Kim Kardashian’s relationship with Kanye West began with the most photographed first date in the history of mass media, but since then, they have been apart more often than not. As of April, they had spent approximately three quarters of Kim’s pregnancy in different cities. Kanye was not in the room when Kim discovered their baby’s gender. (Discussion of his penis, however, was.) Now a rumor has emerged that Kanye “won’t physically be in the delivery room” when Kim gives birth because “he’s very squeamish and doesn’t want to be around blood.”
Is that normal? When did fathers become a mandatory presence in delivery rooms, anyway?
In the first half of the twentieth century, fathers who witnessed childbirth were a small minority, explains a BBC feature tracing the history of Western dads in the delivery room. (Exception to the rule: The notoriously baby-averse Queen Victoria enjoyed “the great comfort and support [that] my beloved Albert was to me during the whole time” of her first son’s birth.) The sea change began in the mid-sixties, spurred in part by obstetrician Robert Bradley’s popular 1965 book Husband-Coached Childbirth. Paired with the rise of the Lamaze technique, fathers increasingly ended up in the delivery room as hee-hee-hoo-ing birth assistants. BBC’s experts estimate that three quarters of British dads were in the delivery room by the late seventies. Modern U.S. and U.K. estimates range from 75 to 90 percent. A 2003 study found that 93 percent of fathers who live with their partners witness their children’s births; most men absent from the delivery room are also absent from the mother’s life. Delivery-room dads are more likely to experience PTSD than their female counterparts — both because they are “fully aware” of the “extremely vivid” pain and gore, and because they are powerless.
Gordon Ramsay skipped four childbirths out of fear that his sex life “would be damaged by images like something out of a sci-fi movie—skinned rabbits and conger eels coming at me from everywhere. I didn’t want that to be in my memory. Seeing a woman in distress, screaming at the top of her voice, pushing, pushing, pushing, and sweat, sweat, sweat? I’d rather be stark-bollock naked in a steam room with 50 vegans.” His wife’s response, according to Ramsay: “I don’t want you there. I don’t feel attractive.” As far as acceptable moments to stop worrying about female attractiveness go, “busy bringing a new human into the world” strikes me as a good one, but to each her own.
There is nonetheless a (convoluted) kernel of wisdom in paying attention to how male squeamishness may affect a childbearing woman. John Kennell, a childbirth researcher at Case Western University School of Medicine, finds that women giving birth with the support of another woman choose fewer pain-reducing measures during birth. They are 60 percent less likely to ask for an epidural and half as likely to have a C-section. In The Doula Book, Kennell and two co-authors cite studies of male behavior during childbirth and theorize that the father’s anxiety influences the mother. Nonetheless Kennell says he isn’t discouraging paternal presences from delivery rooms. Rather, he proposes moving away from Bradley’s “husband-coached childbirth” model and toward the use of doulas, trained (and historically female) specialists who provide information, coaching, and support during labor.
Nonetheless, delivery-room absence in the name of squeamishness generally draws rebuke. “Nowadays any self-respecting father has to be there — blood, gore, and all, standing there smiling,” a D.C. obstetrician told the Washington Post in 2006. Or, as one woman put it in a discussion on WhatToExpect.com, “Was he too squeamish to impregnate you? I feel that if you aren’t able to go in a store and buy condoms you shouldn’t have sex. By that same reasoning, if he is too squeamish for labor and delivery, he should have been buying condoms.”