Birth Blog

Knowledge is (Dads’) Power

by Julia West on May 31, 2013

Imagine the scene of a delivery room at the time of a baby’s birth. You may picture a mother in a bed, grunting, panting and focusing on the task of bringing her baby into the world. There may be a nurse, midwife or doctor overseeing the laboring woman, making adjustments to her position or monitors or making notes about the progression of her labor. Where is the dad in your mental image? Is he standing nearby, watching from a distance? Seated in a chair by the bed near his wife? Holding her hand? Does he look excited? Nervous? Terrified? Is he part of the excitement or more of an observer?

Often men have very little knowledge about the process of childbirth until the day comes that they witness it, first hand, and some feel very uninvolved in the experience. Can you imagine when his brief thoughts about the animalistic nature of childbirth become reality for the woman he loves? When I think about being in the dad’s shoes, I honestly would rather choose to be the one birthing the baby! It could be terrifying to be thrown into the experience, watching his wife work through labor and feeling like he does not know how to contribute. What impact do you think his emotions have on his wife?

During the 1940s and 1950s, men were hardly ever allowed in the labor or delivery rooms with their wives. I asked my grandpa about his memories of sitting in the waiting room, waiting for news that his children were born. He said, “It was just the way it was done then. I guess the doctor did not want any one standing around who might faint or get upset.” In the 1960s and 1970s, the epidural became widely available and grew in popularity. During this same time, more dads were commonly allowed into the labor and delivery rooms. By the 1980s, both events were the norm. This could be a coincidence….or not. Epidurals were certainly a welcome alternative to the drugs of the past (like scopolamine, morphine and chloroform,) but women may have also been drawn to a way to birth more “calmly” and “in control,” with their husbands standing by. I’ve heard a dad say, “I just could not stand to see her in pain and wanted her to get the epidural as soon as possible. I was so relieved when she finally got it.” A wife who knows her husband feels this way is surely more likely to want an epidural that is believed to make the experience “easier”- for both of them! His level of stress, anxiety and even boredom definitely impacts his wife’s emotions and in turn, her decisions during labor. Good news, dads: There is a lot more you can do for your wife than just call the anesthesiologist! Birth Boot Camp teaches dads how to help mom find comfortable laboring positions, gives dads a checklist to ensure mom has a peaceful birthing environment and encourages him to give her constant verbal affirmations (and tells him what NOT to say (i.e. “How much longer?”)

Well-meaning friends and relatives are often quick to give dads advice for life with a new baby. “Sleep now while you can.” “Don’t forget to install the car seat!” “Get that baby on a schedule as soon as possible!” (I’ll address that last one in a future post.) But where is the true, shared experience about how to support their wives in labor? Maybe it is not passed down for the same reason many women are not exposed to birth or prepared for it by our mothers and grandmothers- we consider it too private to share. Or we want to respect everyone’s space to experience birth in their own ways. The truth is, the more familiar you are with a subject, the more comfortable you are with it. When birth is left to be a “mystery,” it is hard to look forward to it! This is why childbirth education is so important FOR DADS. Men often think of themselves as protectors and supporters, and women need them to have that same confidence as she labors. What better qualified person to help a woman during this incredibly challenging and emotional time? A dad who is informed plays an active role in bringing his child into the world. He is armed with plans to help his wife through early contractions, pushing and even breastfeeding. He is qualified to make informed decisions with his wife, should complications arise. Knowing that he has asked the questions that prove he can trust the care provider, he is able to focus on the mom’s emotional well-being and allow the professionals to ensure baby and mama’s health. It is a lot of responsibility, but it also has a great reward. My husband’s presence was VITAL to the smooth process of the birth of our son. He knew what we were doing was serious, but he was calm and even smiled at me after each contraction. I asked him recently if he was ever scared during my labor and he said, “No, never.” He was present and involved for every single step. And in the end, when I held our baby boy, I thought to myself, “We did it.”

When you picture the scene of a baby’s birth with a dad who is educated and informed about childbirth, you can bet he will be right in the action, supporting mom, full of confidence and maybe even catching his own baby- anything but “just an observer.”

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