Birth in the United States is generally considered to be influenced by the disability model of being rather than the wellness model of being. In this country, when the mother becomes pregnant, she often calculates her work-schedule so that she can time her “disability” leave request. During that time, she will be “disabled” and have a legitimate reason not to go to work.
The parent(s)-to-be begins making plans on how to get to the hospital, a place full of “un-well” people in the process of trying to “get well”.
As a childless man, I can’t say that I have any recollections of any personal birthing experience, mine or otherwise. I did join my ex-wife’s family at the hospital when my ex-wife had her baby (not mine). Although she invited me to participate in the delivery, I declined.
I had a friend, years ago, that related a story of how her child’s biological father was absent entirely from the hospital, playing soccer or some sport, rather than attending the birth.
I remember visiting the Housing Projects, a scant three or four years after my stint as a 5th grade teacher ended, to see one of my former 5th grade students having a 1st year birthday party for her child.
In another example, I remember being absolutely terrified as a 21 year old college student to hold my former-room-mate’s brand new child. I was afraid of doing something wrong and somehow damaging his baby.
I suppose that this speaks volumes as to the meaning of birth in America. In this country, pregnancy and birth are often viewed not only legally, but experientially, as periods of disability rather than ability. For many men, the birth process is not a matter of wellness, but instead a confirmation of deficit. In my particular example, the birth of the child (again, not mine), was nevertheless a declaration of my deficit (lousy and therefore “ex” husband). For my friend, the absence of the biological father was a deficit of declaration as well, a declaration that he was unprepared to assume the responsibility for the child.
Because childbirth is so often viewed in these terms of disability and deficit, children begin life with a sort of jinx – a half-hearted spiritual welcome into the world. We compensate of course, by buying lots of presents for the baby as instructed by the mother at the appropriate baby registry. Nevertheless, this spiritual shortfall will follow the child for years to come, as she or he becomes a child with limited political clout, yet astonishing purchasing influence.
Because I am Japanese-American, I researched childbirth in Japan.
It was interesting to learn from one “story” of an American couple in Japan, that several hospitals and clinics were within walking distance. The couple in this story (expecting twins) wanted to have a vaginal delivery and to avoid “painkillers” if possible. The couple also wanted to have the father be in the delivery room and to be able to spend the night with the mother and baby in the hospital.
The Japanese doctors and hospitals are described as being reputed to be “more natural” than in the United States. They learned however, that the Japanese hospitals and doctors were quite similar to US hospitals and doctors. The doctors are regarded with respect as the the holder’s of knowledge and as patients, they were to be the recipients of that knowledge. In this sense, they are less inclined to negotiate the birth process and to answer questions than American doctors. The doctors were described as being extremely busy. Hospitals that they researched tended to be small, some of them even being family-owned. They described the larger teaching hospitals as being more familiar to Americans. As in the US, most births were “traditional” hospital births. The mother and baby did enjoy more days in the hospital in Japan than in the US.
Culturally, in Japan, according to the story, expectant mothers often return to their home towns, leaving their husbands for up to three months to have the baby. Midwives are associated with the hospitals and provide emotional support, but do not deliver babies.
The delivery was described as business-like. Insurance-wise, the expense was less than a similar delivery in the United States, with the city of Yokohama pays a monthly subsidy to the families with young children.
According to an article in Tokyo Weekender by Brett Iimura and Iona Macnab, confirms the previous story, that most births in Japan take place in hospitals or clinics. While much of the labor is attended by a midwife as opposed to only 8% in the United States, the number of home-births (midwife “birth house” or mother’s home) is similar to that of America, at 2%. Iimura and Macnab tell us that the use of pain relief drugs is less common in Japan than in the US.
From these two examples, it would seem that childbirth in Japan shares the medical “disability” model with the United States. It seems that the expenses are less and that, at least in Yokohama, the city understands that an expense comes with raising a young child. I appreciated that the discharge process was more deliberate (as opposed to the quick deliver and discharge practices in the America).
The importance of the mother-to-be’s extended family seems of greater social consequence than in the US, where birthing, like so much else is driven by the nuclear family.
Unfortunately, Japan seems to share the disconnect between father and newborn that we have throughout much of America.
For various reasons, it appears that fathers start off with a disconnect. Whether through fear, a sense of not being a part of the “disability”, or a sense of deficit (inadequacy/unpreparedness/inability to provide for the child) – childbirth remains somehow alien to many of the fathers, policy makers, and medical practitioners even in modern times.