Many men in our culture are fairly apprehensive about birth. Most have never seen a real birth, or talked about it outside of sex ed. They are often nervous about birth itself, seeing their partner in pain, the what-ifs, and all that may come after. They doubt their ability to support their partner in her journey, and wonder if they’ll be strong enough.
In fact, they often doubt and fear and wonder just as much as their partners do, but are often not allowed to express it, because they’re not the ones giving birth, so they feel that they don’t really matter. They may feel like they don’t have much voice in the process, and are just expected to go along for the ride, smiling and nodding whenever the experts speak.
Yet, at the same time, they are expected to know everything about birth, protect their partner, communicate her wishes, and support her physically and emotionally without pausing for breath.
Many worry that they just can’t live up to all of that. It really is an awful lot to ask of one human being, after all. Especially since history shows us that there have always been many support people surrounding a mother during birth.
Still, many men don’t realize just how much they are capable of. They don’t realize that they matter, too, and that they can enter their partner’s birthing space with confidence, ability, and strength to meet the challenges of supporting a labor and birth.
So, how do we help fathers to step into the birthing space with confidence?
We free them to be who they are, that’s how. We let go of our expectations, and help them to form their own expectations and desires for supporting the birth of their child. We help them to see that they alone can define their role in the drama and sacredness of birth.
I would suggest two important things that may help a father gain confidence and acquire tools to help him fulfill the role he wants to play during birth: 1) Independent childbirth education classes, and 2) Hiring a doula.
The more a man knows, the less he will fear birth, and taking Childbirth Classes is one of the best ways to lower anyone’s fear level in anticipation of birth. Many men appreciate information given in practical, interactive ways, and independent childbirth classes are often right up his alley. He can join with like-minded dads, ask questions, and have his concerns addressed more readily.
Information is a great, big factor in helping couples manage their stresses and fears regarding birth—as much for the father as it is for the mother. As an educator, at the beginning of a series, I usually see high levels of apprehension, which quickly fade from week to week, to be replaced by realistic expectations and informed confidence in both parents.
This is just as powerful for the father as it is for the mother. When Dad has confidence in Mom’s ability, she believes in herself all the more, and Dad begins to see that he has power to influence her for the better! Dad is able to acclimate himself more readily to the realities of birth, and begins to realize that he is an important part of her support team. Perhaps the most important part.
He feels a little more ready to step into his support role, and probably has clarified what he wants that role to look like. He will feel more confident about what he can do, and more realistic about what he might not be able to do.
In which case, he may begin to consider…
…Hiring a Doula to help him fill in the gap in the support team he might not be able to fill himself. If he participates in choosing and hiring a doula, he is much more likely to have his own expectations met, as well as those of his partner. When Mom and Dad are both fully supported, Dad is far freer to just be and do what his partner needs him to be and do.
While he will likely remember a lot of what he has read and learned about, that information may become secondary to him during the birth, and take a backseat to more immediate concerns in his mind.
He may become simply focused on loving this woman who is birthing his child. And why shouldn’t he? Why should he have to remember every counter pressure technique? Every massage technique, position change, or even the water jug and bendy straw? Why shouldn’t he be the face close to hers, his eyes beaming his love, concern for, and confidence in her?
A doula allows Dad to be front and center in the support role he always wanted to fill for Mom, in whatever way makes the most sense for their individual relationship in this particular moment. If he wants to be the Expert – he ought to be equipped to do that. If he doesn’t, then he needs the space and freedom for that, too. Or anything in between.
When he is free, all his anxieties and apprehensions tend to fall away, and he finds that birth is a challenging, beautiful, amazing space to be in with his partner. He finds that he is strong to meet the challenge, just like she is. Together, they grow in strength and confidence, becoming truly ready to meet this tiny new person they have made.
Doulas help open wide the door, making the birthing space more navigable, understandable, and pleasant for fathers. This, in turn, can only benefit the mother as she is able to rest in the support of her birth team. She no longer feels concern for her partner, because he shows no reason for her to be concerned. She is able to just birth.
Then, we can just step back and watch, as he exceeds all the expectations we have laid on him, and as he steps into Fatherhood in the way that makes the most sense to him and his new family.
Tiffany Miller, CLD, CCCE