- Make Room for Daddy: The Journey from the Waiting Room to the Birthing Room by Judith Walzer Leavitt
Judith Walzer Leavitt traces men’s migration from birth’s periphery to a central role in childbirth. Mid-20th century nuclear family togetherness shaped men’s increasing involvement in childbirth. Although men and women demanded that husbands accompany their wives in labor and, having won that right, to delivery, the initial impulse was not egalitarian—traditional gender roles followed men into the maternity ward. American medicalization of childbirth and cultural investment in hospital birth buttressed opposition to fathers’ presence. Some contrarian doctors drew on powerful sexual stereotypes, concerned with the future attraction of men to their wives and their own authority, remaining convinced that men did not belong at births into the 1970s. Hospital design slowed men’s transition from the waiting room to the delivery room, constituting physical and logistical barriers that patient demand in a competitive healthcare marketplace overcame. Room size hindered male presence in labor; in delivery, windowed rooms defied modesty conventions. This transformation occurred despite such obstacles, Walzer concludes, because “support of the nuclear family and respect for medicine,” not revolutionary militance, ushered men into birthing rooms. Bringing dad into childbirth posed no challenge to doctors’ authority, masculine roles in the nuclear family, nor to the medicalization of child birth; rather fathers’ coaching accommodated all three while promoting paternal attachment. As men left behind the “stork clubs,” literally and metaphorically, they remained at the head of the (delivery) table, and have more recently demanded attention for their unique needs in the transformative experience of childbirth.
Making Room shows the continuity in opposition to and arguments for fatherly presence at birth, leading to some repetition. Yet, faithful to her sources, Walzer depicts this gradual change in detail; thus, readers are treated to disturbing examples of male bonding over the delivery table between doctors and dads and to the emotionally resonant voices of men denied access to the birth of their children and of wives who endured alone, as well as the elation of couples who partnered through birth. Privileged men began the move in the forties and fifties, starting with isolated hospitals, physicians, and expectant dads. The natural childbirth movement augmented these efforts; feminism added power to demands for partner attendance. The white middle class found access first; working class, African-American, and Southern couples had the least access to the fatherly participation.
Walzer uncovers ‘fathers’ books’, poignant journals where men scribbled their fears and joys about their children’s births during the waiting room era, revealing their vulnerability, and expressing discontent with their isolation from their wives. Surveying sources ranging from oral histories, sitcoms, and medical literature to hospital plans, Walzer charts men’s increasing role and expanded voice, alongside of the voices of birthing women, creating a social, cultural, and spatial history of birth. Fathers’ participation invited family members, same-sex partners and other attendants to accompany laboring women, as families accommodated the hospital [End Page 212] birth, and hospitals competed with new alternatives. Attuned to the emotions and power relations of hospital births, Making Room, contributes mightily to the history of American childbirth, medicine, and families.