Your child’s birth is the gateway through which you, your child and its mother must journey in order to become a family or add to your family. The quality of the birth experience influences the quality of your relationship with your family. It can create bonds of trust and support, or it can reinforce feelings of isolation from mother and child.
Too often, we approach birth as an event that happens to women, a time in which professionals step in do things to bring a baby out of a mother and into the world. The result of this kind of thinking is isolation of the male partner and, often, a sense of powerlessness for women.
Birth is actually a process of change for both partners and the child. It culminates in an activity in which two caring people can develop and demonstrate their ability to work as partners, each bringing their own skills to the effort to create a powerful, miraculous outcome.
During pregnancy, your partner’s mind and body develop to support the birth and subsequent care of the newborn. She has no choice in this. Fathers, however, can choose to facilitate the changes by taking on an active, skills-oriented role in preparing themselves and their partner for the birthing activity.
Contrary to common belief, humans do not come with a set of internal, instinctual skills for giving birth. Talk to any woman who has had more than three children and ask her what she learned along the way. She’ll describe new realizations that came to her from each birth. Alternatively, talk to any three women and ask them what they believed they needed to know to before they experienced their first birth. You’ll get three different answers. Only rarely do women go to the birthing experience with the same sets of skills and beliefs about birthing.
Now, think about a father participating in the birthing experience, and you get the idea that any useful partnership skills must be learned and practiced long before the actual birth begins.
Ask a father if he’s willing to learn how to help his baby be born, and he’ll always say yes. He’ll also want to know what he can learn and where he can learn it.
Here are a few skills a father can learn. At the end of the article are links to additional information to help you prepare to be the best possible partner and participant in the experience.
A father’s birthing skills fall into two categories. First are the skills for helping to prepare a pregnant body to let a huge object out of a small hole. Body preparation can make the difference between a bonding experience and an experience that leaves both partners feeling distant from one another and helpless. Second are skills for coaching during the individually unique activity of birthing.
No two births are exactly alike, so you’ll need to learn your birthing skills well so that as the event unfolds you will be able to choose the skills that are useful and helpful in the moment. To do that, you’ll have to practice the skills before you need them in the same way you practice recovering from a spin while driving on an icy road before you need to do it.
Before birthing, help your pregnant partner practice relaxing and softening the inside of her pelvis.
Shove a grapefruit through the three inch mouth of a quart jar. Now, shove a grapefruit through a three-inch rubber band. Consider the difference in effort. By learning techniques to help train your partner for the actual physical experience of giving birth, you will both help her physically and help yourself develop a closer understanding of what she’s experiencing. Additionally, you’ll create a stronger trust bond as progress develops. Even if you end up with a non-laboring, surgical birth, you’ll have a trust bond that will serve you. You’ll be opening the gateway for yourself, your partner, and your child.
Understand your own breathing.
No matter what kind of birthing you experience, your partner will still breathe. All humans blink, cough and breathe. In breathing, we are more alike than different. What relaxes your body will often be the same for her. Make it your job to understand what type of breathing relaxes you, then share your knowledge with her. Practice listening to differences in her breath when she’s relaxed, stressed, or in pain. Practice modeling good breathing to help her relax.
Develop a virtual second set of arms and eyes.
Raising children means developing constant awareness of where they are and what they’re up to. Practice the same skills you might use in a team sport in order to track teammates and anticipate developing strategies. Practicing with your extra, virtual arms and eyes might even improve your skills at work, in sports, or with hobbies. Meet and spend time with veteran fathers. Watch their use of hands and eyes.
Be resilient – no matter what!
Keep in mind the power of choice. There will be things you can’t control during pregnancy and birth. However, you can control how you respond. Adapt and help! Resilience turns a man into a hero.
Wintergreen is the founder and director of Common Knowledge Trust, a registered charity in New Zealand. She has worked with hundreds of expectant fathers and mothers, and writes a blog for expectant fathers, where you can learn about 5 phases of pregnancy and more. She was also instrumental in developing what has become known as The Pink Kit Method For Birthing Better® that teaches expectant parents the ideal skills for preparing the pregnant body to give birth and the essential skills to help your baby be born.