How Did Dad Go from Waiting Room to Birthing Room?

When I first laid eyes on Judith Walzer Leavitt’s book Make Room for Daddy, I had an immediate rapport with the dust jacket from two divergent perspectives.  A rapport with a dust jacket?  Yes, I know, it sounds silly.  Yet, there before me was part of a Norman Rockwell painting showing a maternity ward waiting room filled with fathers-to-be.  The image felt familiar and comfortable because I’ve seen similar representations a million times on television and in print, in movies, cartoons, comics, and more.  You’ve probably seen the same stereotyped representation: the pacing father, worried like crazy, waits for word about the expectant birth; suddenly he learns the results and begins yelling, “It’s a (insert gender here)!” and stuffing cigars in the mouth of anyone who happens by.  It’s a scene that’s been played over so many times that I know it must be true, and it doesn’t immediately strike me as anything out of the ordinary.

Just above the illustration is the book’s subtitle, “The Journey from Waiting Room to Birthing Room.”  Those last two words – birthing room – bring an even more familiar feeling; yet, they give me pause.   As a father of four children born in the past twelve years, birthing rooms are something I know.  I’ve stood by my wife’s side during delivery in them.  I’ve spent days in them.  I’ve held my newborn children in them.  I’ve cared for my wife in them.  I’ve had fitful sleep in them.  I know birthing rooms and have many cherished memories from my time in them.  It is this very experience, this understanding of exactly what the words “birthing room” mean, that makes me realize something is amiss with my comfort level with the Norman Rockwell painting.  I think I identify with what is going on in the illustration; after all, I’ve seen that scene so many times it strikes me as perfectly normal.  In reality, though, I cannot identify with that experience because I’ve never been a father in a maternity waiting room. Normal?  It may have been – it must have been – at some distant  time.  But it is far from normal now.  I don’t even think that experience exists now.

What happened to those waiting rooms?  When did they disappear?  Where did they go?  What was it like for those who waited there?  Ms. Leavitt takes her readers through the history of childbirth in the 20th century, and along the way she pays close attention to the father’s role – and location – through the birthing process.

From a historical perspective (I’m a closet historian, so this stuff fascinates me), I found the information intriguing.  As a dad, I found myself identifying on many levels with the voices of fathers from the past as they expressed their thoughts, fears, concerns, and joys in the waiting process.  I also developed a profound appreciation for the difficulty the men who went before me in fatherhood endured and a thankfulness for the opportunities afforded to me by the times in which I live.

Make Room for Daddy is a scholarly work; Ms. Leavitt presents the results of her research in a straightforward way. For a parent, though, the emotions that you know are connected to the experiences of childbirth come through in a powerful way.  Those who read Make Room for Daddy will benefit from the experience and likely will have a newly deepened respect for what their parents and grandparents went through as they grew their families. I highly recommend this book.

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The opinions expressed in this review are those of the author alone.  The author was provided with a complimentary review copy of the book but received no other compensation.

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