Sunday, June 07, 2009

Civilized Rituals

In last Thursday's WSJ, Jonathan Last reviewed the book "Make Room For Daddy" by Judith Walzer Leavitt. The book is a look at how the role of father's in the actual birth of their children has changed over the years. The piece also included a great nugget showing how much delivery rooms have as well:

As birthing increasingly moved to hospitals in the 1940s, fathers became more involved, at first confined to the waiting room, sometimes dubbed the "Stork Club" or, more quaintly, the "Husband Room." These were the days of chain smoking or ducking out to a bar while the women and doctors did whatever it was they were doing. Ms. Leavitt reports that one hospital sent fathers home and later dispatched a telegram announcing that the blessed event had occurred.

In the 1950s, fathers were pulled into the process thanks to a book by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read. His "Childbirth Without Fear" advocated natural birthing -- this was before the targeted anesthesia of epidurals, when many women were simply knocked out for the duration. Dr. Dick-Read also argued that husbands should be with their wives up to the moment of delivery, supporting and comforting them. The book was a sensation. Men began migrating to labor rooms, where they rubbed their wives' backs and witnessed the preliminary motions in the great feminine trial.

The natural child-birth counterculture was helped along, oddly enough, by the development of caudal anesthesia, a revolutionary drug that permitted women to manage pain while remaining awake during birth. Ms. Leavitt quotes one woman who was amazed at how the new drugs changed the labor-room experience, allowing certain civilized rituals to be observed: "When I'd drained [the coffee], my husband lighted a cigarette and passed it over to me. I took it gratefully." Shortly after, she was wheeled into the delivery room, leaving behind the cigarette-provider.

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