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Fathers do not have the right to be present at the birth of their child

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.

Comments

  1. Menyambal says

    I agree with the decision. The woman gets to invite or not invite, nobody else has a right.

    I have trouble thinking the guy was doing anything other than being a jerk.

  2. ambassadorfromverdammt says

    A father’s presence at childbirth is always a privilege granted by the mother. It is never a right. I applaud this judge’s ruling.

  3. wtfwhateverd00d says

    I don’t understand anything about this case.

    I would have assumed, REGARDLESS of sex or gender, that the only people with a “right” to be in a room where a medical procedure is taking place is the patient, the patient’s designated medical team, and any “representatives” (friends, family, press) the patient designates.

    I am about as pro-father as one can be, but cannot imagine any person (or any shitbag lawyer) making the argument that they have a right to be present during the medical procedure of any other competent adult that has chosen to exclude them.

    That said, I do believe a father (who has not otherwise had his parental rights stripped of him) has a right to be told when the birth is taking place, where the birth is taking place, to be present in person in a hospital waiting room close to the birth where the father can be kept up to date with status of the delivery, health of his baby, and reasonable privacy respecting updates regarding the health of the mother.

    After the birth, …

    If a mother chooses to “abandon” her baby, the father should be given first right over any adoption agency, and even over any agreement the mother has made with 3rd parties that the father has not signed on to.

    And in general, custody arrangements should be made with a rebuttable presumption of joint shared physical custody.

  4. Kimpatsu says

    Changing the subject, though, Mano, do you not find it absurd that your elder daughter can never run for US president but your younger daughter can? I would have thought they were both equally American!

  5. lochaber says

    So, just for the sake of argument, suppose the father could insist on his “right” to be present at birth.

    How would he prove the child is his?

  6. Jonny Vincent says


    Hormones In Labour & Birth – How Your Body Helps You

    By Dr Sarah J Buckley

    Four of the major hormonal systems are active during labor and birth. These involve oxytocin, the hormone of love; endorphins, hormones of pleasure and transcendence; adrenaline and noradrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine), hormones of excitement; and prolactin, the mothering hormone. These systems are common to all mammals and originate deep in our mammalian or middle brain.

    For birth to proceed optimally, this part of the brain must take precedence over the neocortex, or rational brain. This shift can be helped by an atmosphere of quiet and privacy with, for example, dim lighting and little conversation, and no expectation of rationality from the laboring woman. Under such conditions a woman will intuitively choose the movements, sounds, breathing, and positions that will birth her baby most easily. This is her genetic and hormonal blueprint.

    All of these systems are adversely affected by current birth practices. Hospital environments and routines are not generally conducive to the shift in consciousness that giving birth naturally requires. A woman’s hormonal physiology is further disturbed by practices such as induction, the use of painkillers and epidurals, cesarean surgery.

    Undisturbed birth is exceedingly rare in our culture, which reflects our ignorance of its importance. Two factors that disturb birth in all mammals are firstly being in an unfamiliar place and secondly the presence of an observer. Feelings of safety and privacy thus seem to be fundamental. Yet the entire system of Western obstetrics is devoted to observing pregnant and birthing women, by both people and machines, and when birth isn’t going smoothly, obstetricians respond with yet more intense observation.

    A female endurance athlete / mother would be able to confirm, but from what I can tell, mothers and obstetricians are utterly butchering childbirth. They’ve got everything around back to front. I can’t understand why the father would be allowed anywhere near the room. He’d just be a useless distraction.

    I was a middle-distance runner for a few years not because I liked running – I hated it – ah, I was a junkie-in-denial. I was addicted to endorphin release. It’s like….orgasmic and it feels a little wrong probably because you’re almost molesting yourself in a way, I guess. Tricking your mind into stepping in and flooding your body with bliss. When the floodgates open, nothing feels wrong. It’s sheer euphoria. Nothing could bother you. The world could observe for all I cared. If someone chopped your finger off, I don’t think you’d feel a thing. It’s really powerful. That’s after the release.

    I don’t see how it can be done with distractions or under observation. It’s kinda private, intense concentration required. You have to be in the zone and holding your worried partner’s hand suggests that mothers don’t understand how powerful these natural painkillers are. Perhaps only an endurance athlete would understand, or a mother that really knows what she’s doing.

    I would wager female endurance athletes would know exactly what they need and I could be wrong, but I would be stunned if they were willing to tolerate even the slightest distraction.

  7. anat says

    Jonny Vincent, I was very thankful for my husband’s presence when our daughter was born – both labor and the birth itself. It was a good thing to have someone I trusted present the entire time, someone who knew my preferences and whom I could trust to look out for me.

    I was in the delivery room for hours and hours. The worst distraction were the doctors (there was a lot of arguing amongst them and between them and us), the second worse were the various staff members that had to get stuff that happened to be stored in the room I was in. The only helpful people around were my husband and the nurse-midwives. (Plural doctors and plural midwives due to changes of shift.) As for privacy regarding observation – of all those who were there, the one whose observation I didn’t mind at all was my husband. (The birth was unmedicated, in case you were wondering. When it got intense each contraction ended with me weakly muttering that I couldn’t do it any longer, and then dozing off until the next one hit shortly afterwards.)

  8. rq says

    I was very grateful to have my husband beside me for two of three births. Basically, because of what anat says:

    It was a good thing to have someone I trusted present the entire time, someone who knew my preferences and whom I could trust to look out for me.

    And yes, unmedicated births – it’s nice to have someone there to hold your hand.
    That being said, if our relationship wasn’t what it was, I wouldn’t have had any problems in insisting that he wait outside and not be present, since it’s still a rather private, medical experience.
    The ruling was entirely appropriate.

  9. smrnda says

    My take is the woman is the patient – medical professionals will need to be present, but beyond that, anybody else should be up to the woman.

    Not just fathers, but I’ve even heard of the grandmother, grandfather, sister brother – pretty much entire families who felt horrible for being excluded, which gets to the point of absurdity.

  10. sheikhmahandi says

    I was present for the birth of our first daughter, I missed the birth of our second as took too long to get from Retford, England to Arbroath, Scotland by train. I was present for the birth of first son, but again missed the birth of our second, as it took too long to get from Motherwell, Scotland, to Dundee Scotland. This does not mean that the bonds between us are lessened any because I was or was not present, all of our children are wonderful, and I love them all. If my wife had not wanted me at the delivery of the two I could get to, then I would have been upset, but then only ones with a right to be there with her were the medical professionals.

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