You may not be aware that it only became common for Australian men to be present at birth in the 1980s. These days most woman don’t even consider that their partner wouldn’t be there to support their birth. We expect our guys to be our main supporter, yet they receive very little preparation for the huge event of watching and supporting their labouring partner. Hospital antenatal classes may give our guys some ideas of how they can rub mums’ back or offer her a drink, but it’s my experience that most guys leave antenatal classes feeling bewildered and quite afraid of what’s expected of them on the big day.
That’s one reason why I’m passionate about teaching a birth education course which focuses as much on the partner’s role as the mother’s. The guys are usually dragged along to spend a Sunday listening to what they think is “womens’ business” and leave after the first day with the light switched on: “Now I know why she wants me to be there and what I can do to help her. Now we can work together as a team to bring our baby into the world.”
Our men just want some attention and clear guidance. They also want practical jobs, not just to be told they’re there at the birth to “support you.” What the heck does that mean? Men prefer tasks, like take her to the toilet every hour or so, put a drop of lavender on a cool washcloth and wipe her forehead and neck, brush her hair, remind her to breathe slowly, massage her lower back, tell her she’s doing a wonderful job and that you love her. Even kiss her!! That will make her feel loved and produce those delicious love hormones which encourage natural birth. These are useful, practical things which mum appreciates and make dad feel like he’s really, really useful and paying a vital role, not just a useless extra.
When dad feels useful and part of the process of labour and birth, he’s less likely to sit in the corner on his phone and more likely to help mum feel safe and comforted. He’s the one who knows her the best in the whole world, so his close presence is going to help her feel safe. When she feels safe she can relax because she’s not afraid. When she feels supported, she can allow her body to soften and open to release her baby. When she feels close to her man, they go through this transformational experience together. They build a strong foundation for their new relationship as parents.
I know in pregnancy it’s often all about mum and baby, but take a minute to think about the effect of this experience on your partner. I know he’s a tough guy, but he’s worth a bit more attention than typical birth education provides for him. Help him to feel special and important, and he’ll be prepared to make you special and important. After all, without him, you wouldn’t be going through the experience of birth, would you?