We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Birthing Fathers

The Transformation of Men in American Rites of Birth

Richard K. Reed

Publication Year: 2005

"Birthing Fathers is a groundbreaking anthropological and sociological analysis of American fatherhood and men’s role in birthing."—Robbie Davis-Floyd, author of Birth as an American Rite of Passage

"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 Responsibility

In 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (28.9 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (18.7 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (26.5 KB)
pp. ix-x

First and foremost I thank my life partner, Lisa Chatillon. She introduced me to feminist ideas long ago, literally labored through my introduction to fatherhood, and shared her books on both topics as I developed my own perspective on birthing. ...

read more

Chapter 1: American Fathers and Hospital Childbirth

pdf iconDownload PDF (123.6 KB)
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. ...

read more

Chapter 2: Couvade in Society and History

pdf iconDownload PDF (153.8 KB)
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). ...

read more

Chapter 3: Standing Vigil: Fathers in the Waiting Room, 1920–1970

pdf iconDownload PDF (115.3 KB)
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. ...

read more

Chapter 4: Birthing Revolution: Men to the Barricades

pdf iconDownload PDF (124.0 KB)
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 ...

read more

Chapter 5: Birthing Classes: Training Men to Birth

pdf iconDownload PDF (112.5 KB)
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. ...

read more

Chapter 6: Men’s Experience of Birth

pdf iconDownload PDF (168.7 KB)
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. ...

read more

Chapter 7: Fathers, Birth, and Society

pdf iconDownload PDF (124.5 KB)
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. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (41.2 KB)
pp. 243-246


pdf iconDownload PDF (59.6 KB)
pp. 247-256


pdf iconDownload PDF (39.7 KB)
pp. 257-259

read more

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (26.5 KB)

Richard K. Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Trinity University in Texas. His work explores birthing in American hospitals as ritual, specifically the process by which men make the passage to fatherhood. This is part of his larger interest in masculinity as an ever-changing cultural construction. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813537818
E-ISBN-10: 0813537819
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813535166

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2005