’s important for you to understand that in the west, both partners are involved in parenting right from the beginning. A woman conceives a baby with a man and wants him to be a pivotal part of the child’s life, in every way. This includes being there for her and the child from when the little one is born. Your wife may also consider it romantic to have you share this joyous time.
You must have an open, honest, non-judgmental discussion with your wife. She needs validation from you. Perhaps you could tell her not being in the delivery room will not lessen your love for her nor your commitment as a father. Maybe you could negotiate a happy medium by agreeing that you would be in the waiting room during the delivery but will be with her and the baby immediately afterwards and during the remainder of the hospital stay, where you will help by bathing, feeding (if need be), changing, and caring for your baby.