How can I write a blog this month without mentioning the current series on Channel 4, ‘One Born Every Minute’?
I missed the bulk of the first two, as my internet connection is so slow, but after watching the 3rd I’m grateful to Talk Talk for sparing me the ignominy of some of the husbands that I watched as they ‘supported’ their wives giving birth.
Watching the 3rd episode of this programme, I watched aghast as a husband bullied his wife while she was in labour. She was squatting on the floor, while he berated her for wanting a natural birth over a section (she was a VBAC – Vaginal Birth Following Caesarean) and he wanted to know what she was going to do as he didn’t want to be there all night. Not to mention the dad who locked his wife in the toilet while she was having a contraction.
It really was a sight to behold and my heart goes out to both the mum and the midwife, Dominique, who was fantastic, calm and encouraging in the face of a real challenge. That the mum achieved a VBAC was I think down to her and the fact that she was caseloading midwife (the same midwife that followed the mother through antenatal care and the birth), giving the mum a sense of stability and familiarity.
However, despite me wanting to the throw my remote control at that dad, I also felt sorry for him, as his reaction to the situation was likely to have been driven by helplessness, fear and lack of knowledge.
My only experience of dads to be and birthing partners are those who choose to come on the course – those that want to understand what is happening so they can respectfully and knowledgeably support their partner. But who also realise that the opportunity to find more is out there, that there are classes that help him to understand what is happening and what he can do to help.
Last year, Michel Odent, a French Obstetrician renowned for his work on normal birth, wrote a provocative article where he categorically stated that men should not be in the birthing room. Lots of debate ensued online, with people agreeing or vehemently opposed- we sit somewhere in the middle and believe that men should be there, but only, if they want to be there and if they are free of anxiety and fear. Let’s face it, we’ve done a 360° turn in the last 40 years, from men down the pub or outside awaiting the news, to being absolutely expected to be in the birthing room – that’s a big shift and a big ask of men, who are excluded from the majority of antenatal care, with at the most access to an NHS or NCT class.
So it’s no surprise that some men who feel in the dark and disassociated from the pregnancy, and the birth suddenly find themselves into the uniquely intense experience of the birth itself without really knowing how to help. In fact many men on our classes say that the lack of knowledge or understanding of what is going on is what worries them as well as “seeing their partner in pain, and not being able to do anything about it.”
We turn this statement totally on its head in our classes, and teach the dad to be that he too has an important role, more than he might ever imagine, and that the birth can be empowering, and life changing for him as well. We also give them knowledge and techniques to support mum so he does know what to do.
We address the issue of fear in the birthing partner and enable couples to see that fear and anxiety are contagious. If dad is pacing up and down, biting his nails, or is restless it demonstrates to the mum that he is outwardly anxious, but there are also small ideomotor signals, small unconscious movements and gestures, driven by the subconscious, that the birthing mother can pick up subconsciously which can effect her birth.
We help the dad to make positive shifts in his confidence and belief that his wife or partner knows what to do instinctively and that she doesn’t need rescuing from the situation. Most importantly he knows what is happening, why is is happening and what to do about it.
Remember always that at the birth, it’s not just a baby being born, but a mother and a father too. Come on dads, do your bit, learn how to support your partner, and give her a strong shoulder to lean on physically and spiritually during birth and perhaps you’ll find hidden depths that you never knew you had.