Birth: A Dad’s Tale
Last year I worked with a lovely couple in preparation for the birth of their first baby. They had a wonderfully positive experience and I am so grateful that this new dad has kindly shared his view on the birth and birth preparation. This is definitely one to share with your birth partner…
I wanted to write a dad’s account of my daughter’s birth as I felt it may help other dads who are nervous about their own. There are plenty of birth stories written by mums, and so there should be: they’re the heroines and we’re the sidekicks. Seek them out and read them if you haven’t already. They’ll help you to understand what your partner might feel and experience during birth.
Rather than writing a chronological story, I’ve condensed my own experience of birth and what I learned from it into a few key points.
But first, some T’S AND C’S:
- All that I’m about to say is in full acknowledgement that every mum, baby, dad, and family is different. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to birth, so please digest this in the spirit of ‘take it or leave it’. (We found this mindset very useful)
- I’ve only been through this once, so I am not an expert! This is what worked for us.
For those dads-to-be who are feeling like a spare part, confused, scared, excited – or probably all of the above – then here’s what I experienced first-hand. I hope that it can give others some guidance and reassurance.
- Beware: The Previous Generation
Today, there’s a huge amount of information on birth available to modern-day parents and more appearing all the time. Yet I was astounded at how little my mum, dad, and in-laws knew, and how unprepared they were when my wife and I were born in the late 80s. There are many older family members and friends who are nothing but positive and helpful, and are very receptive to all the information and techniques we now have available. But in my experience, one of my first jobs was to defend my wife against some initial cynicism and negativity towards preparing for birth (whether that be hypnobirthing or reading around the subject). Here are some typical examples and how to deal with them:
|We didn’t bother with reading books, NCT or hypnobirthing in our day. All that stuff is just a waste of time and money.||You also didn’t have the internet and still thought the world was flat…
We don’t see any time or money spent on our child as a waste.
|Birth is the most painful thing I’ve ever done / giving birth to you was terrible / I was in labour for 40 days and 40 nights…||Mum/auntie/mother-in-law, we’re staying positive about our birth, so please don’t say anything like that and keep it to yourself.|
|Your dad was useless when you were born.||I don’t want to be. I want to be helpful and involved.|
|What the hell is hypnobirthing? Sounds like a bunch of hippy crap.||Hypnobirthing is just about being fully prepared for the birth and having some techniques to help make it better for everyone.|
Staying positive and protecting your partner from negatives is absolutely crucial in the lead-up to birth. Always take her side, and never accuse her of being over-sensitive. The woman who’s going to give birth to your child needs your absolute loyalty and protection at all times.
- Managing Information Overload
I found that reading a book or two was really helpful, but beware of binging. I know of a few mums and dads who have overdone it, and created more anxiety for themselves instead of less. For us dads, I’d say look no further than The Expectant Dad’s Handbook. It gives lots of vital techniques and helps us to understand what role we can play. I kept this book by my bedside in the run-up to the birth, and even took it with me when my wife went into labour. We actually opened it at one stage when the midwife was tending to another birth, so that we knew at what stage we were at and what the hell was coming next.
- The I in Brain: Listening and Trusting your Instincts
Making birth preferences – rather than having a narrow list of ‘must-haves’ – was another big step in helping us to feel ready and calm. Our approach was to broadly know what to expect, and to broadly know what we wanted, but stay flexible and open-minded in case things didn’t go to plan.
For dads, the crucial starting point is understanding our role, and this starts with subduing our innate ‘fix-it’ reflex. Our natural inclination is to lead / be forceful, to eliminate options, and make decisions quickly. But during birth, we need to think and behave quite differently; our job is to ask questions, assess options, and guide. The BRAIN decision-making technique (Benefits, Risks Alternatives, Instincts, Nothing) is an essential tool. Here are a couple of examples during the birth where it really helped:
- When my wife’s waters broke at 12am, we suddenly wondered whether we should get to the hospital. I remembered BRAIN, but I actually started with ‘I: Instinct’. My wife seemed calm, so I asked how she was feeling. She said she only had very slight surges and felt relaxed. We agreed that it felt too early to go to hospital. So despite the midwife advising we should come to the hospital, I informed her that all was calm and we wanted to stay at home until the morning. She said this was ok, so we did. This proved key, because we both got some more rest, stayed calm – and most importantly – binged on crumpets. We really believe that this early period of relaxation and calm helped to keep the birth at a good and healthy pace (our daughter was born at 1pm the same day).
- When my wife was using gas and air during the second stage of labour, I could see that she was feeling very drowsy – almost a little ‘drunk’ – and the midwife said that her contractions were slowing. Without wanting to rush the birth, my instincts told me that the gas and air was starting to have negative effects and slow things down. I asked my wife how she was feeling, she confirmed all of what I saw. I asked the midwife the pros and cons of coming off gas and air, considered them, and all agreed she should come off it. The birth steadily got back to its earlier pace, and our daughter arrived about an hour and a half later.
Listen to mum, trust both of your instincts, and it’s hard to go wrong.
- Caring is manly. Detachment isn’t.
You may have come across phrases from other men such as ‘I was down the pub / on the golfcourse / generally not bothered when my child was born’ . For many in the current generation of dads, this is a very out-of-date and selfish way to treat birth. When you think about it, being absent or apathetic about your child coming into the world is actually incredibly cowardly. And there’s nothing macho about that.
Giving a toss about the birth of your child and the welfare of your partner is not effeminate. This is actually our base, protective, manly instincts coming to the fore. Being supportive, present, involved – putting your family before yourself – is surely one of the most macho things we can do.
So how do you put this into practice?
- Ask questions about the baby and birth when you’re at scans, hypnobirthing, NCT, searching online, reading in bed. Even if it might seem obvious or stupid (for example, I didn’t know why my wife was taking folic acid until she was 8 months pregnant).
- Put effort into listening to your partner and reassuring her. If your partner’s worrying about something that you don’t think is a big deal, don’t call them silly or try to downplay it. I found that my wife often didn’t know the source of her nervousness and fixated on a small – often unimportant – detail to make her feel better.
- Remember here is that nothing is unimportant to them, so show that you understand where they’re coming from and try and talk it through with them. Besides, it’s highly likely that you and your partner are hopeful and fearful about the same things. So keeping the conversation open will help both of you to feel more relaxed and aligned.
- Learn to bottle-it up
Having said all of this, there are times when you will get frustrated. At times you may feel ignored or helpless. You might even blow-up and start an argument. I did this and I know how it feels. I felt like a total sh*tbag after it happened, but it was that crippling sadness and regret then taught me to bottle things-up better. Because I realised that causing my wife and baby stress was far more damaging than whatever I was irritated by or annoyed about. This is good mindset to get into for fatherhood too.
- Let’s get Practical
- A reusable water bottle with a straw running through the middle. My wife used ours constantly during birth, and is still using it during feeds 4 months later! The best thing to use with only one hand or no hand at all.
- Cool, cool flannels. Birth takes up a lot of energy, and mum can get hot. Who wouldn’t want their brow mopped.
- There are lots of other things that people do and take (having your bag ready well in advance, food, aromatherapy, Bluetooth speaker etc) but for me, the third is doing a dummy run to the hospital a month or two before the birth. It helped settle my wife, and it also helped me to relax and know where I needed to go.
All the clichés are true: no matter how difficult or smoothly it goes, the birth of your child is the most incredible event you will experience in your life. The moment you hold your child in your arms for the first time will stay with you forever. Combine England winning the World Cup (football and rugby), getting behind the wheel of your dream car, the best meal you’ve ever had, and you’re about halfway to imagining it.
Wishing you, your partner, and your baby the best of luck with your birth. And most importantly: stay positive and enjoy it.
A Hypnobirthing Dad