Dr. Michelle Golland: I have often said to the couples in my practice that it may be the most difficult time in history to be a father.
I believe this because our generation of men had a lot of expectations thrust upon them, but didn't really have a "movement" to define the change they have experienced as men, husbands and fathers. It's not that I don't think the changes are positive, but let's face it: It doesn't make them any less challenging. When I think of my own husband, I realize that he is expected to be manly and strong, connected emotionally to me and his children, work hard at his job, come home happy, assist with dinner, help me clean up and then put the kids to bed. He is to do all this with his only role model of "Dad" being completely different from his experience! His father worked from 9 to 5, expected his dinner to be on the table, loved his kids but was not so involved in their lives and certainly was not expected to be emotionally in tune with his wife and "understand" her feelings (as well as his children's).
Our fathers were also not allowed in the hospital room while our mothers gave birth to us. That didn't come into fashion until the 1970s; it came out of the women's movement and the natural-childbirth movement. It was an effort to help keep the mother relaxed while she gave birth naturally -- and in the humanistic movement of psychology, it was thought to create a deeper connection between the couple and the infant by inviting the father into the birth experience.
It just seems unfair to paint the dads who are squeamish about witnessing birth (and may have a lowered sexual arousal for a time toward their wife because of the experience) as "bad, evil men." It's no different from the fact that, for some women, packing on the pounds during pregnancy is not seen as the wonderful, beautiful, goddess-like experience it is for others. I know many female clients who have a lowered libido due to having gone through childbirth and feeling like a baby-milk factory -- so why wouldn't the experience of witnessing all of this just maybe lower men's libido or sexual desire towards us?
The initial reaction by most mothers to men who confess their negative feelings about witnessing the birth of their child is that of hostility and frustration. You know, the thought of, "Oh, grow up and deal with it" does not allow these dads to express their feelings about the birth -- and that is simply unfair to them. Is it immature that they don't seem able to get past the vision of their sexy wife pushing a watermelon out of her vagina -- which ends up looking nothing like the vagina they knew before the glorious event? Maybe, but that doesn't change the reality that some dads need a little understanding to get over the visual.
I know some women who were in such fear of pooping while on the table that they received enemas before going to the hospital to deliver the baby! You see, the whole thing, in my mind, is related to how some people need to maintain a distinction between the sexual, reproductive and bodily elimination aspects of themselves to still feel sexual feelings toward their partners. I know some people who still don't fart in front of their partners -- or if they do, it is really embarrassing. I know couples who do not ever want to poop in front of each other. Is this a healthy relationship? It depends upon the agreement of the couple, and if they each feel comfortable with this separated experience.
There's been a huge cultural shift between 30 years ago (when we saw few men in the delivery rooms) and now (when nearly all fathers are present). Allowing men to share their own experience of witnessing birth should open a dialogue among couples that can lead to a healthy and authentic experience for each person.