While a state judge’s decision earlier this week to allow women to bar their babies’ fathers from the delivery room will not change local hospital policies, it will provide guidance in dealing with estranged couples, hospital spokespeople said Wednesday.
“We have always honored the mother’s right to choose,” said Dr. Blair Bergen, chairman of AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “If the father of the baby is not in the picture and she’s moved on with another significant other, and we’re aware of that, we try to tell them to work it out before they get to the hospital. But the patient has always had to right to restrict visitors, and this is not going to change anything.”
“This court decision provides clear guidelines for Cape Regional Medical Center on how to handle this scenario in the future and how to best protect the privacy of women who are delivering their babies at our medical center,” Susan Staeger, marketing and public relations coordinator for Cape Regional, wrote in an emailed response to a wire story detailing the Passaic County case that occasioned the judge’s opinion, which was released Monday.
In delivering the ruling, the judge cited a woman’s right to privacy, saying women have the authority to decide who will be with them when they give birth.
Although he said he would have been disappointed if his wife had chosen to block him from witnessing the birth of his child, Bill Pesda said he ultimately would have respected her decision.
“A woman should have full control over her body and baby,” said Pesda, 39, who became a first-time father nine months ago when his son, Leonardo, was born. “This is a really interesting legal argument. I’m sure it’s going to be revisited.”
Like his Ocean City High School colleague, first-time father Paul Matusz, 34, said he would have respected his wife’s right to ban him from the delivery room when his daughter was born 14 months ago.
“As much as a father wants to be there, he has to understand the woman’s point of view,” Matusz said. “Labor and delivery should be more about the mother than the father. In reality, I don’t need to be there for the baby to be born. The mother does.”
Additionally, Matusz said, an unwanted spectator in the delivery room — even if it is the father of the baby — could introduce stress and tension into the situation, two negative emotions that may interfere with the baby making as smooth a transition from the womb to the world as possible.
“If the father really cared” about the baby’s well-being, Matusz said, “he wouldn’t be there” if he was not welcome.
Bergen and Matusz both mentioned how expectations of what will happen when a baby is born have changed over the years.
“Fathers were not allowed in the delivery room when I was born,” said Bergen, 58. “They had to stay in the waiting room and wait for someone to come out and tell them if it was a boy or a girl.”
By the time he started practicing medicine 30 years ago, Bergen said, women were just starting to be able to bring others into the delivery room with them. Today, he said, he’s sometimes forced to limit his patients to two or three others in the delivery room “because it gets crowded in there.”
“For so long, fathers weren’t allowed to be in there,” Matusz said, “and look at us. Everyone turned out OK.”
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