Wow! It’s real! The test turned blue. The plus sign appeared. No questions. You are pregnant.
Now the fun starts. The planning, the picking of names, baby clothes, diapers, wipes, and birth plans. Will you give birth at home? In a hospital? What do you want? Who will be there? Do you want a doula? Your mom? Your best friend? Of course your significant other will be there…but what will he be doing?
The OB and midwife have clear roles. The doula knows her role. No one will argue that Mom’s role is pretty well defined also. But what about Dad? Is it going to be a Wild West type of thing, where he’s sent to boil water and stay out of the way? Is it going to be like the 1950s, where the waiting room is filled with apprehensive dads smoking like chimneys? Or is he just there for moral support?
What if Dad has another role beyond moral support?
In the modern hospital environment, where moms are made to feel less and less in control and are sometimes even bullied or frightened into making decisions they normally would have never done, the father’s importance has never been greater. Many people in the birth community are speaking out to help answer the question, “What can be done to make things better?” and one very simple answer remains generally forgotten. Dad. A father at a birth can change the whole environment. All that he has to do is reclaim his power and his voice and realize that, although he is in the hospital, it’s his family there, and he is their ultimate protector. His role in this situation is to keep Mom safe and free as she gives birth to their child.
It is not the ideal time for the laboring mom to be barraged by questions, interruptions, or constant (and often unnecessary) procedures and monitoring or other interventions. She’s focusing inward on herself and her baby to move the birth process along, naturally. Too often, if a mom refuses a procedure, or offers hesitation, she is pressured, berated, and sometimes even forced to comply. All while the father stands idly by, not knowing he can interject. Not knowing he can put a stop to it.
Even telling everyone to leave the room for a bit so that he and the mom can discuss the decision is more power than most dads feel they have the right to demand. While many doulas are often more than happy to take on this role, and are great at educating pregnant moms about their rights in the hospital setting, I contend that the role of protector truly belongs to the dad.
Historically, to ensure she had the space to feel relaxed, safe, and protected, the dad was always standing guard outside “the cave,” while the mom was inside focusing on her baby. This allowed her to effectively labor and deliver without worry about outside attacks. This role hasn’t changed, even though our “outside attacks” now come in the form of caregiver pressures to conform to a schedule or a standardized way of doing things.
Far from a macho “do what the man says” injunction, what I am suggesting is that the partner takes an active role during the whole pregnancy and be prepared to step into his own shoes as a father. During pregnancy, he should be at each prenatal appointment, be it OB/GYN, midwife, or chiropractor, ensuring that his questions and concerns can be addressed and that he is up to speed on what is transpiring during the pregnancy. In turn, the couple can then have private discussions along the way, forming a comprehensive birth plan together. This way, Dad will know intimately what Mom wants the birth experience to be, and can enforce their plan when the time comes.
The more a father can fulfill his role, the more the mom will feel safe and secure, which will result in baby feeling safe and secure as well. The end result will be a smoother, quieter, easier birth. The more stress Mom is under, on the other hand, the harder labor and delivery becomes. A mother’s body is built in a way that if her fight or flight response is triggered, labor can stop dead in its tracks. Without having the time or space to relax and let the stress response release, things will not progress appropriately. This can lead to a list of potential interventions. Those interventions can be avoided by keeping Mom away from stressors. This is something dads are built for. As miraculous as her body is to give birth, she should not have to give birth and defend it at the same time.
Dads, you are not just a bystander in pregnancy, labor, and delivery. You are the gatekeeper. You are your family’s shield—and sword, if need be. And you are an integral part of the birthing process for the 21st century.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #60.
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