The theme of this week’s episode is ‘Fathers’ so I am going to share the experience of the Husband in this post. Before I use his words, I would like to use a few of my own…Be warned, I have strong views on birth. Don’t worry though, I haven’t had the macro setting on the camera in use when preparing this post!
I really feel for fathers at births. I’m sure there are quite a few of them who have very mixed feelings about being present. I’m sure there are quite a few of them who really should not be present for all sorts of reasons. These days, it is expected that a father will be with the mother of his child when their baby is born. I’m not sure that this is a better situation than when the opposite was expected. However, I suspect there are also many ‘converted’ fathers out there who were initially dubious about being at the birth of their child. My father was one of those back in 1974….I wish I had a digital picture of him holding me after I was born. This is the best I can do.
At the start of the programme, the midwife being interviewed said that men are used to being ‘in control’ and acting as the ‘protector’. How does a man square these roles with being an effective birth partner. For birth to progress well a woman really needs to be comfortable with feeling ‘out of control’. It’s not easy to witness the primal instincts that come with being out of control during a birth. It’s a side of ourselves that is normally hidden and repressed. An ideal birth partner takes control by allowing space for a woman to do the opposite. By this I mean that they can field questions from midwives or other medical staff, keep the lights low, provide food and drink as needed. In short, the partner can be the ‘thinking’ brain in the partnership and allow the mother to stay in her ‘instinctive’ brain. How many men are really prepared for this? For that matter, how many women understand that this is the way to give themselves the best chance of a peaceful birth?
As I watched the programme I couldn’t help but feel that the men featured had no chance of fulfilling this role for their partners.
For a start, births occur in a complex system that most people don’t have any understanding of. On top of that, we are all products of the culture we live in. In our culture, birth is frequently portrayed as something to fear, something to be medically managed.
When I watch One Born Every Minute I’m generally resisting the urge to shout “Get Off The Bed”. How many people have any idea that getting up and off the bed is one of the single most effective things you can do to have a good birth? Not many I guess, because that is the way we usually see birth portrayed. How many people realise that as soon as they have an epidural, they are at much higher risk of needing a caesarean birth? How many people realise the true risk factors in a caesarean?
See, there are so many questions that most of us never even know about before we have our first babies. And we expect men to support women in labour? Heck, the system doesn’t even truly support most women. If it did, we would have a midwife who cared for us throughout our pregnancies and births, who had time to discuss all these issues. The only way to get this kind of care in the UK is to pay for it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had brilliant care with fantastic NHS midwives but it was not the gold standard that independent midwives are able to provide. They are able to prepare the men in the relationship more effectively too.
I’ve read a lot about birth in the last seven years. I’ve had the privilege of working with midwives in my antenatal yoga classes. I’ve been active in the NCT and spent time discussing birth with doulas and antenatal teachers. All this experience has helped us get the births that we wanted, within an imperfect system.
Rant over…… Do you want to hear the Husbands side of things now?
Me: How would you say you felt about the idea of us having a home water birth for our first baby?
Husband: Fairly calm and relaxed about it. I got good feelings about it from you. I didn’t really think about the birth itself, I left that to you. I was more concerned with practicalities. If we had been going to hospital I would have been thinking about how long it would take to drive there and what we needed to take. As it was, I was responsible for getting the pool ready and helping the midwives with anything they needed, mainly food and tea. I suppose initially the idea of a baby being born under water seemed pretty bizarre but I suppose I just trusted your judgement. I never really read up on the subject and never really thought about what could go wrong so I didn’t stress about it. (Did I mention that the Husband is a very laid back type of guy?)
Me: Would you say that going to antenatal classes prepared you adequately?
Husband: Well, the mechanics of birth were well covered. I felt that antenatal classes were like a refresher class from what I had learned in biology. I suppose they were good in giving information about other positions for birth and stuff like that. I had a bit of experience in handling babies from when our nephews were born.
Me: What about being a witness to the primal nature of birth? Did antenatal classes prepare you for that?
Husband: That’s the one thing you already expect! You know that there is going to be a certain amount of shouting, screaming, swearing and name calling (for the record there was only load groaning and some screeching). You do begin to wonder “How much pain is she going through?” “How long will this go on for?” “Is she going to get too fatigued?” but you were pretty calm through most of it so I didn’t worry too much.
Me: Second time around you were happy to have the same experience again, despite the complications I had with bleeding after the birth. A lot of people would find that quite strange I suppose?
Husband: I was very comfortable with the first experience. I couldn’t visualise doing it in hospital and feeling the same level of involvement. I was confident in your judgement again. I knew you had researched the risks and wouldn’t put yourself or the baby in danger.
Me: Obviously you would recommend home birth.
Husband: You know that I already have. You know my colleague at work has had two.
Me: Yes, we know a few home birth babies these days. Our antenatal class of five couples has now produced 13 children, seven of which were born at home. That’s not a bad percentage (gets out calculator): 54%, waaaaay above the national average. You know, I think you were so relaxed about birth because despite not having witnessed a human birth, you had assisted at the births of lambs and calves. All the blood and mess and stuff wasn’t really a shock.
Husband: Maybe. At least I didn’t have to pull our baby out though.
Now there’s a thought. A friend of mine did recently catch his third child. Notice, CATCH, not DELIVER. The mother did all the work. Just remember that any journalists out there. I’m fed up of the fathers getting all the credit in these stories!
Both the dads in the programme said the same thing, “I want the best for my baby”. Dads come to delivery suites (or go along with their hippy, home birthing wives) these days because they know that in order to do the best for their babies, they have to do the best for the mother. For that, I take my hat off to them. I salute all Dads who try as hard as they can to do the right thing for the women and babies in their lives. Goodness knows, we need them.
Just after the birth of The Middle Miss, August 2007