Your job wasn’t over at conception.
With a new child on the way I always find myself watching the debate on childbirth unfold around me. Child birth can be amazing (as it was with our daughters birth) but it can also be emotionally destructive (as it was with out sons birth) depending on the outcome. The post-partum emotions can range from complete elation to regret and severe depression (and many more in between). There seems to be a fine line between PPD (Post-Partum Depression) and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and although it’s primarily felt by the mother these same emotions can flow from the father albeit rarely with an understanding of where these emotions are coming from. We can get so caught up in focusing on what’s going on with our spouse that we pay little attention to what is going on inside of ourselves.
“Whenever and however you give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life.” -Ina May Gaskin
There is a delicate balance for us to maintain as men: We can’t get lost in our emotions (for her sake) but we need to feel free to enjoy the process that is happening in front of us. You aren’t there to simply hold a hand and cut the chord, you are there to fight for and support your spouse. I highly recommend establishing a birth plan as you get closer to the due date (of “guess date” as it usually ends up being). There are few things more distracting for a woman in labor than a husband constantly asking her what she needs. I made this mistake during the birth of our first child and then shut down completely when she told me to stop. I hadn’t planned out what she would need and when she may need it so when things didn’t go the way we thought they would we relied entirely on the midwife to take the reigns. I vowed to be more engaged and prepared with the next birth and the difference it made was incredible.
So what is your role as a father in pregnancy and child birth? Here are a 6 things that we learned through the course of two very different births and will continue to do for baby #3:
1) Talk through the birthing process. I could put this as points 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 it is that important. I referred to this as a “birth plan” earlier and though this doesn’t mean the birth will go as you plan you should sit down and write out how you would like to handle each situation as they may come (both good and bad). Give this to your Midwife, OB, Doctor, Doula before labor hits (preferably at a check-up visit) and talk through any questions they may have. Let them know that you want to stick closely to this unless the child or mothers lives are at risk. If they will not agree to it look around for other birthing options.
2) Consider the type of birth you want to have. Every birth is unique and every woman’s body is different so the type of birth your mother/friend/sister/cousin had may not be the right fit for you. I always grew up thinking a hospital birth was the only way you could have a child delivered so when my wife came to me wanting to look at a midwife I kind of panicked. It took some getting used to but after we talked though it all we realized it was the right fit for us. Our daughters birth was at home in the living room in an inflatable birthing pool. We figure the next logical step is to have baby #3 unassisted in the middle of a woodland field. 🙂
3) Do everything you can to be there at the pre-natal visits. It is important for you to be there to support your wife during the check-ups, especially if you have a doctor who may not fully support your birth plan. If there are questions about the birth this is the best time to bring it up. It’s also great to be there to see the new baby’s growth and understand what is happening inside the womb. There is an incredible thing happening inside of your spouses body and everyone benefits if you are informed as well.
4) Develop an environment where your spouse feels comfortable sharing her fears, doubts and desires regarding the pregnancy/birth. You can’t help her through them if you don’t know what they are. Set aside time each night (or at least once a week) to talk about the changes ahead. This is a great time to talk through and write out your birth plan as well as talk through more “practical” thing like names, home changes and how this will all effect the intimacy between you.
5) Don’t take it personally. There will be things said and done that may not come across right because of the hormonal changes and pain or discomfort from growing and stretching. She may not want to kiss you because of what you had to eat. In my case she would get nauseas every morning because of the coffee I’d make every morning. I had to either brew outside or wait until I got to work to make it (until we found we could diffuse essential oils to help). Physical intimacy may be limited more and more as time gets closer, especially as things to to be a bit more “logistically tricky”. Continue to serve her and find other ways to breed a spirit of intimacy in your marriage.
6) Consider hiring a Doula. A Doulas is “a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother (and father) before, during, and just after childbirth.” (Klaus, Kennell, and Klaus in Mothering the Mother) and I can’t imagine another birth without one. They are indispensable. We didn’t hire a Doula with our first because of a lack of education and finances. It seemed like an unnecessary cost for someone to do what I felt was my role anyway. What I learned through that experience was that my role was to serve my wife and it would have been super helpful to have someone trained to identify her needs, talk through the ever changing circumstances and fight for us if things begin to diverge away from our written birth plan.
This is far from an all-inclusive list of what it means to be a dad through pregnancy and birth but I hope these points can help you grab a hold of the responsibilities you have allow you to better server your wife. I am by no means an expert on the matter but have seen birth at two extremes and experienced the difference planning, preparation and an engaged husband can make on the way a woman experiences child birth.
If you are looking for an experienced Midwife in the East Texas region please check out Childbirth Services out of Tyler, TX. They were incredible flexible with us and not only respected our birth plan but encouraged us through it!
Looking for a great Doula in East Texas? Do yourself a favor and contact Katherine Stanglin with Illuminating Birth. She was not only the Doula for our second birth but also the instructor for our Hypnobabies class. Her knowledge of the birthing process and training through the classes were much of the reason our daughters birth went so smoothly.