Celebrating Fathers and all Partners: Birth Matters June 2019
By Laura Maxson, LM
The birth experience can create uncertainty for birth partners exploring a role of impending parenthood, often perceived of that as protector/provider. With pressure to be a labor coach, some can forget that above all the partner’s most important role is to love their partner with all their heart. A partner’s most valuable expertise as a labor coach isn’t memorizing the stages of labor, it’s knowing how to love the laboring person. Be the protector, not from the pain and work of labor, but from all things that interfere with labor and distract from being able to cope.
Be a provider of reassurance and support that enables choices based the laboring person’s needs.
Be patient when waiting for labor to start.
Birth can safely take place as late as two weeks after the due date in most pregnancies. Many care providers feel most comfortable once the baby is born and may start encouraging labor induction as soon as the due date nears. The general discomforts of term pregnancy can make induction seem desirable, but induction can bring with it a change to higher tech and higher risk birth. The best chance for normal labor and birth is often to wait for the baby to be ready to be born.
Surround yourself with those experienced in normal, physiological birth during labor.
Without support, parents can be overwhelmed with the intensity of labor, leading them to consider drugs or even cesarean surgery to bring a quick end to what may be perceived as needless suffering. When someone in labor is free to respond with instinctual movement in a supportive environment, the work of labor has rewards of empowerment, with a positive spillover into breastfeeding and parenting. A birth doula can help bring balance and reassurance, especially to the hospital experience with its ever-changing nursing staff and on-call care providers.
Learn the language of support for birth.
Birth is a time for affirmations of love, strength, and trust. “I love you,” “You are working so hard,” “I know you can do it,” and “You are beautiful” all speak to the heart and encourage the release of oxytocin (necessary for labor to progress), as well as beta-endorphins (nature’s pain relievers). Conversation and situations that take a laboring person into the thinking brain hinders oxytocin release and can contribute the need for Pitocin augmentation, more interventions and less beta-endorphin production.
Look for ways to nurture intimacy and protect privacy.
Oxytocin and beta-endorphin production increase with feelings of security and relaxation. Intimacy is vital and, while it may be more difficult to achieve in the hospital setting, going the extra mile will pay off for both of you. Don’t let artificial barriers come between you: tubes and wires can make a person seem fragile and untouchable when they are actually more in need of loving touch than ever before. Instead of sitting next to the bed watching the monitor, get in there – sit behind them on the bed, where they can lean back to be easily held and comforted. Putting up the bed’s side-rails often makes enough room for two to spoon side by side. Do whatever is necessary to make the space your own: pull the curtains closed, move the furniture, or make a nest of blankets and pillows on the floor. Turn down the lights, and ask not to be disturbed for a specific amount of time. Spend lots of time in the bathroom together, especially in the shower or tub (bring a bathing suit/change of clothes).
Support informed decisions.
If a pregnant person can open their body to give birth, their partner can certainly open their mind. Homebirth, midwives, and doulas all increase chances for fewer interventions in labor and birth, and decrease cesareans, yet many don’t explore these options due to an unsupportive partner. Be open and receptive, go to interviews, become educated, and make truly informed decisions. Above all, trust the pregnant partner and find a way to be supportive.
Becoming a parent while witnessing the person you love in the full power of childbirth can be a truly awe-inspiring experience. Labor and birth are life-altering events and being fully present to meet their eyes with love and support in the darkest part of transition creates a bond that only deepens with the blissful moment of birth.
Celebrating fathers – and all partners – in their important role support their family on Father’s Day.
Laura Maxson, LM, CPM, the mother of three grown children, has been working with pregnant and breastfeeding women for over 30 years. Currently she is the executive director of Birth Network of Santa Cruz County and has a homebirth midwifery practice. Contact her at [email protected] or [email protected]