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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A special delivery

It seems commonplace these days for a father to be in the delivery room with the mother of his child. But 50 years ago that practice was unheard of ... unless you were a patient of Dr. E. Catherine Cline.

It's believed that around 1950 — she's not sure of the exact date — Cline (better known as Kitty to her friends at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Sturbridge, Mass.) was the first doctor to invite fathers to be fully involved in the birthing process. While the significance of her influential act can be understood years later, Cline at the time didn't think of herself as a trailblazer.

A 1947 graduate of the McGill University Medical School in Montreal, which she attended because so few top U.S. medical schools at the time admitted women, Cline began her practice at the New York Infirmary in Manhattan. "I worked 22-hour days, but I loved it," she said.

After a couple of years at the infirmary, Cline came to the conclusion that fathers "needed to know what was what." So she began by inviting them to sit in with their wives during appointments. Then she encouraged them to put on surgical scrubs and join her in the delivery room, where, just after the babies were born, she would let the fathers hold them.

"At first about three-quarters of the fathers would come into the delivery room," she recalled. "I don't know why other doctors didn't follow the practice. In fact, it took about 10 more years before other hospitals started doing it."

Now 82, Cline retired 15 years ago. But she still is breaking new ground. She is a founding member of Bethlehem. And the congregation, which didn't have a permanent home for more than a decade, now sits on land that Cline bought in 1985. Bethlehem's parish hall is named in her honor, and it includes a plaque that reads: "Leadership, desire, fortitude and persistence. All characteristics of a woman who has the vision to see a church at this location and to challenge other people of Bethlehem to build it."


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