I have been a vocal advocate of not forcing fathers to attend the labor and/or birth of their children if they don’t want to. Many men feel — and are — ill-equipped to be good labor companions. The long hours of “nothing happening” (dilation — which is hardly “nothing happening”, but it can appear to be so from the outside) may be boring; his wife may be in pain; he may want to protect her so coerces her into unwanted and unnecessary medication, etc. Of course, I’ve heard many stories of just the opposite — women who relied on their husbands as a “rock” to get them through the difficult passage of labor, who found their marriages renewed and strengthened by his wonderful support during labor, etc. — so I do not advocate a return to men being kept out of the labor and birth process entirely either. There is no one single right way for everyone in all the different circumstances — with all the different personalities and circumstances involved, there needs to be room for some give and take.
But I was intrigued by a book entitled Fathers at Birth: Your Role in Bringing Your Child Into the World by Rose St. John. Although I have just begun to read it, I am already looking forward to seeing how she brings the distinctly feminine arts of labor and birth into the masculine arena, making them accessible to men. All too often, pregnancy, labor and birth books are focused so much on women (which is only normal and natural, since they are the only ones who can be pregnant and go through labor and birth), and then they kind of say, “Oh, yeah, and your husband, too,” without really delving into the different way men perceive the world and react to things. Case in point — if you call your best friend and tell her all about your bad day, she’ll probably sympathize and say, “I hope tomorrow will be better for you.” If you tell your husband about your bad day, he’ll probably critique your handling of certain situations so that tomorrow you can have a better day because you’ll react differently to the trials of the day. The desire of both is the same — that you will have a good day tomorrow; but the way they react to your story is entirely different.
At the beginning of the book, the author begins with recapping the typical “taxicab birth” story, in which the driver ends up having to pull over on the side of the road and catch the baby, although he felt completely unwilling and indeed unequipped to do so. She writes:
Just like the driver, an expectant father is already equipped to attend his partner during childbirth; the secret is switching modes. The driver has to shift out of his angst and habitual way of thinking so he can see and respond to the situation as it is. Not how he wants it to be. He has to show up and play it as it lays.
I think this “switching modes” is extremely important, and something most birth books leave out, or don’t pay enough attention to. But many men need to be given tools so that they can switch modes and be who and what their wives need them to be, so they don’t flounder in the labor room, feeling like a fish out of water, and perhaps even making things worse with their attempts at helping which are less than helpful. I think one of the biggest problems that has arisen from men being in the labor rooms with their wives, is that they are more or less sent into combat without a gun or even basic training, but expected to completely fulfill the role assigned to them by society. Then, when they mess up, they feel like failures, and their wives may reinforce their failing, when it wasn’t really his fault to begin with.
If you want to know what a laboring woman needs from her partner and how to meet those needs, this book is for you.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book, and reviewing and commenting on it as I go along. Already I’m enjoying it, and I’ve only read the first few pages!