Men are often assailed with doubts when a mom-to-be decides on natural childbirth. A doula and childbirth educator address some vital concerns and offer guidance to help Dad prepare for the big day.
In today’s fast-paced, feel-no-pain society, women who’ve decided on natural birth have most likely done their research. For some women, this decision fits into an already health-conscious lifestyle, but for others, natural childbirth is not about pain, it is about the enjoyment of the childbirth process and having a sense of control. Men may be left with numerous questions as to what a natural birth entails and just how much of the experience will be their responsibility.
In a birth center or home birth situation, a natural birth usually includes laboring and birthing without pain medications or other routine interventions, such as monitoring and IV. Before your child’s birth, review birth plans with your partner so that you are in agreement of what natural will mean.
Going Au Naturale
If natural birth has never been a topic of discussion during your pregnancy, the dad-to-be may have an initial reaction of shock or fear. Fear that perhaps the pain will be too intense for his loved one or fear that medical help will be needed and the choice for a natural birth will not even be an option.
Convinced that birth is unnatural and that pain is unnecessary, some men fear going against the perceived norm in our culture, which is a medicated, medical delivery. He may believe that a natural birth entails risk and may not even be possible. America’s rate of C-sections—wherein one in four women undergo surgery—contributes to this growing doubt.
The truth is that childbirth is a natural, biological event for most women. Very few conditions rule out natural birth, such as chronic disease in the mother or fetus, and on occasion multiple pregnancies. The pain and work of childbirth is not the pain of injury or disease, it is a healthy pain with a very definite purpose.
For first-time parents Pat and Sue, natural birth meant planning a home birth with a midwife. Pat recalls, “Initially, when Sue told me she wanted a home birth, my main fear was of complications. It seemed a good percentage of the mothers I knew had a C-section for one reason or another. After researching and going to our birthing classes, I learned the C-section rate for home births was much lower than at a hospital, and that hospital C-sections were often done more for doctor convenience and hospital protocol. Once that fear was addressed, the added advantage of having the birth on our own terms, drug-free, and in the place of our choosing made the decision very easy.”
Kimberly and Barret, also first-time parents, chose natural birth with a physician and a doula in a hospital. Barret was eager to help Kimberly achieve her goals and noted, “I was happy to let nature take its course. What worried me most was how Kim was going to handle it and if it would just be too much for her. She certainly proved otherwise. Truthfully, I was much more worried of her having to go through a C-section or drawn-out, medicated birth.”
Dads-to-Be as Coaches
Many dads-to-be fear failing their partners. A drug-free birth can require an enormous level of attention, knowledge of the birth process, support, and strength from the father. Some men doubt their ability to stay calm—or even vertical—in the delivery room. Television programs, family members, and friends often joke about fathers passing out during childbirth, and that image can be hard to overcome with a spirit of confidence.
As the trusted lead support person, the dad-to-be can start by stepping up and making a game plan. Think Monday Night Football and plan like a coach!
Making a Game Plan
As a couple, become educated on your options, medical procedures, and the normal course of pregnancy and childbirth. Choose caregivers who support your choices in childbirth and appreciate the benefits of a drug-free birth rather than focus on possible bad outcomes.
Birth plans, books, DVDs, and a comprehensive natural childbirth class will give Dad-to-be plenty of resources with which to work. Many books specifically target men and can provide answers and comfort to father-specific concerns. Check out The Birth Partnerby Penny Simkin, and The Expectant Father, by Armin Brott.
During the pregnancy, a man can find out what makes his partner comfortable, relaxed, and conversely, what stresses her out. Knowing a woman’s fears and how to soothe them opens a path of communication and trust which will prove invaluable during childbirth.
Many men find that during the labor, the mother is unable to verbalize her needs, but through months of preparation, he finds himself alert and receptive to her slightest desires. The ability to respond to the labor builds confidence in the father and trust in the mother.
If the birth does not go as planned, the skills learned and gained during pregnancy will get the couple through any hard times and set up a foundation for dealing with the trying weeks of early parenting.
The Big Day
Knowing what to expect on Delivery Day can go far in quelling fatherhood fears. During a hospital birth, nurses typically check on the mother every half-hour and are always available by speaker. Don’t hesitate to ask for tips from the nursing staff on techniques that can make labor more comfortable. Men should communicate desires for a natural birth and ask what the staff can do for Mom as far as options. This may include hot or cold packs, showers or tub, and allowing the dad-to-be to walk with his partner in the halls.
Be prepared for the staff to offer pain medications. Most childbearing mothers in hospitals today use some form of pain medication, with the most popular being epidural anesthesia. Don’t buckle under their doubt: husbands should forge ahead with the game plan and take cues from their mates on how the labor is progressing.
Laboring in a birthing center or at home will be more supportive of drug-free birth, and this option should be considered if available or desired. Many fathers appreciate the out-of-hospital experience because the midwife, doctor, or birth assistants are readily available to guide the father in his role as the support person.
Calling in a Second String
Being a good birth partner also means knowing your limitations. Some fathers feel that despite all the preparation, they want someone to show them the ropes and guide them in being helpful. Adding an extra support person will take some of the pressure off Dad.
A second-string support person may be a doula (birth assistant) or an experienced friend or relative. If you and your partner choose to have extra help in the birthing room, meet as a group before the birth to discuss preferences and wishes. If the goal is to have Dad be the most involved support member, make sure that is stated up front.
Whether the father will be the sole support for the laboring woman, or if the team approach has been decided upon, the key to providing support for a natural birth goes beyond knowing tricks for comfort. Providing the mother with support in her choices, a sense of freedom, and a safe space, will go the farthest.
A woman’s body knows what to do, and if the woman is determined and prepared to birth on her own terms, providing a calm, protected space with some loving guidance and coaching will lead your team to victory.