Giving birth is complicated.
Women should have the option to decide how they want it to go, including whether their partner is by their side throughout the process and whether that partner gets to sleep in the hospital room with them at night while she recovers.
There's a big debate happening over this on Twitter sparked by a viral tweet posted by Annie Ridout, which stated, "My local hospital doesn't allow partners to stay on [the] postnatal ward after their baby has been born. I think this is outrageous - unfair on the mother; unfair on the father, who's being made to feel unimportant. He needs to bond too."
Like Ridout, I didn’t have a say in whether or not my husband got to stay. It was not allowed by my hospital.
While pregnant with my son, I had a general plan in place. Sure, I knew there might be some changes that were out of my control, but I was willing to go with the flow. Then my son decided to practically throw himself out of me without much warning.
I felt very alone as I braced myself through contractions, waiting for my husband to hurry home from work.
I felt very alone when those contractions were so close together I was at risk of giving birth in our truck in the Lincoln Tunnel as we rushed to my NYC hospital.
I felt very alone as the brusque OB on call refused to believe how far along I was in labor in such a short time until a nurse examined me, refused to listen to me when I asked for an epidural, then stopped the delivery process to yell at me for crying out in pain when she tore me open.
It was all so fast, so shocking, so painful. My son arrived safely, healthy. That part was wonderful.
But then the hubbub of the day ended—my husband was kicked out of my room when visiting hours ended and the baby taken to the nursery.
And once more, I felt very alone.
Yes, there was another new mom behind the curtain on the other side of the room. She didn’t want to talk, for she had gone through a C-section and was in her own kind of pain.
I really could have used the presence and support of my best friend, the man who saw what I had just gone through and wanted to do anything he could to support me. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do anything until visiting hours the next day.
A visitor. Not my partner, not the man who helped make that baby. The message was that he was “just” the father. He didn’t “need” to be there with me or our child.
I couldn’t imagine being sent away from them, if the tables were turned.
My second delivery was also very fast, but we knew what to expect this time. We had family at home to watch our son, and fled to the maternity ward upon my first contraction.
This time, I was able to get my epidural, the OB on call was lovely, I felt heard.
Then I was wheeled to my shared room, tucked in by the window. My husband slipped out to get us some lunch after kissing our daughter in her bassinet by my side. I woke from a nap to discover that I was sharing the room with gangbangers. There had been a school shooting that day, and the couple was talking about what kind of gun would have been more effective. How they could have taken even more people down.
I felt very alone in that corner, with violent strangers between us and the bathroom, us and the door. Was I really to spend the night on my own alongside someone who was willing to hurt others, fellow new mom or not? Why was my loving husband not allowed in the room with me as I slept, but this absolute stranger was?
My OB slipped in and whispered into my ear that he heard them, had caught my husband in the hall, and sent him to go pay for a private room for my own wellbeing. It cost us hundreds of dollars to get me away from them, but we did it.
In that private room we paid for, my husband was still sent away when visiting hours were over.
Once again, I could have used him by my side that night. He would have loved to have been in there with me and our daughter, sleeping together as a family for the first time, taking care of me and her when needed. But we were not given the option.
Everyone has their own wants and needs, especially when it comes to something as personal as childbirth, recovery, and bonding during the first few days of their child’s life. It is frustrating to have what some of us might want or need not even be an option because of a hospital policy.
I absolutely understand wanting to allow mothers who just went through giving birth to have a quiet night’s sleep. When my newborns weren’t nursing at night, I mostly let them sleep in the nursery to give myself a break. It did me some good. But would having my husband in there with me have been better for me, personally? I guess I'll never know.
Let’s give mothers the options to have all of the support and resources they need after giving birth, for as long as they want them: including having their partner by their side overnight if that is what they wish for.
Let’s give fathers the option to bond with their new children from the start; to be treated as a vital part of that newborn’s life and mother’s comfort instead of as simply a visitor.