The midwife clipped the umbilical cord and handed me this new little being. He was all wet and wrinkled, and I held him to my chest, wanting to wrap him in my body and arms and keep him warm and safe. So precious. I offered his little hand my finger and he clutched it, each perfect little fingernail staring up at me, each little knuckle formed by minute folds of beautiful pink skin. My world was transformed—later I realized that it wasn’t only my world. I myself became a new person in the process.
Midwives, fathers and mothers all agree that dads should participate in childbirth. They are less clear, however, about why dads should be there. Do fathers really ease birthing for mothers? Is there a moral obligation to accompany mothers on their passage? Do babies need fathers to hold them while mothers recuperate? My own introduction to birthing made one thing perfectly clear. In addition to all the other good reasons for fathers’ presence at birth, it was a wonderful way for me and my son to begin our lives together.
Participating in labor, witnessing birth, and holding his new baby have a profound effect on a father. For the last several years I’ve been interviewing men for a study on childbirth rituals, and I have discovered that almost all fathers talk about the power of the experience of participating in birth and how it affects their identities and relationships with their babies.
Science is documenting what fathers already know: Being at birth lays the groundwork for a man’s lifelong relationship with his baby. The first minutes become part of a powerful and permanent bond between the two. Later, long hours together spent cuddling and playing will help mold a permanent tie that they will depend on throughout life….