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.