Celebrating the “other” Labor Day…

leavitt_makeThis Labor Day, I spent some time thinking not only about the dismal state of the unemployed, the underemployed (whether by furlough, reduced hours, part-time work that has replaced full-time, or a job below the worker’s experience and capabilities) and the discouraged worker (who has given up even looking for work), to contemplate another kind of Labor Day–the day that ends with the birth of a baby. I’m about to become a grandmother–in less than a week, if things go accordingly to schedule–and the evolution of hospitalized childbirth has taken on extra special meaning for me recently.

My son, like many 21st century expectant fathers of all ages, races, education levels, and classes, has been prepping for the big event and his role in it. What he takes for granted–that is, that he belongs alongside his wife every step of the way, and not relegated to a waiting room far from the arrival of his child into the world–was not inevitable but the result of particular historic factors.  Judith Walzer Leavitt, a professor of history who has spent her career studying women’s history, has written an engaging book, Make Room for Daddy, explaining exactly how fathers came to join mothers as equally important occupants of labor and delivery and birthing rooms. Like many changes we live through, this one may not seem so remarkable today, but it was not so very long ago that there wasn’t room for Daddy in American childbirth. Leavitt’s article in History News Network has artfully described how it came to be that first fathers, and then later family and friends, became witnesses and coaches, offering mothers important support during childbirth.

Leavitt writes:

During the long hours of labor and delivery, the men were segregated, kept away from the action, and relegated to an all-male waiting room, where they fidgeted, paced, smoked cigarettes, and anxiously awaited news of mother and child. Beginning in the late 1940s, many men began to find this isolation intolerable…

To read Leavitt’s article in its entirety, visit History News Network.

-Kate Torrey, UNC Press Director