A few years ago, I worked with a lovely couple in preparation for the birth of their first baby. They had a wonderfully positive experience and I am so grateful that this new dad has kindly shared his view on the birth and birth preparation. This is definitely one to share with your birth partner…
I wanted to write a dad’s account of my daughter’s birth as I felt it may help other dads who are nervous about their own. There are plenty of birth stories written by mums, and so there should be: they’re the heroines and we’re the sidekicks. Seek them out and read them if you haven’t already. They’ll help you to understand what your partner might feel and experience during birth.
Rather than writing a chronological story, I’ve condensed my own experience of birth and what I learned from it into a few key points.
But first, some T’S AND C’S:
For those dads-to-be who are feeling like a spare part, confused, scared, excited – or probably all of the above – then here’s what I experienced first-hand. I hope that it can give others some guidance and reassurance.
Today, there’s a huge amount of information on birth available to modern-day parents and more appearing all the time. Yet I was astounded at how little my mum, dad, and in-laws knew, and how unprepared they were when my wife and I were born in the late 80s. There are many older family members and friends who are nothing but positive and helpful, and are very receptive to all the information and techniques we now have available. But in my experience, one of my first jobs was to defend my wife against some initial cynicism and negativity towards preparing for birth (whether that be hypnobirthing or reading around the subject). Here are some typical examples and how to deal with them:
Staying positive and protecting your partner from negatives is absolutely crucial in the lead-up to birth. Always take her side, and never accuse her of being over-sensitive. The woman who’s going to give birth to your child needs your absolute loyalty and protection at all times.
I found that reading a book or two was really helpful, but beware of binging. I know of a few mums and dads who have overdone it, and created more anxiety for themselves instead of less. For us dads, I’d say look no further than The Expectant Dad’s Handbook. It gives lots of vital techniques and helps us to understand what role we can play. I kept this book by my bedside in the run-up to the birth, and even took it with me when my wife went into labour. We actually opened it at one stage when the midwife was tending to another birth, so that we knew at what stage we were at and what the hell was coming next.
Making birth preferences – rather than having a narrow list of ‘must-haves’ – was another big step in helping us to feel ready and calm. Our approach was to broadly know what to expect, and to broadly know what we wanted, but stay flexible and open-minded in case things didn’t go to plan.
For dads, the crucial starting point is understanding our role, and this starts with subduing our innate ‘fix-it’ reflex. Our natural inclination is to lead / be forceful, to eliminate options, and make decisions quickly. But during birth, we need to think and behave quite differently; our job is to ask questions, assess options, and guide. The BRAIN decision-making technique (Benefits, Risks Alternatives, Instincts, Nothing) is an essential tool. Here are a couple of examples during the birth where it really helped:
Listen to mum, trust both of your instincts, and it’s hard to go wrong.
You may have come across phrases from other men such as ‘I was down the pub / on the golfcourse / generally not bothered when my child was born’ . For many in the current generation of dads, this is a very out-of-date and selfish way to treat birth. When you think about it, being absent or apathetic about your child coming into the world is actually incredibly cowardly. And there’s nothing macho about that.
Giving a toss about the birth of your child and the welfare of your partner is not effeminate. This is actually our base, protective, manly instincts coming to the fore. Being supportive, present, involved – putting your family before yourself – is surely one of the most macho things we can do.
So how do you put this into practice?
Having said all of this, there are times when you will get frustrated. At times you may feel ignored or helpless. You might even blow-up and start an argument. I did this and I know how it feels. I felt like a total sh*tbag after it happened, but it was that crippling sadness and regret then taught me to bottle things-up better. Because I realised that causing my wife and baby stress was far more damaging than whatever I was irritated by or annoyed about. This is good mindset to get into for fatherhood too.
All the clichés are true: no matter how difficult or smoothly it goes, the birth of your child is the most incredible event you will experience in your life. The moment you hold your child in your arms for the first time will stay with you forever. Combine England winning the World Cup (football and rugby), getting behind the wheel of your dream car, the best meal you’ve ever had, and you’re about halfway to imagining it.
A Hypnobirthing Dad