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Fathers as Birth Partners

By: Bree Moore

My own father nearly passed out as I was being born. Whether from the intensity of my mother giving birth or the immense pressure of her hand squeezing his and cutting off his circulation, I’ll never know. I just know that I’m glad he was there and that my own husband has attended every one of my four births.

Men in the delivery room hasn’t always been the norm. Less than sixty years ago, men (outside of doctors) weren’t allowed to witness the births of their children. They paced about smoking cigars outside or near the nursery, waiting to see their tightly wrapped bundle of joy behind a thick pane of glass or in the arms of their wives. Since the advent of hospital birth in the ‘20s, hospitals became busier and busier, meaning nurses could not attend laboring women the same way that midwives at home could. By the 1940s more than half of women in the U.S. were giving birth alone in hospital rooms. Women and men alike protested. By the 1960s men made it into the delivery room, and birth transitioned from a female-only rite of passage to a celebration of making a family together.

Today, most birth partners are in the room all the way through delivery, watching the miraculous event unfold. Some are glorified stress balls, having hands crippled as their partner squeezes. Others prefer to sit back and watch, giving verbal encouragement and support. Still others get actively involved, some with the help of a doula, providing multiple tools for comforting the laboring mother. And others, a little more rarely, are catching their babies, like my husband of seven years.

My husband is the perfect support for me, and like many women, I can’t imagine not having him there for the births of my children. My first baby was born in the hospital without medication after only 4 hours of hard labor, 21 hours after my water broke. My husband caught him with the help of the attending midwife. After watching me bounce on a birth ball, walk around, and relax to my Hypnobabies sound tracks, he caught our son and laid him in my arms, then cut his cord.

He attended childbirth classes with me, despite his misgivings, supported me through natural labor even though no one else in his family had given birth without an epidural, and was my rock and my support. Later he challenged his own beliefs and fears and learned about home birth, and my second baby, a girl, was born into his hands as he sat with me in a tub filled with warm water in our tiny apartment living room. He has caught every single one of our babies. We joke, in all seriousness, that he’s my baby-catcher.

The support doesn’t end at the delivery, either. With the help of extended family and friends, my husband has picked up the bulk of the childcare and housekeeping for at least a week after each of my births, without a single complaint. He has supported me through breastfeeding and nurturing four children born in the space of five years. Each one of these experiences has been a trial by fire, strengthening our bond of love towards each other, improving trust and communication between us.

Maybe your experience has been different. Support doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Some women prefer to give birth without their partner in the room. Others want their partner there, but aren’t able to have them. My heart goes out to the women whose husbands are deployed when they give birth. Nothing makes me cry harder than seeing a picture posted online of another valiant military man watching his wife give birth via video chat. Thank goodness for technology, but oh, how we wish it wasn’t needed in those moments. There are women in relationships that aren’t as supportive, and others who are divorced or otherwise single and without support. In those times doulas can be a good alternative. In ideal situations doulas are meant to act as sidekicks, supporting partners as they support you and using our knowledge to help them know what to do in a situation that may be far outside their comfort zone. We have a lot of tools and experience, but nothing we have compares to the intimacy you may share with your partner. That intimacy can get oxytocin (the love hormone that helps the uterus contract and makes contractions stronger) flowing, it can encourage a laboring woman to relax with just a touch or a softly spoken word. When the relationship is strong, it can be most beautiful thing to witness a husband comforting a wife through contractions as they welcome their new baby together.

Birth is such a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime event that it’s important for fathers-to-be to be prepared. It can be intense, loud, a little gross, and generally shocking to witness a birth for a first time, especially in our private and somewhat squeamish society. We don’t talk about birth, we don’t describe birth, and we tend to ignore it most of the time when in polite company. Before you started dating, it’s unlikely you talked about what a perineum is and why you don’t want it cut, what a midwife is or the safety of home birth, or whether he wants to cut the umbilical cord. So it’s understandable he might need a little encouragement and education to be fully prepared for the birthing experience.

Here are six ways a birth partner can prepare to enter the birthing room:

Understand that she knows what she needs and wants

Pregnancy and birth are good times to comfort her fears or encourage her in her goals for childbirth. They are NOT good times to parade your pride or your fears in the face of her desires to have a certain birth experience. If she wants an unmedicated birth at home, support her. If she wants an epidural in the hospital, support her. If she ends up needing a cesarean section, support her. Don’t pretend you know more about birth than she does. Few things make me sadder than having a woman approach me who wants to make the evidence-based decision to birth at home or at a birth center with a midwife and they tell me they can’t because the person who means most to them in the whole world doesn’t support their choices. Don’t be that guy. Be the kind of guy who steps back and watches your woman rock her birth.

Let go of your own fears

This goes with the point mentioned above. If you’re afraid of birth, examine that. Sit with it. Picture your wife’s experience going as she envisions it. Ask her what she hopes for. If you have never seen a birth, watch a few birth videos with her. Attend a childbirth class with her. Read a passage from a book or the articles she sends you. Be willing to be uncomfortable so you can understand, even in a small way, what she’s about to go through. And let her make the decisions about where to give birth and who to have there. If you’re lucky, she’ll want you there too.

Listen to the woman in labor!

This one comes from my husband. He says, “Just go with it. Let go of past preconceived notions or any training you’ve had. If she says it’s not helping, try something else. And don’t get in her way.” I would add, don’t be afraid to do something because she might yell at you or seem upset. Try it anyway, and if she says she doesn’t like it, move on. She does want you there, but birth can be a physically intense and emotionally trying experience. When you do find something that works to make her contractions a bit easier, you’ll feel like the ultimate provider. A doula can be helpful in giving you a multitude of tools and comfort measures to try, so if you’ve hesitated to hire one, it can definitely be worth the dough.

Be involved

In other words, stay awake, turn off your phone, and be present. Even if she has an epidural, unless she’s sleeping or says you can sleep, don’t. She wants you there to support her, not be disengaged. And for heaven’s sake, don’t turn on the football game and discuss it with the doctor as he’s delivering your child. (True story).

Become a birthing expert

Especially if your wife is planning an unmedicated birth, and even more so if she’ll be giving birth outside the hospital, make the effort to learn about birth. I touched on this above, but it bears repeating. You can support her best if you know what’s what, and with the vast amounts of easily-accessed information on the internet, there’s no excuse not to learn at least a few things. Understand her desires for how she wants her birth to go, and be prepared to advocate for her if hospital staff are less than supportive. Make sure she feels as comfortable and safe as possible.

Tell her she’s amazing

While she’s pregnant, while she’s laboring, and right after she gives birth. If you’re sincere, she will never tire of hearing it, and she needs to hear it. Tell her she’s beautiful, that you believe in her, and that she can do hard things. It sounds cheesy now, but try it out while she’s carrying your child, and you’ll be amazed at what it does for your relationship

It has been shown in studies that when a woman feels supported by her birth partner she has a better impression of her experience, even if things don’t go as expected or planned. Fathers can play an important role in the birth of their children when they’re active participants who listen, learn, and support. Here’s to the fathers all over the world, whether they’re pacing outside or giving hip-squeezes. Thank you for being part of the birth experience.

Happy Father’s Day!  

About Bree
Bree Moore is a professional birth and postpartum doula in Ogden, UT. She is most known for her postpartum belly binding services, and her belly binding workshops for other doulas. Bree is a homeschooling mother of four cute kids, and a published fantasy novelist. She loves all things birth and especially loves sharing each birth experience with her husband Tyler, who is her baby-catcher, birth partner, and the love of her life. Find her here: http://www.daydreamdoula.com

Categories
Birth Doulas Parents Pregnancy

How To Have An Empowering Out Of Hospital Birth Transfer (just in case!)

By: Candace Roper

 

Planning for a hospital transfer might seem like the last thing you want to think about when expecting an out of hospital birth. That’s what I thought when I was having my first baby and planning a home birth. Then, at 39 weeks, I found myself giving birth in a hospital, well-prepared to have a natural birth, but unprepared for any other possible scenarios. After an 8 hour unmedicated labor and 3 hours of pushing, my posterior, asynclitic baby was delivered via cesarean section. I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. I could not tell my birth story without crying for over a year. I was heartbroken and defeated, definitely not empowered. I experienced terrible postpartum depression, although I didn’t know that’s what it was.

Out of hospital birth transfers are the exception, not the rule. Most transfers are due to long labors or maternal exhaustion. Rarely, a transfer due to a medical emergency may be required. I believe it is wise to consider all possibilities, and then focus on the outcome you are planning and hoping for.

My second birth was another homebirth transfer, this time after a long and unproductive labor.  That birth ended after 58 hours with many interventions, but because it was a vaginal delivery, I still felt somewhat vindicated. My third baby came 6 years later and was another attempt at a homebirth. This time I was able to stay at home, birth my baby vaginally, and get tucked into my own bed after all was said and done. It was an amazing and empowering experience, but certainly not a walk in the park.

When it came time for my fourth baby to be born, I planned another homebirth. My birth was quick and intense, only two hours of active labor before I began pushing. I pushed for about three hours at home before transferring to the hospital….again. I asked for and received an epidural, the OB attempted a vacuum delivery, which was unsuccessful. I decided that it was best for this baby to be born by cesarean.

My fourth birth, was much like my first birth, from the outside. Natural labor, extended unproductive pushing phase, stuck baby, posterior presentation. On the inside though, the two were not very alike at all. With my last birth, I knew I had made the best decisions that I could. I knew that I had tried everything. I knew that I had not failed. I knew that I was strong. I felt supported, happy, content, and even empowered. Here are the steps that I took that I believe made the difference in my experience being a positive one.

Get Educated

Taking a childbirth class might be the single most important thing you can do to empower yourself when preparing to give birth in any setting. When looking for a childbirth education class, make sure you find one that covers things you might need to know if you ended up in the hospital.  Your class should prepare you with the knowledge of obstetric hospital procedures and interventions, their risks and benefits, and their alternatives. Knowing your options can keep you from being overwhelmed if you find yourself navigating a new environment and medical jargon. Learn about epidurals, pitocin, and even cesareans. Learn about when these interventions are beneficial, when they are not, and how to tell the difference. Learn about Family Centered Cesareans.

Hire a Doula

Hiring a doula for your out of hospital birth may seem like just another luxury expense because many home and birth center births can cost more out of pocket than in network hospital births. But, in the case of a hospital transfer, your midwife and care providers will facilitate the transfer, give the hospital your medical records and labor notes, and may stay with you, but also may not. Your doula will stay with you and will be an invaluable familiar face in the midst of change. In the case of a hospital transfer, a doula will provide the security of true continuity of care. Your doula will know you personally, your hopes and goals for your birth experience, and can help you navigate the hospital environment and stick as close to your birth plan as possible.

Make a Plan B Plan

When creating your birth plan, consider the possibility that hospital transfers do happen. It’s not a bad idea to create a Plan B (hospital transfer) birth plan and even a plan C (cesarean) birth plan. If you find yourself in those situations, what would be most important to you?  Perhaps skin-to-skin with your baby after birth and delayed cord clamping. In the case of a cesarean, skin to skin in the operating room is an option you can ask for, and an hour of skin to skin once you are in postpartum is so essential for bonding with your new baby, but often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the hospital.

It is possible and wise to plan for the potential of all outcomes, and to do so as early in your pregnancy as possible, so that you can write those plan B and C plans and then set them aside, and choose to focus mentally on preparing and planning for the birth experience you want to have.

The Power Of Positivity

It is common these days for pregnant and birthing women to listen to or write affirmations, positive, affirming statements like “Each wave brings my baby closer to me.”  Affirmations are a powerful tool that can help the brain focus on the positive. Repeating affirmations actually wires the brain, strengthens the connections of positivity.  Positive words actually change your brain. Once your original plan has been changed, thinking positively is often difficult or completely overlooked. When I found myself in the operating room for the second time, I was bound and determined to stay positive. I knew the science behind affirmations, and I was going to use them to my advantage. I repeated to myself in my head things like “My body is already healing. This procedure is going smooth and perfectly. My baby is strong and healthy.”  I can’t convey in words how much of a difference these affirmations made in my mental and physical healing.

Postpartum Doula Support

Thankfully, I had already hired a postpartum doula before my fourth baby was born. I had no idea just how amazing having the support of a postpartum doula would be. Each day she came to my home, she asked me how she could support me that day. She complimented my mothering and offered advice and education on anything I had questions about. She folded my piles of clean laundry. She made sure I got a nap and a shower. She entertained my toddler and even wore my baby in a sling while she took care of things around my house. She made me snacks, tucked pillows under my elbows while I nursed, and even fed me bites while my hands were occupied with my little ones. Having someone to just take care of me, or finish the things on my to do list that were nagging at me, helped me to be able to heal, rest and process my experience. I had very minimal postpartum depression when I had a postpartum doula to support me, compared to very severe postpartum depression with my other three babies.

Allow Yourself The Space To Process

If your birth takes a turn for the unexpected, it is absolutely necessary to allow yourself the space to process what happened and how it felt for you. It is wonderful to turn to your midwife or doula, get their take on what happened and why, so that you can understand it from a logical sense. Then, take space to mentally process your experience, and write about it in your journal (or just on a page that you can destroy later if you aren’t the journal writing type).  Talk to a trusted friend or loved one if you feel the safety to do so. Look for a compassionate birth professional, therapist, or support group if you feel that would be more appropriate for your situation.

And most of all, know this, birth is birth. Every type of birth is beautiful and profound. You did not fail, your body did not fail. Giving birth is an organic process and can’t be carefully planned, any more than an amazing sunset or thunderstorm can be planned. But, there are beautiful moments that deserve our focus, the first time your newborn looks into your eyes, the first time you feel their skin on yours, they way they look just like your partner. Take the time, whenever you get your first opportunity, to spend as much time as possible with your new baby skin to skin.  Whether that’s the first hour after birth, or after an extended stay in the NICU. If you focus on the beauty of making tiny humans and marvel at the amazing, and sometimes wild process that is birth, surrender completely, and at the same time, own the experience that was your birth. You can choose to have a positive yet unexpected birth, and that can be better than okay.

 

 

 

Candace Roper is the owner of Centered Birthing Doula Services LLC.  She is the mother to four amazing people. She enjoys teaching women and their partners how to have empowered births, supporting birthing women as part of a doula team, and offering breastfeeding counseling and postpartum doula care to new families.  You can find more information about her classes and services at www.centeredbirthing.com.