Birthing Fathers: The Transformation of Men in American Rites of Birth

Birthing Fathers: The Transformation of Men in American Rites of Birth

Birthing Fathers: The Transformation of Men in American Rites of Birth

Birthing Fathers: The Transformation of Men in American Rites of Birth


"Treating birth as ritual, Reed makes clever use of his anthropological expertise, qualitative data, and personal experience to bring to life the frustrations and joys men often encounter as they navigate the medical model of birthing."-William Marsiglio, author Sex, Men, and Babies: Stories of Awareness and Responsibility

In the past two decades, men have gone from being excluded from the delivery room to being admitted, then invited, and, finally, expected to participate actively in the birth of their children. No longer mere observers, fathers attend baby showers, go to birthing classes, and share in the intimate, everyday details of their partners' pregnancies.

In this unique study, Richard Reed draws on the feminist critique of professionalized medical birthing to argue that the clinical nature of medical intervention distances fathers from child delivery. He explores men's roles in childbirth and the ways in which birth transforms a man's identity and his relations with his partner, his new baby, and society. In other societies, birth is recognized as an important rite of passage for fathers. Yet, in American culture, despite the fact that fathers are admitted into delivery rooms, little attention is given to their transition to fatherhood.

The book concludes with an exploration of what men's roles in childbirth tell us about gender and American society. Reed suggests that it is no coincidence that men's participation in the birthing process developed in parallel to changing definitions of fatherhood more broadly. Over the past twenty years, it has become expected that fathers, in addition to being strong and dependable, will be empathetic and nurturing.

Well-researched, candidly written, and enriched with personal accounts of over fifty men from all parts of the world, this book is as much about the birth of fathers as it is about fathers in birth.


It was as if a part of me hadn’t woken up until then. Something innate, I really
started to feel a small voice talking to me and I was listening to it. I never
heard it before then; and it was so very, very deep—very, very special—and
very, very strong.


Kevin hunched forward in the booth of the coffee shop, rolling the mug slowly in his calloused hands. “We didn’t really know what we were getting into; hell we didn’t even know we were going to get pregnant.” His shock of blonde hair and his slight, muscular frame suggested an inner tension that energized his slow movements. He looked up at me, catching my eye for just a moment. “But once Sara was born, I was blown away, I was totally into it.”

Kevin’s baby entered the world one hot July night. “I had watched a lot of those birthing-class videos and every time I’d be like, ‘Oh man, this looks terrible.’ But it wasn’t like that when Sara was born. It was magical.” Kevin’s eyes started to fill with tears as he talked about wrapping himself around the little being, or how she grasped the air with tiny hands, arched her back, and opened her perfect, pink mouth. Even six months later it was clear that for that moment, and from that moment, Kevin’s world was engulfed by this new little person.

Kevin is destined to become a new kind of father. Gone are the days when Dad’s job was simply to keep his daughters well dressed and his sons straight. Today’s fathers change diapers and brush hair, pack lunches, and bandage scraped knees. The ideal father is no longer the stern patriarch or distant provider, but a warm and accessible caregiver. Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach, child-rearing specialists, put dads next to moms on the covers of their books and Bill Cosby was raised to God-father status as he bantered with his TV teenagers.

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