Monday, December 1, 2008

Fathers at Birth

Because there has been such a long struggle to allow fathers to participate in the birth experience with their partners, it sometimes surprises me when I read or hear someone talking negatively about fathers at birth.

When Dr. Bradley began teaching women how to give birth naturally, fathers’ only participation was pacing in the waiting room, smoking a cigar. It wasn’t until Dr Bradley continued receiving lavish affection from these mothers after their births that he realized what an intimate and bonding experience birth was, and maybe he should invite the fathers to take part in it. I love what Dr. Bradley has to say about the fathers’ role, that it’s not just his job to plant the seed, but to nourish it and remove any weeds of doubts and anxieties.

There is an idea in most Americans’ heads of what labor looks like. Generally, it’s of a woman in pain, screaming at/hitting/or pulling on the man that put them in that situation. In all the Bradley births I’ve attended and heard feedback from, this has never been the case. When a mother is nurtured by a loving husband throughout her pregnancy, when he takes the time to understand what is taking place inside her, when he devotes his time and energy to working with her through the whole process, then birth is not a blaming or hurtful event. It is a bonding and loving event.

I strongly believe that women should be supported by women in labor. But I also believe that there is a crucial role for the father as well. A woman in labor needs to be cared for by other women and her husband. Each of them brings something to the laboring woman that the other can’t, which makes for a more fulfilling experience. While a husband may see his wife in pain and only think of ways he could take away the pain, another woman can look at the difficulty of labor and know that the mom will be okay. At the same time, this husband is also the only one who knows this woman intimately, all her deepest desires, her loves, her passions, is the only one who loves her deeply, and is the only one who makes up part of the baby being born. While a father can never truly understand what a laboring woman is going through, understanding the process, learning tools that help, and being an emotionally strong presence will truly lead to an experience that exceeds all others.

Is this too much pressure on the father? Some (a lot?) think so. While I don’t think fathers should be made to suffer through the laboring experience because their wives are experiencing pain, I do think it’s important for a father to see the process. When he sees the hard work that labor is, when he puts himself to use to help her through, he’s able to see a strength in his wife that he may not have previously seen before. He’s also able to see what great lengths one goes through to bring a child into the world, and experience the sacrifice of parenting from the start – an important concept to learn in the parenting journey.

When a father has an understanding of what’s happening, and is willing to be there with his love and support, birth, no matter what the outcome, becomes an experience of love and relationship. You see the two become three before your eyes. You watch as a family emerges, and you can SEE the love. The father’s love for the mother, the mother’s love for the father, the parents’ love for the baby, and the baby’s love for it’s parents. And it’s astounding.