Photo credit: NBC New York
This week, New York Mets’ second-baseman Daniel Murphy received harsh criticism from local media for choosing to take three days of paternity leave to be with his wife during the birth of their first child. WFAN radio hosts Mike Francesa, Craig Carton, and Boomer Esiason all weighed in, accusing Murphy of letting his team down on opening night. Esiason even went so far as to say that Murphy should have pushed his wife to schedule a Cesarean section before the start of the season, so as not to interfere with the games.
Moral arguments on what a father’s role during birth is or should be aside, there are significant health ramifications to Esiason’s suggestion. Although many believe that scheduling an early delivery, whether by induction or C-section, is not that big a deal, infants born even two or three weeks pre-term are 50% more likely to die than infants who are carried to term. Babies born pre-term are more likely to have problems breathing and feeding, and there are long-term health and developmental consequences at stake as well.
Early elective C-sections aren’t healthy for mom either. A C-section is a major abdominal surgery, and women who undergo C-sections are more likely to suffer childbirth complications like hemorrhage, infection, and pulmonary embolism than women who give birth vaginally. Many obstetricians worry about allowing a woman who has previously had a C-section to attempt normal labor, so electing to have a C-section for the first birth can mean electing a C-section for subsequent births as well.
All three radio hosts also argued that while it might have been acceptable for Murphy to miss the season opener in order to be present for the birth of his child, he should have reported back to the Mets’ dugout immediately after, once it was clear that both his wife and child were healthy. However, complications of birth can strike even following a successful birth, and in fact they often do. Although maternal deaths are rare in the US, 60.6% of them occur during the immediate postpartum period, making the first 24 hours after birth just as critical as labor and delivery. As the wise Yogi Berra once quipped, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”
The fact that Murphy’s wife did end up having an emergency C-section increases her risk of developing a postpartum complication. While it’s true that Murphy wouldn’t be nursing the baby or caring for other kids, he was providing important support to his wife and infant son during this critical time, perhaps even keeping an eye out for warning signs that could signal a serious problem.
Interestingly, the Mets don’t seem all that worried about Murphy’s decision to take paternity leave. Prior to Monday night’s game, Mets’ General Manager Sandy Alderson noted, “The paternity leave policy was introduced not just for the players’ benefit but I think recognition by clubs in contemporary times that this is an appropriate time for parents to be together. I’ve got absolutely no problem whatsoever with Murph being away.’’ This is due in large part to Major League Baseball’s decision to grant players up to three days of paternity leave and to allow their teams to fill the roster spot with someone else while they’re gone.
But maybe it’s also because Alderson – unlike Francesa, Carton, and Esiason – recognizes that Murphy missing two out of 162 games in the season, and the beginning of the season no less, will have little to no bearing on the Mets’ chances of a championship – and that there are certain life milestones that transcend the baseball diamond. So let’s take a moment to applaud the Mets and the MLB for taking a stance on behalf of parenthood in the 21st century, even if talk radio hasn’t quite caught up.