Celebrating a Father’s Birth Day
Thank you to Milon Nagi for once again so eloquently describing CiC’s free Healthy Birth Choices Workshop! HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!!!
At this month’s special CIC workshop on Men and Birth, we were honored to hear four new dads share their moving stories of becoming fathers, supporting their partner’s labor and the birth of their new family.
When David’s first son was born three years ago, he and his wife Rachel chose to birth at a hospital based birth center. While they were generally happy with their experience, David felt that what he describes as “the woman’s process in labor” was not fully respected. They returned with their second pregnancy however, at a routine visit with midwives at 32 weeks, they discovered that Rachel had been “risked out” of the birth center due to a technicality of which their midwives had been aware throughout but had not until then informed them. Their trust in their midwives was shaken. Worse still, says David, “Rachel had had her trust in her own birth shaken.”
They decided to switch to home birth, and speaking to their new midwife “restored Rachel’s trust.” David feels this switch helped them harness both the medical and spiritual benefits of being where Rachel felt safest and most confident as she prepared for her birth. While at times it was hard for him to understand Rachel’s “psychic universe” at this time, he could see that she needed a lot of support. “I worked to swallow my own pride and feelings,” he says, to be there for her in the ways she needed.
Rachel woke up one morning to a speedy labor at home. “She needed me there,” says David, “but she was really doing it herself.” He supported her through touch and massage but she labored undisturbed – at one point even asking her doula and midwife to leave the room. As David watched his wife in her labor, an image recurred to him of her hang gliding over the sensations. “She was totally experiencing all the pain of childbirth but riding on top of it.”
After less than four hours, David and Rachel’s son was born in a pool in their bedroom. “It made it magical”, says David, to welcome and hold him undisturbed in what was already his home. And, despite the intensity of labor, “there was a real palpable tranquility that flowed through the experience.”
Patrick shared the story of supporting his wife’s natural childbirth in a hospital, fending off the pressure for interventions to hurry her labor along. He found himself applying the “double hip squeeze” to his wife’s hips throughout, and advises dads to be physically fit for labor support: “You try it some time – press on someone’s hips as hard as you can for two to three minutes; take a break for a minute; go back and do it again. Do that for twelve hours.”
For Micah, preparation was key to feeling able to support his wife fully in labor. They were planning to give birth in a hospital and he was nervous about dealing with unwanted interventions. As their Childbirth Education class allowed him space to begin to work through his fears, he realized he would be strong enough to deal with this. “It’s great to think through all possibilities of what you might want to do,” he advises. “Prepare, prepare, prepare – and when the moment comes trust your instincts.”
As his wife’s pregnancy progressed past 41 weeks she was automatically risked out of the birth center where they had planned to have their baby. Knowing they’d be heading for the Labor and Delivery floor, they labored at home as long as they could before heading to the hospital. Once they arrived, however, their midwife created the environment they wanted, while their doula, says Micah, was “badass”. They safeguarded the space and energy they wished to have present for their birth, even asking an unpleasant nurse to leave the room. “My role was to be here for my wife,” Micah notes, “to have her back and protect her.”
After a challenging “back labor”, his wife’s water broke and their son was born in just three pushes. “It was an amazing experience”, says Micah. “The magic of having this human being in our life is so wonderful and the fact that we could have a delivery that went the way we wanted is a bonus.” He too describes the awe and power of witnessing his wife’s labor: “Watching my wife do that… I’m an artist and filmmaker – whenever someone I’m working with says they’re giving birth to their art project I say ‘No, you’re not giving birth. That’s disrespectful to women’.”
Rowan’s wife Emily is a medical student who came out of her Obstetrics rotation knowing she wanted to consider home birth. Waking early on Easter Sunday with strong contractions, Rowan and Emily decided to go for a walk. They bumped into friends they had been planning to have brunch with and invited them over. A day they had pictured as quiet and intimate ended up more of a community event, involving four other friends, home made ice cream sandwiches and a last minute plaster cast of Emily’s pregnant belly!
By the time evening came and some friends left, Emily’s contractions were around 6 minutes apart and they called their doula to come over. As Emily labored on all fours in their living room, Rowan found himself surprised by the amount of back pressure she needed him to apply through contractions. By the early hours of the morning Emily felt ready to push and they called their midwife to come over. Emily got into a tub of water and, for the first time, was able to really rest between contractions.
Their midwife arrived, bringing “the power and reassurance of someone who is practiced coming in and saying ‘everything is alright’.” Rowan reassured Emily that her body was doing exactly what it needed to be doing; that this was the natural process. The last ten minutes of Emily’s labor were “utterly overwhelming.” Rowan remembers shaking and crying. “It was so powerful to hear someone you love so much in pain and vocalizing in that way.” And then, at 5.06am, their baby girl was born. “Emily went from all this pain to looking like she’d just gone for a nice jog and had a shower!” Their midwife and doula stayed a few hours, then left Rowan, Emily and their new baby snuggled up in bed together and ready for a long sleep. “It felt really, really good.”
All four dads spoke about the importance of having additional support during labor. As Micah put it: “the birth is the woman’s work but there is a team in it.” He described their doula as “essential to our having the experience we had.” From continuous back pressure; position suggestions; taking photos; reminders to stay hydrated; running out for snacks; bringing fresh ideas and tools – each speaker described their doula as an invaluable support for him as well as his partner during labor.
They also spoke to the importance of support in the weeks following the birth. Both Micah’s and Rowan’s families had some difficulties with breastfeeding and advised others to seek help early if nursing does not go as planned and have a lactation consultant lined up before the birth if possible. The help of friends, family or a postpartum doula was also invaluable, whether with cooking, cleaning, doing laundry or simply giving the new parents time to nap. In other times and cultures, as Micah pointed out, new families would be surrounded with community support. Rowan found it helpful to have a paid postpartum doula so that they didn’t feel bad about asking friends for help.
They talked about the first weeks as a time during which visitors (particularly family who may be staying) need to be there to support and take care of the new family – especially mom – not just to meet the baby or be taken care of themselves. This can make for some difficult but important conversations with family members as new boundaries are established during this tender time. At the same time, says David: “I can’t overemphasize how blessed you are to do anything for yourself in those first days. Whatever anyone will do for you, take it.”
As each new father shared his story, it was striking to see him feel again the power of this transformative, intimate experience of both becoming a parent and of watching and supporting his partner in her labor. The joy and reverence on David’s face as he spoke of his wife’s strength in labor and of welcoming his new son into the world just nine days previously said it all: “I got to see a side of Rachel that I never would have seen if she hadn’t given birth and become a mother. And that is an amazing thing.”