Some friends of mine just had a new baby a few days ago. Well, I say friends, but what I mean is: my friend had a baby and her husband became a father again. But, you totally understood what I meant. I think everyone does. A beautiful – more importantly healthy – baby boy. Their third child and first boy. And proud Dad posted pic after pic of their handsome little man on Facebook (I’m sure Mama was resting up; she’d had a long day.).
I hesitantly resisted, again and again, the urge to tell him congratulations, as I have for the past year or so with other friends who’ve become fathers, since reading the opinions of some feminist authors and bloggers, and let me tell you why.
It’s not that I’m not happy for him (or any of the other dads). I really am. Welcoming a baby is such a joyous and life-changing event for both parents. It was written all over this dad’s face. It was in the tension in his biceps and his conversely relaxed fingers gently cradling the baby, making sure to keep a secure hold on him while being careful not to hold him too tightly. It was in the downward curve of his neck and the slope of his shoulders as he gazed down onto his little boy’s perfect face. There was no doubt that he was beyond overjoyed with his new son. And I felt compelled to acknowledge his joy.
And I also understand (from the perspective of a mother whose partner was there through four births), that the father is completely and utterly helpless. Sure, he helped make it, he helped the mother through her pregnancy as much as he was able. He stood by her side through it all, helping to comfort her, coach her, and cheer her on and assure her she was doing a great job. That makes it all the more bittersweet when dad holds that baby for his very first pics, because he was there, but unable to do much but try and breathe, hope and pray that the baby and the mother would come through it all ok. Those pics are proof that everything turned out the way he’d hoped.
But, when it all comes down to it, it is the mother who goes it alone. She’s the only one who can. Of course, dad’s there for moral support. There are the nurses and the doctor, who are there for obvious reasons. But even with a cesarian, the mother is the one who births the baby. It is the woman who must labor, must go through the pain and the tearing and the stretching to – one way or another – welcome her child into the world. And, here’s where this whole thing gets tricky.
I’ve read several articles and books over the years (that I cannot find for the life of me to reference, but they’re out there if you search for them) about how the entire affair of childbirth is being taken away by men (male doctors scaring women into believing they are incapable of delivering babies without their help and expertise, despite never having birthed children themselves) and the credit is going to (or always has gone to) the fathers in the form of congratulations. Now, I consider myself a feminist and an intelligent person, so let’s examine this for a second before we start choosing sides and starting fights, because I’ve opened up that highly pressurized can called feminism that tends to cause an explosion of hard-and-fast opinions of agreement and disagreement.
First, I can see where these feminists (several of them men), are coming from. As women, we have been birthing babies since, well, the beginning of time and (I would assume based on the current population) have been somewhat successful. We are the proud owners of our vaginas and uteruses; we know how they work. But, it would seem that over time, we have begun to lose authority over our lady parts. I’m not just talking about the birth control debates of late. I’m talking about the tendency over hundreds of years for male doctors to claim that they were the only ones capable of practicing in the medical field. As advances in medicine and technology evolved, all things dealing with healing and care shifted from the home and local healers to the medical professionals in shiny office buildings and multi-floored hospitals. Over time, it has just become standard for anyone with a medical need to seek out a doctor. And while it certainly isn’t true anymore that all doctors are male, the overwhelming majority, even in OB/GYN are. So, I can certainly see how these authors got from point A to point B. Now we try to get to point C.
I’m going to go down a slippery slope here – I’m not sure it’s fair to say anymore that childbirth has been taken away from women. In 2017, women have many more options than they have previously. Doctors, midwives, doulas, homebirths, waterbirths, scheduled c-sections, gentle cesarians. It’s not available to everyone, everywhere, or under all circumstances, but from the time my first child was born to my fourth (less than six years!), the choices not only became more available, but more widely practiced. Perhaps, this is due to the rise of feminism and the re-claiming of childbirth. Perhaps, it’s just a natural shift in our cultural consciousness. I have no proof one way or another. Definitely, women had less say about childbirth in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (and plenty others to boot) than they do today. But, how does this extend exactly to fathers taking credit? Surely, everyone knows mom did all the work, right?
Well, some say no. I’ve read a few articles where some have claimed that in people congratulating the father, they’re really undermining the effort of the mother and her role in the whole ordeal. I always assumed everyone knew that men don’t simultaneously squeeze misshapen, 8 lb. lumps out of their nether regions in the delivery room, and therefore, don’t do as much work as the mothers. But, somehow, offering congratulations to the less-physically-involved father has come across as forgetting mothers after all is said and done. And I just don’t know if I can get on board with it. Yes, people hug the dad. Yes, they congratulate him and say things like “you guys did great” when looking at the new wrinkly potato in the thermal hospital blanket. But…I got congratulated, too. I got hugs, too. And moreso, looks of sympathy and understanding from those who’d been through it. Maybe that’s not true for all mothers; I certainly can’t speak for anyone else. Maybe I just haven’t read widely enough on the subject through a feminist lens or misunderstood what the authors meant. And, were they only citing the congratulations of the father as an example of how they believe childbirth has been taken away from women, or did they mean that the whole ceremony of paternal congratulations should stop?
I have no answer to that. But, it seems that perhaps going so far as to suggest that we stop congratulating men on the birth of their new babies and the growth of their families on the basis that it doesn’t give due credit to the mother seems a little extreme. When I saw those pictures on Facebook, I was overjoyed with the news of my friends’ new addition. I was so excited to see their little boy, to hear the new name, to be assured that everyone was healthy and well. It brought happiness to my heart to see how happy they were, and dammit, I wanted to congratulate them both, though I was pretty certain I wouldn’t get the chance to congratulate Mom for a few days on social media (like I said, it’s hard work and a gal’s gotta rest after that).
Still, I hesitated. It’s taken me several days and the writing of this post to sort through my feelings on the matter, but I tried looking up synonyms for the word “congratulations,” and you know what I came up with? “Felicitaitons,” “best wishes,” “good work,” and a few others that either seemed too awkward or inappropriate for the situation. “Good work,” just didn’t fit at all. If there were any phrase that bothered me, it would be “good work.” I’d save that one for Mama exclusively, since she was the one who “labored” after all. But, in terms of a suitable substitute for the word, I found none. And I don’t think I should have to. What I’m going to say next doesn’t apply to all situations, but in this instance, I think it does. The context is what’s important here. If I were to say to my friend (Dad) “congratulations on your new little man,” he, I, and every other person would know what I meant: congratulations (to you and your wife) on the birth of another little bundle of love, on the expansion of your family; I’m so happy for you; I recognize your joy and I feel it, too; *HUGS*.
I don’t honestly think that in a world with so many other obstacles we face that something of this nature needs my attention, especially when there is no comparable alternative in verbal use. I still consider myself a feminist, and if you do, too, I don’t think this particular issue should define you one way or the other (as if anyone but you can do that anyway, right?). Maybe I’ll change my mind one day (we all do at least once or twice in life), but until we resolve some of these other women’s issues, like accessible and affordable birth control, equal pay and job opportunity, …respect, to say the least, I think I’ll let this one go.
So, if you have a guy friend who’s just become a dad, you have my permission to pop on over to his Facebook page and type “CONGRATULATIONS!!!” (In all caps, with three exclamation points. Hell, use four or five; who’s really counting?) Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some belated “felicitations” to spread to one super proud papa.
Like this Aha! moment? Check out The True Meaning of Birthday and then pop over to see my daughter’s Up-themed birthday party to see how I kind of also go crazy when it comes to parties. Don’t forget to subscribe for e-mail updates!