MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
On this Father's Day, let's talk about that moment when men actually become fathers - when their children are born. It's a moment that can be terrifying and beautiful. But not that long ago, fathers weren't allowed in the birthing areas. Deena Prichep looks at the journey that men have made into the delivery room.
DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: At a childbirth class in Portland, Ore., Doula Wendy Scharp has a half-dozen pregnant women lean onto yoga balls. And the soon-to-be fathers are right behind them learning their jobs.
WENDY SCHARP: We're finding the top of the pelvis. Then we're going to turn our hands. And we're going to push in and up. Could you do that for 60 seconds?
KHAATIM DE MARCO SMITH: Yeah. I got some time to get in the gym and like...
SCHARP: Yeah, sometimes. Yeah. So...
PRICHEP: Khaatim De Marco Smith and other prospective parents are learning about the stages of labor, birthing positions and breathing techniques. So how did we get to this moment when in, say, the 1950s, men would be pacing a smoke-filled waiting room instead of massaging their partner's sacrum?
Professor Judy Leavitt looked at the history of fathers in childbirth in her book, "Make Room For Daddy." She says to understand how fathers made it into the birthing room, you need to understand how birth itself has changed.
JUDY LEAVITT: Traditional childbirth was really a female event. The woman would call her friends and relatives together to help her. And they'd be all around the birthing bed. And there'd be the midwife.
PRICHEP: A male physician might come and go, and fathers might be asked to boil water, but mostly, this was a room full of women. But in the 20th century, childbirth, like a lot of medical care in this country, moved from the home to the hospital. And while there were some advantages, especially when antibiotics and blood banks came on the scene, Leavitt says it was also lonely.
LEAVITT: The nurses are very busy, and they're in and out. And the laboring women are laboring on their own, and they don't like it.
PRICHEP: And some fathers weren't too happy about being stuck in the waiting rooms.
LEAVITT: Sometimes the rooms were close enough to the labor or delivery room that they could actually hear women calling out, screaming.
PRICHEP: Leavitt says doctors didn't want fathers in the delivery room any more than they'd want them in the room during an appendectomy. But parents began to push back.
LEAVITT: The women were helped a lot by two social movements that were very important in this country. One is the women's movement.
PRICHEP: Which argued that women be able to choose for themselves who's around during labor and delivery.
LEAVITT: And the other is the natural childbirth movement.
PRICHEP: Which lessened the amount of drugs given to birthing women. And that, Leavitt says, in the pre-epidural days of sedatives and anesthetics, made women more aware of who was in the room at all. Parents race and income affected the pace of change and so did the size and location of the hospital. But on the whole, by the 1960s, fathers are regularly in the room during labor. And by the '70s and '80s, dads are there for the birth.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Having fun finding my sacrum?
COLE COONEY: Yes.
PRICHEP: And now at classes like this one in Portland, it's a given that couples will enroll together. For many men, like Cole Cooney, it's hard to even imagine that it's ever been otherwise.
COONEY: I'm certainly not a medical professional or anything like that, but I know my wife lot better than any of the people at the hospital. And so being able to advocate for her is really important.
PRICHEP: And whether that means helping with medical decisions or just massaging through a contraction, the men in this room look like they're ready to be full childbirth partners and pretty soon, fathers. For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Portland, Ore.
(SOUNDBITE OF L'IMPERATRICE'S "VANILLE FRAISE")
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