Tag Archives: Fatherhood

My Non-Birth Story Is A Story Of Birth: A Tale Of How (Some) Women & Men Become Parents

I was honored when Thrive Center for Birth & Family Wellness invited me to join their storytelling event–Stories from the Birth Room–in 2015 and, again, in 2016. As if that weren’t fabulous enough, Thrive is publishing a magazine, in which my story will appear. I recorded an audio version to celebrate the occasion. Click the arrow to listen. Enjoy! Keep scrolling for free resources for expecting couples, parents, and birth professionals.

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Pregnancy & Dads: Why Inclusivity Matters to Our Relationships

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For decades, we’ve taken it for granted that husbands be present in labor and delivery, or in C-section surgery suites, when their wives give birth. Many of us believe that it’s important for dads to support delivering moms during childbirth, and that their efforts to do so, and to witness the birth of their babies, offers affirmation of the centrality of fatherhood to their lives and families.

Despite so many men’s now commonplace attendance at birth, Michael Odent, a French obstetrician known as the first doctor to invite dads into the inner sanctum of labor and delivery many years ago, has done a 180 from his earlier inclusive stance.

In an interview he gave to the British press last year, Odent argued that women are happier, and their deliveries are healthier, when they give birth without their male partners.

Why? Odent believes that men’s presence constrains women’s willingness to let go and scream when they want and, according to Odent, really need to. Plus, as an avid proponent of natural childbirth, he blames most men’s inability to emotionally handle their spouses’ labor pains, and childbirth stress, for an increase in epidurals and Caesareans.

From my professional coach’s perspective , the core relationship issue that’s sparked by Odent’s perspective is less whether or not this physician is right, and more: What do couples want for their birth experience?

A recent study from Sweden claims that, while most men surveyed attended childbirth classes, some found their secondary status quite challenging. During the classes, their childbirth questions were often ignored or the instructors redirected their responses to expecting moms. The study also found that expectant dads lacked a forum for their own fears about the birth process (and, I’d venture, about parenting in general).

I can’t help but wonder if Odent’s claim about men’s presence in birthing rooms having a negative impact on epidural and C-section rates is, if valid, connected to one of the study’s findings.

In other words, if expecting dads contribute to more frequent epidurals and Caesareans, maybe it’s because they lack a socially acceptable, indeed encouraged, outlet for expressing (and getting support around) concerns about their spouses’ wellbeing during and after childbirth.

For the sake of both expecting moms and dads, how can these issues, or at least some of them, be avoided or diffused? Here are a few pre-birth tips. BTW, adjust pronouns and proper names and this applies to lesbian couples, too:

(1) Given that it’s not just expecting moms who struggle with fears about birth, it’s important for both of you to take time before the baby’s due date, to acknowledge that your fears aren’t just okay, they’re completely normal. Even if you opt not to discuss those concerns in specific terms, merely stating that having them is entirely understandable and quite common, is a useful gesture.

(2) If you’re up for it, go a step further and discuss your own and your spouse’s fears about birth and parenting. If you think your spouse won’t chat with you about these issues, or if you’re not keen on chatting with your beloved about them, then encourage him (or her) to speak to someone else, even if only briefly, e.g., a friend, colleague, or coach.

(3) If you’re an expecting mom, and keen on including your mate in the pregnancy and birth process, directly ask childbirth instructors and members of your medical/birthing team to include your spouse as much as possible at various stages, including pre-birth, e.g., at ultrasound appointments. Be aware that you might have to make that request more than once.

(4) Sit down with your spouse and ask some birth-prep questions centered on your relationship (vs. the mechanics of childbirth). Even if you make up the answers, just asking these questions will hopefully give you room to express your best-case wishes and, in turn, the ability to reference those wishes if the real birth turns out differently than planned:

If I were to imagine the best birth experience, in emotional terms (let’s just assume the physical goes great), what would I want my spouse to experience?

If I were to imagine the best birth experience for me, in emotional terms (assume the physical goes great), what would I want to experience?

Ideally, what role do I want my spouse to play in my birth experience?

Best-case scenario, how do we want to feel about each other during the birth process?

What can we do to create the atmosphere we both want for the birth process? (e.g., playing music we love, taping our favorite photos on the wall, etc.)

What do we want to remember about our relationship, if everything we want for ourselves, and each other, flies out the window during the birth process?

For couples who consider, or really want to consider, the birth of their child to be a team effort—with delivering moms clearly leading the charge!—finding ways to ensure dads, too, are consciously integrated into the process, and invited to share their feelings, especially before childbirth, is not only important to us individually, but also to our relationship  together…both inside and outside the delivery room.

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Helping New Dads Transition to Parenthood

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I was telling a friend who has three kids—and works with pregnant women during delivery & postpartum—that I’ve heard a few new dads share the following:

It was hard for me to deal with my wife’s total focus on our newborn. It seemed like our relationship no longer existed for her, and I felt useless with our baby.

How did my friend respond? She said those dads are immature; they need to grow up and embrace parenthood, and accept changes in their relationship.

I couldn’t disagree more; not about adapting to the role of parent or tackling relationship changes, but about her belief that these guys’ reactions signal immaturity, and her assumption that their shifts are (or should be) seamless.

There are lots of good reasons—physiological, psychological, historical*—that most women who give birth turn their attention fully to their babies, not least of which is the fact that they’ve likely spent a lot of the preceding 9+ months tending to, connecting with, or at least curious about the child/ren they’ve been carrying.

Plus, hormones heighten most moms’ emotional bonding with newborns and literally trigger physical responses, like lactation, that enhance that connection and, in the case of breastfeeding, often decrease sexual desire.

While bonding with infants is assumed to be a natural phenomenon for mothers who give birth (indeed, for all women), we’ve staked a claim to the desirability of fathers bonding with their kids only in recent decades.

Despite that claim, baby- & birth-prep classes remain so focused on moms and babies that some men wonder why they’re there, or wish they were integrated more, or that their exclusion were acknowledged and understood as potentially challenging.

Don’t get me wrong. Lots of new dads make these shifts smoothly, but those who don’t—and I might add, women who don’t (not those with postpartum depression, but those who, for example, prefer older kids to newborns, or don’t like being pregnant)—often find themselves in hostile territory if they admit what they really feel.

What to do? In the absence of revamping the way baby- and birth-prep classes are taught—which I’d love to do, by the way, to be more inclusive of dads/spouses and to address relationship changes post-kids—here are some preliminary ideas:

1)   There’s a Relationship Coaching concept called Deep Democracy: all voices—even and especially unpopular ones—need to be heard on a topic. So my first suggestion is that we encourage expecting and new dads, and expecting and new moms, too, to voice a full gamut of opinions and feelings about their experiences, even if those opinions make us uncomfortable or aren’t socially acceptable.

Just because we express an opinion does not mean we won’t be attentive parents or spouses; what it means is we need to express ourselves and deserve to have our feelings understood (even if you don’t agree with us).

2)  If you’re expecting a first, or second, or third child, consider writing a short letter to yourself (yes, you read that correctly), to your relationship and your spouse (I suggest both of you do this), in which you fill in the blanks (see below).

Why a letter? So if either or both of you feel alienated from your experience as a new parent, or from each other, you’ll have a quick way to try to reconnect:

What I want for myself as a new parent is [fill in the blank].

If I don’t feel what I want to feel, as a new parent right away I want to support myself by [fill in the blank].

If you don’t feel what you want to feel, as a new parent right away, I want to support you by [fill in the blank].

What I appreciate most about our relationship is [fill in the blank].

Some of the things I appreciate most about you are [fill in the blank].

What I want for us, as a couple, after our baby arrives is [fill in the blank].

What I want you to remember about how I feel about you, even if I don’t have the time or energy to tell you after the baby’s here, is [fill in the blank].

3) Heck, even if your baby or toddler or older kid/s’ already here, try to find a few minutes to write that letter anyway!

When you’ve finished your letters, give each other a copy. Put your letter and the one your spouse wrote in a place where you’ll be able to access them again easily, in case you need to be reminded of your connection with each other and yourself, and need some support in navigating the challenges of parenthood.

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* I can’t resist noting that our ideas about motherhood and fatherhood are impacted as much by history, as other factors. Here’s an interesting piece about that history in the United States: http://bit.ly/eG78ty.