A woman in labour deserves and needs to be loved. They need to be physically and emotionally supported through the incredible journey of birth. Until the 1970’s men deposited their labouring woman at the hospital doors, into the capable but often emotionally distant midwives and doctors care. Fathers were phoned once the baby arrived. They were presented with their woman all bathed, hair brushed, lipstick on and their baby sparkling clean. Nowadays, fathers are expected, sometimes against their wishes and desires, to be not only present but also to give endless support and reassurance in a totally foreign environment.
The majority of men rejoice in being a vital part of this special time. However birth can be very challenging for a man as he watches and supports his partner through considerable pain and discomfort over many hours. He may feel the need to alleviate her discomfort. However it is important for him to realise the purpose of labour, to understand the process, to be patient and not lose faith in her ability to have the birth she desires for herself and their baby.
A loving, quiet, intimate, dark environment promotes labour, increasing the symphony of hormones to promote birth. Kissing, stroking, soft murmurs of love, holding and swaying together brings on glorious rushes of oxytocin. In some instances labour can be longer than one would hope for as the cervix is slow to dilate. At these times the importance of being in a familiar place and being able to eat and sleep as much as possible is fundamental to the woman’s progress. This is as important for the father as the mother, as the lack of rest and nourishing food can interfere with sound judgement and decisions may be made that could be regretted later on. As the father tires it can be challenging for him to be continually reheating wheat packs or hot water bottles, getting drinks, cool cloths and keeping up massages, if he is the only support person. Hence the vital need to put sleep in what I refer to as the “sleep bank” for several weeks prior to the birth. This is essential for the well being of father, mother and baby.
If labour starts off quietly in the night, fathers need to encourage their partner to nap as much as possible until the surges become strong enough for the need to be upright. Exhaustion slows oxytocin levels, which are very important for birth. A labouring woman is vulnerable to outside influences and needs to have the privacy to tap into her basic instincts. If feeling fearful her uterus muscles at the base can tighten and the top of the uterus relaxes. Her innate wisdom tells her to cease the labour to protect her unborn child. When she feels safe and secure again the top of her uterus will tighten and the base relax to let her cervix dilate.
This is where fathers have a very important role. Nobody at the birth scene knows this woman like he does. Nobody else there (unless her close family are nearby) loves and cares for her like he does. To reassure her she is wonderful and doing a great job can be very helpful. I once had the privilege of witnessing a father look into his woman’s eyes as she was in transition and softly spoke the words, “You still look beautiful to me.” This was despite the sweat, flushed face and dishevelled hair. Not a look men of yesteryear got to see. She was radiating her love for him knowing he was offering unfailing support.
Fathers who have been involved in the birth of their child often feel more protective and bond well when their baby is lifted and lying in their woman’s arms. It is wonderful to see babies open their eyes and seek out the voices they know so well. Fathers need to be encouraged to remove their shirts and have baby skin to skin in the days following the birth. They need to enjoy having their baby drop off to sleep on their chests. Men can look at their partner in absolute awe and pride at what her wonderful body has done. His basic primal need to reproduce proves to him he has chosen the perfect woman to birth and nurture his offspring. Women can look at their man and feel secure in the knowledge that as he stood by her through this vulnerable time of the birth that he will be there for her in the months to come when she needs his love and support so much. What a wonderful way for a family to be born.
Liz is a Doula and mother of five. She lives in Brisbane with her partner Alan.