Straight off, let’s be clear, I am 100% behind the Mumsnet Miscarriage Care campaign… Time and again we work with parents who have been treated with such a lack of compassion ,that quite frankly, it is inhumane.
After the birth of my first child, my son, I had been left feeling like I’d had no real role, like a spare part, and feeling guilty about not knowing how to support Steph through the birth… It was this experience which led to me founding DaddyNatal so other men got the support and information they needed to be the birth partner they wanted to be.
Several years down the road, this is the story of the birth of our third child, born at home, from my dad’s perspective.
Being a man talking about men on Woman’s Hour
I had the pleasure of being a guest on Woman’s Hour today (Tuesday 29th January 2013). The discussion was around Fatherhood at birth and in the early days, and we were considering some of the research which Tina Miller has recently highlighted in a piece for the Practicing Midwife.
Some recent occurrences and discussions have led me to ask some questions.
In 2010/11 of 522,000 births with a known gestation length, 35,775 babies were born at 36 weeks or before, 28,489 were born in their 37 week. Now officially a premature baby is defined as one born before their 37th week of pregnancy.
Most who know me will know I am not a great fan of forums. In my opinion, they tend to lead to competitive parenting. The advice is often contradictory, doing nothing to give parents confidence in their own abilities. This is the reason I suggest to people coming through my classes, that if they are after advice on particular subject, to contact myself or another birth professional and ask them to point them in the direction of balanced information they can read.
Why? Simple, I believe that it is our job to empower parents, help them get the information they need, for them to be able to make an informed choice. My personal opinions on parenting are irrelevant, it is for them, as parents to trust their instincts and make best decisions for their family based upon as much information as they need. After all, all families, their lifestyles, and their needs, are different!
I find the term birth plan misleading. It isn’t a plan of how you want your birth to go, writing one in that way can lead to disappointment, guilt and birth trauma. All births are different, choices made may change depending on how things progress, how your partner is feeling and circumstances beyond your control. I prefer to think of them as Birth Preferences. I find them a useful tool, especially for the birth partner.
Dads, PAY ATTENTION!
In my previous blog, I talked about your role in labour as being twofold. First, you are your partner’s ‘protector’ but secondly, and just as crucially, you have a role as her ‘advocate’. So what do I mean by advocate?
The dictionary definition is:-
n [ˈædvəkɪt -ˌkeɪt]
1. a person who upholds or defends a cause; supporter
2. a person who intercedes on behalf of another
This quite accurately defines your role, but you cannot advocate successfully if you don’t understand what your partner’s wishes are. Advocacy starts now, not just during labour! (We will focus on labour and birth here but the same rules apply during pregnancy and when baby joins you.)
In all things relating to labour and birth, you need to sit down together and talk things through. Look at what choices you might be presented with. Discuss induction, if it is offered, do you want to be induced? If not, what do you want to do instead? If you are offered induction, what methods are you willing to use? What about pain relief? Do you feel strongly about it? What types of pain relief are you willing to use if needed? What are you dead against, if any?
You should try and look at as many possible outcomes as possible, although you don’t need to discuss them all in depth and over analyse! Communicate and reach a decision which you both feel comfortable with. I suggest you write a birth plan detailing these preferences, you can give a copy to your midwife in labour, so she knows in advance what kind of birth you would like her to help facilitate. It is also for your own benefit, having a copy you can refer to in the heat of the moment can be helpful.
You should both be happy with your decisions, but if you cannot agree, then (sorry guys) your partners wishes come first. You have to accept this, and still advocate her wishes regardless of your own feelings. A true advocate always puts forward the viewpoint of the person they are advocating for, regardless of their own feelings on the matter. It is also crucial for the birth process that your partner has complete trust that you will honour her wishes. Preparation here is the key to successfully advocating on behalf of your partner.
So how do you do it?
Firstly, you can use your advocate role in conjunction with your protector role.
Most women when labouring, in the right environment, will zone out. During contractions they will almost go in to themselves and be focused on what they are doing. You need to protect that state. NOBODY, not you, not the midwife, no one should ask her a question during contraction. If anyone does ask her a question, you will advocate for her, NOT by speaking on her behalf, but by gently asking the person to wait a moment and re ask the question when the contraction has passed.
During labour, you partner may be offered pain relief or other interventions. Here, your role as her advocate is to ensure that the wishes that you have DISCUSSED are respected. Your partner during labour will be vulnerable, she will not generally feel in a position to argue or even refuse interventions she doesn’t want, this will be YOUR job. You will need to explain on her behalf her choices, you need ensure these are respected and she isn’t pressured in to anything you or more importantly SHE isn’t comfortable with.
One question I get asked a lot is ‘What if she changes her mind about something on the birth plan, when she is actually in labour?’ How do you know, so you can advocate for her accordingly? There is a special DaddyNatal technique for this, this is where our CODEWORD principle comes in. This technique allows mum to signal she has changed her mind about something, but leaves her to feel safe to know that her original wishes will be respected until this moment. More about this in a later blog 😉
This role does not end with the birth of your child, once your child is born you will be advocating on your partners wishes regarding the third stage of labour. If your partner has decided to have unassisted third stage, one of you needs to let the midwife know. If you see that injection being prepared without having been asked (rare, but I have known cases where this was the case) you may need to physically get in the way of the injection, until you explain she doesn’t want it!
You will have some decisions to make regarding, chord cutting, injections, examinations. You should also be aware of these choices, discuss them beforehand, and then ensure those decisions made on behalf of your partner AND baby are respected.
Both your roles during labour can feel intimidating, but being prepared is the key. TALK about the choices and possibilities beforehand. It is very difficult to advocate for someone, when you do not know what their preferences are.
I will also be writing about two key tools to use in your role in later pieces. So please, keep coming back for updates or subscribe to the blog RSS feed so you don’t miss them.
Better still book yourself onto a DaddyNatal course and learn all these tools first hand!
What can dad do during birth?
This is the question I am probably asked the most, normally followed with a comment such as “apart from hold mum’s hand” or worse “keep out of the way!” These comments couldn’t be further from the truth… dads can do so much during labour and really make a difference. Unfortunately no, we cannot guarantee everything will go to plan, we cannot wave a magic wand and no, we definitely can’t swap places!
So again, what can dad do during birth?
Dads role in labour is really only about two things… So dads listen up, understand your role, prepare for your role and really support you partner!
Be Her Protector
Yep, you get to be her knight in shining armour! But what are you protecting?
Everything with regard to being her protector stems from one key factor, adrenalin. In my piece “men at birth” I explain about fear. Birth professionals the world over will agree, adrenalin is an enemy in labour… adrenalin can stall labour, make labour more painful and longer.
Your role as a protector is about protecting your partner’s environment and recognising anything that may cause fear, and get that adrenalin pumping around her body.
This image is of a typical delivery room,
Simple, just about everything! Even the clock on the wall can cause both of you to watch time pass and worry how long it is taking. Then how about the blood pressure band hanging behind the bed. What about the alarm call button or the baby station? Maybe the IV tree sitting just at head of bed? All of these things can evoke anxiety in either of you, which can start the process of adrenalin production.
Simply by recognising these things can cause anxiety is first step. Now you are aware you can talk about them, understand them and accept that they are there not for you but simply because they are always there. If you spot something in your partners eye line you feel may cause a problem, move it! Think about how you can take the emphasis of the medicalised delivery room, with dimmed lights, music playing, etc.
So these are tangibles that you can spot and deal with, but also think about the walk in to the hospital, checking in, being examined. Just actually walking in to the maternity suite can be scary, as it all becomes very real for both of you. Is it any surprise that the majority of women when arriving at hospital, will state that “typical, my contractions have slowed down”? That’s caused by that surge of adrenalin… So be aware, once you get there make your partner as comfortable as possible and the environment as relaxing as possible as quickly as possible. Reassure her and follow my labour dos and don’ts.
OK, now what else was missing from the picture? Simple, people. So who will be in the room? Well, probably you, also the midwife. That will be the minimum, but depending on your circumstances there may be more.
Do you need to protect you partner from the midwife? Absolutely! But no, before the outcry, not because the midwife is bad or dangerous! Your partner just needs to feel comfortable with her midwife. To keep adrenalin down, your partner needs to feel surrounded by people she can trust and feels relaxed with.
Your role as protector does not stop there though… you also need to protect your partner against YOURSELF! During labour, your partners senses will be heightened, Mother Nature gave this as a gift to labouring women so that they can sense dangers around themselves, so they can protect themselves. During labour, your partner will sense any worries or tension coming from yourself, in a nutshell, she will smell your fear. If she senses you are afraid or worried, it will trigger her fear and thus her adrenalin. This is why YOU preparing for YOUR role during labour is so important. By being better prepared and informed, you will be calmer and more confident during labour and birth.
So focus on her, keep reassuring, use that extended vocabulary you now have prepared. Overall, trust in both of your abilities and instincts. Simply by reading this you will be better prepared. Keep preparing, and allow yourselves to enjoy the experience, as it is a truly wonderful time when you meet your child for the first time.
However, being your partners protector is only half of your role… my next blog will cover your other essential role – that of advocate.
Come on guys, admit it… You found out you going to be a dad and since you have had all sorts of thoughts and fears going round in your brain! Don’t worry, it’s totally normal and what’s more, I doubt you have any that are unique to you.
Fear release, is a very important part of we do at DaddyNatal. No, blokes don’t all have to tell me their deepest darkest fears, but I do explain the common ones and where they stem from. We do then discuss some they may be having if they feel like sharing, and of course, all done in true male style complete with humour! And this is the essence of why it is crucial that DaddyNatal is entirely men only – let’s be honest, do you really think men will feel comfortable to discuss their personal fears in front of their partners or other women? Of course not!
Why is it so important we deal with fear?
The why is simple, and something I discuss in my piece on “Men at Birth” but in a nutshell, fears that are not released can be picked up during labour by the laboring woman. This can lead to prolonged or even stalled labour through the production of adrenalin. Worse is, if some fears are not dealt with, they can linger post birth causing friction, resentment and delayed bonding with their newborn child.
So what are common male fears?
Guys, listen up, these are some common ones, but in no way all of them. If yours isn’t on here feel free to email me and I will talk to you about it.
First for the bomb shell, research has shown up to 6 out of 10 expectant fathers at some point in the pregnancy will suffer doubts and fears regarding the paternity of the unborn baby. Definitely on each course I teach, at least a couple of blokes, have been, or are dealing with this. It is so common, yet of course, often not spoken about. This is an important fear to deal with because it can affect the expectant fathers’ behavior during pregnancy, attitude at birth and relationship with the baby.
Ok guys, if you are dealing with this fear, I want you to now listen to the likely reason for having it, accept it and get rid of the thought! The reason for it in 99.9% of cases has absolutely nothing to do with the fidelity of your partner. It stems from perfectly normal fears and anxiety you are having and manifests as this thought. It can be because you have doubts about your own ability to have achieved the miracle of creating a new life. Maybe you are in denial because you’re not ready to be a dad. Maybe you have had concerns about you own fertility. The list goes on but the pattern is clear, it is solely linked to our self-doubt and not our partner.
Fortunately most men have this thought and instantly or within few days are able to move on. For some though it sticks, they obsess and it is extremely destructive. This is why you need to acknowledge it is about you, not your partner, deal with it and move on.
What else? Well we men also worry about how we will support our family. Or worry about handling a baby and not knowing what to do. Again, both purely natural. I am convinced that if we all waited until we were in right financial position to have children, man would be in danger of extinction! There is never a right time, whatever your situation you will find a way to support your family. If you are worried about knowing what to do, well take control and prepare yourself, attend classes like DaddyNatal, talk to friends, research and maybe spend some time with friends or family that have children. One thing though, you will learn what to do and if you put a little effort in you will do just fine.
Men also have the worry of their relationship changing with their partner. Nope, sorry not going to tell you ‘don’t worry it won’t hardly change’, and anyone that does is talking ****. Yes, it is going to change and probably, quite dramatically. If this is your first baby, then you are no longer a couple, you are now a family. In the early days and weeks, there is the possibility of feeling like spare part, unless you have put some work in preparing for what you can do. Read my blog on “When Does a Man become a Dad” for some tips.
Some of us are petrified at the thought of the birth and some will even feel sick at the thought. Again, this is not as unusual as you may think, and through preparation and understanding this fear can be eliminated. For some though, the fear might remain no matter how much effort they put into preparation. If this is the case, then you have to question if you should be there or at the very least, be the main birth partner. You do have a choice, you could see if there is a close family member or friend you both would feel comfortable with who would support you at the birth, or see if you can find and afford a doula you both like.
These are just some of the more common ones, there are plenty more. What is important is you acknowledge your fear, there is no place for macho behavior here. Failure to acknowledge you have a fear and deal with it can have a big impact on YOUR family. I will help anyone that contacts me so please do if you wish to discuss a personal fear. Talk to your midwife, she is happy to work with both of you and is not just there for your partner. Maybe you have maternity helpline which is also there to help and support expectant partners. Do something!! Don’t let fear spoil the best day of your lives.