Dads At BirthSeptember 23, 2010 No Comments
Dads at the birth.
Words by Lucy Pearce
Life-changing is a word that comes up a lot when you ask dads about their experience of watching their babies come into the world.
‘I couldn’t have imagined the intensity of the experience.’ says one father-of-three, who attended all of his children’s births. ‘In fact, I think I was in a slight state of shock afterwards – it was so fast and furious! But it was also very peaceful and exactly how we would have wanted it.
‘(Holding my newborn baby) was the richest, stillest, probably the most beautiful few moments of my life. I was holding in my hands something that was going to take centre stage in my affections every day for the rest of my life – I felt profoundly satisfied, grateful and humble.’
Father attending the birth of his child is now the norm, but, until the early 1980s, dads were expected to stay away from the ‘women’s business’ of giving birth; their role confined to getting drunk whilst they waited for news of the new arrival.
For many, this expectation to be there can be one more added pressure. In the weeks leading up to the birth of a first baby, there can be doubts on both sides. He might worry that he will faint at the sight of blood, or be entirely useless in a hospital setting. She might be concerned about him seeing her ‘losing it’, or that he’ll put off sex for ever.
Dr Michel Odent, one of the most influential doctors in the birth world for forty years, has controversial opinions about dads attending the birth:
‘[Having men in the delivery room] is something completely new. The doctrine was introduced suddenly in the ’70s, [but we] had not realised how complex it was.
‘They did not realise that the release of adrenaline was contagious, for example. You cannot be in a complete state of relaxation when someone near to you is releasing low levels of adrenaline. It’s normal that when a man loves his wife and sees her in birth he will be releasing adrenaline – even if he’s smiling and trying to look brave – he’s releasing a lot of adrenaline, and that’s contagious. Other issues include the impact on their sex life after. For some men it’s just too much to reach extreme emotional states, it’s difficult to cope.’
However, women’s experiences seem to contradict Dr Odent’s views. A recent survey of mothers, which I conducted, showed that 97 per cent felt that having their partner at the birth brought them closer together.
But what of the dads? I conducted a survey of dads to discover the truth. To find out what you always wanted to know (which men rarely talk about): what being at birth really means to them.
Of the men interviewed, 83 per cent had attended their children’s births. Those, who chose to stay away first time round, repeated this choice at subsequent births.
Birth preparation is a hot topic amongst many couples, with the woman usually taking a leading role, often despairing of her partner’s lack of interest and involvement. Interestingly, among the men I talked to, none admitted to doing no preparation! So be reassured ladies. Despite appearances to the contrary, your partner is probably soaking up information. He might not share your obsessive fascination and need to know every last detail, but he is learning – it’s just that he’s doing it on the sly! Eight per cent of the dads I questioned had been to birth classes, 50 per cent had read one or more birth books and 20 per cent admitted to having read a chapter. As one dad said ‘My wife did a lot of work during her pregnancy and shared a lot of that with me (she completely took the lead on this). This had the dual effect of preparing me for what to expect and giving me total confidence in what she was doing.’
Eighty-five per cent of dads were pleased with their performance on the big day, and felt they had performed to the best of their ability. Almost 70 per cent felt their preparation made them feel confident in their role, the rest believed that nothing could have prepared them for the reality of birth. So, take comfort in this girls: it’s not how much he knows, it comes down to his being present and sensitive and responsive to your needs, not book learning. As one dad said: ‘I felt comfortable in what I could contribute to my partner and the limits of this. It was an amazing thing to share between us, but in many ways it was also an important individual journey for her which I did not want to interfere with.’
But what is a man’s view of his role at the birth? The most common was as a physical and emotional supporter, followed by 50 per cent, who felt that their role was as an all-round cheerleader, general dogsbody and driver. None felt entirely useless.
As for regrets, there were very few. One regretted not standing up to medical professionals about interventions. Another regretted not holding his baby soon enough and another that he did not reassure his partner more. All were comfortable in their choices over how much they chose to see, whether they touched the head while baby was being born and over cutting the cord.
A common worry for women is that the sight of their vagina stretched around a baby’s head would put their partner off sex for life. Seventy per cent of the dads I spoke to said that being at the birth had no impact on their sex life. Fifteen per cent said it had affected their sex life – for the better! Only one man said it affected it for the worse. Among the other comments were:
- ‘there was never any preciousness or lack of reality about her body before, so that wasn’t a shock either. It was an incredible, magical thing to share with her.’
- ‘I felt as if our relationship was deeper and more significant’
- ‘it helped cement our relationship for the better.’
So, Dads, don’t miss out on this life-changing opportunity! If you need any more persuasion, just listen to one dad, who’s done it three times. ‘Seeing my child arrive into the world is one of those experiences that I will never, ever forget and it will be a cherished memory for as long as I have memories.’Tags: birth, dad, father, labourARTICLES, GIVING BIRTH, NEW ARRIVAL, PREGNANCY