My older daughter was born in Sri Lanka. It was not the practice at that time there for fathers to be present in the delivery room and so I was not there when she was born but saw her soon after when she and her mother were back in their room. My younger daughter was born four years later in the US and this time I was present at the delivery.
The two occasions were different experiences for me but I cannot say that being actually present or absent was a major factor affecting my relationships with my daughters. Being a father is a long-term commitment and being present at the actual birth rapidly faded into insignificance (for me at least) over time, overtaken by all the other aspects of parenthood. I do not feel that I missed out on some magical bonding experience with my first child.
So I was interested in this case where a father brought a lawsuit charging that it was wrong for him to have been excluded from the delivery room while his estranged wife gave birth to their child because she objected to his presence. This issue has apparently never been litigated in the US. On March 10, 2014, the judge ruled against the father in the case of Plotnik v. DeLuccia.
The judge said that the stress of delivery and the mother’s right to privacy trumped any possible harm that the father alleged that he would suffer by being denied access to the delivery room.
A finding in favor of plaintiff for both notification and forced entry into the delivery room would in fact be inconsistent with existing jurisprudence on the interests of women in the children they carry pre-birth. It would create practical concerns where the father’s unwelcomed presence could cause additional stress on the mother and child.
If an injunction were to be issued in this application, the mother would suffer the discomfort of having an unwanted person present during a medical procedure. Her special relationship to the child to be born, which has been recognized by the Supreme Court in Casey would be infringed. Further, the additional stress that the father’s presence may add to an already stressful situation could endanger both the mother and the fetus. [p. 19]
Flowing from all these findings, the court further finds that requiring the mother to notify the father that she has gone into labor and or require his physical presence would be an undue burden on her. There can be no question that any mother is under immense physical and psychological pain during labor, and for the State to interfere with her interest in privacy during this critical time would contradict the State’s own interest in protecting the potentiality of human life. The order the father seeks would invade her sphere of privacy and force the mother to provide details of her medical condition to a person she does not desire to share that information with. Thus the court finds that the mother’s constitutionally protected interests before the child is born far outweigh the State’s and father’s interests during the delivery period. [p. 23]
This ruling seems right to me. A father has of course many rights with regards to his child but being present in the delivery room is not one that seems very pressing.
Incidentally Sohail Mohammed, the Indian-American New Jersey state superior court judge who issued this ruling, was appointed to his post in 2011 by governor Chris Christie who had to angrily defy conservative critics who opposed it because he is a Muslim. They said that this was the first step towards imposing Sharia law.