Your husband at your side?

So what is a Dad’s role during labor and delivery? Is Dad an active coach? A quiet bystander? An anxious disaster and distraction? The perfect support person? Or just another family member in the waiting room?!?

When Mr. Red and I were attending law school and expecting our 2nd baby, we took a course in husband coached childbirth (the Bradley Method). One particular woman attended the course–alone. Her husband wasn’t “comfortable” attending the births of their children. It was her second child, and first attempt at natural birth. She was planning a homebirth with a doula and midwife. No husband. How crazy I thought (not the homebirth but hubby’s absence). Sure childbirth is a messy thing, but so is war. And so is changing diapers. It seems the same rationale could be used to excuse men from all sorts of “messy tasks.” Come on, man-up, I thought.

At the time, I thought this particular couple’s approach was the result of an overzealous theology related to the “proper” roles of men and women. But maybe I was wrong? Just this week Danielle Bean linked to two very interesting articles discussing the presence or absence of men in the delivery room.

The first article seems to suggest that men should be more “prepared” for the intensity of childbirth experiences. It claims that most childbirth courses are very fact oriented and very focused on women. I think this is an excellent point, and it would do men well to be more prepared for the intensity.

The second article, written by an OB who has delivered thousands of babies, suggests that men don’t really belong in the delivery room. He argues that childbirth is best left to a woman, her doula, and an experienced midwife. He also argues that the high rate of C-sections and interventions during childbirth are partially the result of an anxious husband causing his wife tension during labor and delivery. According to this doc, if a man leaves his wife alone, she will usually deliver faster, and with less complications.

While I agree that anxiety plays a major role in L & D complications, I think to blame the husband is bordering on absurd. In my own humble opinion, the high rate of interventions during L & D is the result of our overly-litigious society, AND an overly-medicalized approach to L & D. Viewing birth as a procedure rather than a natural process is the problem. Now I’m not saying there isn’t a role for medical intervention. A good OB is a God-send in a medical emergency. My point is only that there should be an underlying assumption that birth is Natural and good. Most of the time, a laboring woman should be left alone to deliver her baby w/o all the medical hype–and she will do a great job! Most women seem to experience A LOT more anxiety as a result of hospital policies and procedures. Things such as difficult nurses, mandatory IV’s, a lack of fluids and food, being forced to lie flat on your back in bed, being continuously strapped to a monitor, or a room-full of medical personnel cause the anxiety, not the presence of the husband.

Now, that being said, I think men should do a lot more to prepare themselves to take on a supportive role during labor. Obviously each couple has to make their own decisions about how they would like to birth their children, and the role of each dad will be different. But that being said, I think it is really unfair to suggest that having dad present usually results in more anxiety for the mom.

In my own personal experience, my best and only natural birth was with Augustine (my 4th baby). It was the only birth where my husband was the most important person in the room. His support was imperative for me to succeed in birthing my baby quickly and naturally. I wanted him by my side, I needed to look to him for strength.

On the contrary, I spent a good part of my labor with Charlie (my 3rd baby) alone (I’ll spare the details of how this happened). My labor with Charlie had more interventions and was, in my opinion, my worst birthing experience. I was keenly aware of Mr. Red’s absence and felt very alone.

Obviously, each woman needs to decide what birthing environment will best help her to relax. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of relaxation to a positive birth experience. But to suggest that men don’t belong in the delivery room, or to blame them for overzealous doctors and hospitals is not only unfair, it is borderline absurd.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…

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