A topic that comes up from time to time is whether or not men should be a part of childbirth. One of the most controversial articles on the topic is one by renowned natural childbirth physician, Dr. Michel Odent (who we love; he has a tonne of amazing insight into natural childbirth. If you haven’t read any of his work, please do!). He has argued that having men be present at births is unnatural, and contributes to women having longer births because of the adrenaline and anxiety they can bring into a birth space. While certainly it is up to each individual family to decide what their ideal birth looks like, we hope to show you that men can definitely be birth-support superstars if that is what they and the birthing mother want for themselves, and provided they find a way to feel a bit more confident in their chosen role.
(Note: at Birth at Home we know that families come in all sorts of permutations and combinations. In this post we address male partners specifically because there seems to be the most controversy about the male sex in terms of their role as birth partners. Stay tuned for a future post on how partners – any partner – can be supportive during childbirth!)
The truth is, sometimes women and their male partners put difficult expectations on the role a father should or shouldn’t be filling during childbirth, without a lot of societal support or resources for those men who do want to play a central support role. One of our Birth at Home instructors often talks about how even though her husband was at the births of all three of their children, he missed out on having a great experience each time because he wasn’t supported or validated to the extent he could have been during any of the births. Other couples sometimes talk about how, even though neither of them really wanted the male partner to be the main support person during the birth, they felt modern social pressure to set their births up that way despite of the fact it’s not what they wanted. It’s a confusing time for men in childbirth!
Is it true that some men are not always helpful during births? Sometimes. Do some families not desire for the father to take a hugely active role during the birth? Sometimes. However, we feel that for those families who do want the father to be a central support person, we need to create an environment that supports them in doing so as opposed to assuming they are a potential hindrance. This is part of why they are sometimes not helpful at births in the first place; they are scared they are not doing it right so it becomes scary to try! In other scenarios, they feel they took on certain roles that they didn’t feel they wanted, or didn’t want to do on their own. Birth attendants and childbirth educators can play a huge role here by taking a moment to validate a male partner’s presence and helping him to succeed as a partner. To all the fathers out there: don’t be shy to tell your birth attendants what’s important to you and ask how they will help you play that role during birth.
Taking time to address the role of a male partner is how our Birth at Home instructors practice as doulas and something we are mindful of when we teach our prenatal class. Sometimes it is as simple as taking the time to ask the father what is important to them. Reassuring dads that they know how to be supportive and loving can go a long way. Doulas can help fathers a lot in the moment to feel both supported and supportive. For example, the doula gets a cold cloth and gives it to dad to put on the birthing woman’s face. Now dad has a job and the mother thinks dad is a rock star. A dad will often soften at that moment. All his fears are gone because he has something helpful to do that makes a difference to his partner. Alternatively, a doula can be there to fill in the spaces of support, giving the father breaks when he needs them and taking the pressure of the father to be a birth “expert”, allowing him to simply enjoy the birth as a partner.
Most of the fathers we support as doulas play a big role in the births of their children and they and their partners typically leave the birth feeling like the father did an amazing job. Whether it was giving an awesome back rub to the birthing woman, providing food and water, telling her how amazing she is, helping the mother catch the baby, or helping weigh the baby and cut the cord after the birth, there are a million and one ways fathers (or any partner) can be involved in birth and the precious moments just after it.
Some couples may want the father to have a very involved role, being there for every moment along the way. Others may want the father to take a more background role during parts of the process. Either of these extremes and anything in between are perfectly acceptable and may be different for every family. But finding support for men in the role they and their partner’s want them to play (whatever that is) during the birth is what matters.
Men can be, and often are, amazing support people at births. Though it might not be the “traditional” way that women have given birth, men and women are constantly challenging the stereotyped gender roles from our past. Just like lots of men now are more involved in parenting, sharing work and parenting duties with mothers, doing school drop-offs and taking their kids to the park and kissing boo-boos, many men are also starting to play a central support role during childbirth and it can truly be an amazing thing. But don’t just take our word for it, check out all the awesome action shots in this post of fathers playing positive roles during the birth of their children!
If you are, or have, a partner who will be there with you for your birth, make sure to talk to your midwives/doulas/birth attendants (if you have them) to express what is important to you, and to ask how you will be supported in playing the role your family wants you to play during the upcoming birth of your child.
What role did your partner play during the birth of your child? Please leave your comments below.
Article by: Morag and edited by Jessica ~ Birth at Home instructors and doulas. All photos by Morag Hastings. Get on our mailing list to have more great posts sent to your inbox as they are published.