When Christina Carey, 40, imagined her baby’s birth,
she pictured her husband by her side, lovingly supporting her throughout labor
and delivery. But when showtime arrived, she was surprised to see an entirely
different side of him.
Although Carey, who lives in Hoboken, N.J., had
planned on having a vaginal birth, complications necessitated a Cesarean
section. “I was fine with the unplanned surgery, but my husband was a wreck,”
she recalls. “He got lost on his way to the operating room and arrived late for
the surgery. Once he got there, he was so nervous he couldn’t talk. I was
hoping that my husband would distract me, but the exact opposite happened,”
Carey adds. “I didn’t plan on having to calm him down.”
“It’s very important to have someone there to help you
through labor,” says Michael Abrahams, M.D., an OB-GYN at Maimonides Medical
Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. But as Carey learned, being a birth partner doesn’t
come naturally to every father-to-be. Fortunately, childbirth experts say that
with some planning and preparation, most men can grow into the role. Here’s how
you can help.
Make sure he’s educated
“The more partners are aware of the decisions that may
have to be made, the more helpful and supportive they can be,” Abrahams says.
Childbirth classes, books and videos give helpful information about the stages
of labor, pain-relief options and possible complications of medical
interventions. Education has its limits, however, and acknowledging that is
another important step for your partner. “Despite birth courses, nothing really
prepares him for that moment,” Abrahams says.
Talk with each other about any expectations you both
might have regarding laboring preferences, pain relief and medical
interventions. Don’t do this while you’re driving to the hospital, but during
the weeks and months before your due date. “One of the key expectations that
should be shared is feelings about the use of pain medications during labor,”
says Penny Simkin, a Seattle doula and author of The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide
to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions (Harvard Common Press). “If you want natural childbirth and he thinks that’s
stupid, you have a problem. You’ve got to get on the same page.
“You both also need to understand that the birth plan
must be flexible enough to incorporate necessary changes if unplanned
interventions become needed or if labor is so fast that there’s no time to get
an epidural you may have planned,” Simkin says.
There are many ways a partner can support
you—massaging your back, placing cold compresses on your forehead, even channel
surfing for a distracting TV show. “But it’s important for him to know that
your reactions to these measures may change during labor,” Simkin says. “For
example, a massage may feel heavenly for a while, then become really unpleasant.
He needs to know that’s normal, and he shouldn’t take your reaction
Likewise, your partner should know that what
entertains you in everyday life may infuriate you in the delivery room. Jokes
are a prime example. “A lot of men use humor to alleviate the stress, and it’s
not always appreciated,” Abrahams says.
Understand where he’s coming from
“It’s in the nature of men to need something tangible
and task-oriented to do during a crisis,” says Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., a
labor-and-delivery nurse in Portland, Ore. “But labor tends to involve a lot of
sitting and just ‘being,’ and that’s hard for a lot of guys.”
You may expect your partner to be your rock during
delivery, but don’t be surprised if he starts to crumble a bit. “It’s an
emotional time for the father as well, and it can be hard to watch a loved one
in pain,” says Erin E. Tracy, M.D., an OB-GYN at Massachusetts General Hospital
Some partners are happy to be in the delivery room but
have no interest in having a front-row seat. If yours is more of a
head-of-the-bed guy, it will be better for both of you if you don’t order him
to hang out with the doctor at the foot of the bed. “He doesn’t have to see
every last detail,” Abrahams says. He doesn’t have to cut the umbilical cord,
Respect his traditions
In some cultures, the idea of a man witnessing
childbirth is horrifying. Try not to take it personally. “Some men show up in
the delivery room because they want to be an ‘American’ dad, but it’s
incredibly uncomfortable for them,” Faulkner says. “They try, but then realize
they just can’t be there.”
Resist the urge to force him
If the thought of being in the delivery room makes
your partner break out in hives, demanding his presence may backfire. “If the
man is there grudgingly or neglecting the mother, it contributes to her stress
levels, and stress interferes with labor,” Simkin says. “The day you give birth
is a day you’re never going to forget. You want it to be a good memory.”
Are you better off without him?
If you think your guy won’t make a good birth partner,
you have two options.
First, you can have him with you in the delivery room,
but don’t expect more from him than what he is comfortable doing. If you go
this route, consider working with a midwife or doula who can give you what he
can’t, advises doula Penny Simkin.
Or, you can station him in the waiting room, and
invite someone else, such as your mother, to be your birth partner. Warning:
This won’t work if your relationship with your mother is strained. “The
delivery room is not the place to be working out family dynamics,” says labor nurse
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N. If you ask someone else to be your birth partner, do so
early in your pregnancy, so she has time to attend childbirth classes and take
other steps to prepare.
Be prepared. For everything you need to
know to get ready for labor day, click here.