This blog post is dedicated to the guys – the guys who are or will become Dads someday.
I have to admit that I’ve always loved guys. I was a really big “tom-boy” as a little girl and could always be found outside either climbing a tree, playing with crawdads, digging up night crawlers to go fishing with my brothers, or choosing the teams for neighborhood football games. I played with boys all the time. I even had an imaginary friend, Tommy, that I used to play with for hours on end because he saved me from having to play dolls with either of my sisters! The irony of ending up in such a feminine profession is not lost on me. As a childbirth educator, everything I do is associated with women – women empowerment, women as mothers, babies coming out of women body parts. But… I have never stopped loving guys. And I think that it’s time that we do ao better job honoring them as expectant-Dads-to-be.
Gone are the days of, “”Go smoke in the waiting room and we’ll come get you when the baby’s born!” This is a wonderful advance in terms of welcoming Dads into the labor room – but sometimes I wonder if we haven’t swung the pendulum totally in the opposite direction without any real thought. We’ve now told our expectant Dads, “You’re it! Get in there and be her everything!” But we haven’t done our due diligence with these Dads to check in and find out 1) if they even want to be present at the birth and 2) if they feel adequately trained to be the laboring woman’s main (and sometimes only!) labor support.
Often, when men accompany their pregnant partner to the first childbirth class, they’re not very excited to be there. For a lot of them, they’ve felt pretty left out of the whole pregnancy, and they’re worried that these classes will just be more of the same. From a physical standpoint, there’s no way that a man and a woman can experience pregnancy the same way. But this doesn’t mean that his experience of the pregnancy is any less than hers.
Sometimes women are upset that their partner doesn’t react the way they want them to at the news, “I’m pregnant!” I’m not sure exactly what women are expecting, but if there’s any hesitation, or a question like, “Are you sure?” too often the woman thinks that he’s not excited, that he doesn’t want the baby, that he’s not ready to become a Dad. But most men and women, have a lot of mixed emotions when they find out they’re pregnant. They’re happy, but also completely freaked out. They’re excited, but scared to death! They can’t wait to meet this little person, but are super anxious about how the baby will change their relationship. Women don’t cut guys any slack on their initial reaction to this news! Even if their reaction was exactly the same as the woman’s reaction 6 hours earlier when she first saw a double line on the pee stick!
Initially, most Dads are pretty psyched about the pregnancy – his boys can swim! He got his woman pregnant – yes! But soon after, it sinks in that he needs to be able to provide for his family. It doesn’t matter if the Momma will be going back to work after maternity leave or not! He also worries about wether he’ll be able to fill his own father’s shoes in the parenting department or if he’ll be able to avoid resembling his father in every way, depending on his own relationship with his Dad.
What I know about today’s Dad is that he wants to be involved – way more involved than his own father had been before him. He’s looking forward to meeting his baby and can’t wait to be a part of their life. But guess what? He’s unsure of himself. When the sexual revolution occurred, the message was clear. I can remember seeing the perfume commercial as a young girl – “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never, ever, ever let you forget you’re a man! Cuz’ I’m a woman – Enjoli!” But where was the equivalent commercial (or revolution) that told men they could be as good or better than a woman in the sensitive, nurturing parenting department. We just need to do better about welcoming men into this world of women.
How does this happen? First of all, women need to include men in every aspect of their pregnancy – if they want to be included, that is! Not every man wants to know every little detail of the pregnancy. Men, like women, do not become completely different people just because his partner is pregnant. Women need to stop placing unrealistic expectations on their partners. But if the guy wants to be included, then by all means, the woman should be carving out space for him to feel welcome and accepted into this mysterious and powerful experience of pregnancy and birth.
Men must be seen as co-creators of this new little person and given the honor and respect that the role of “father” deserves. If the expectant Dad takes time off work to attend clinic appointments, comes prepared with questions or concerns, and voices these during the appointment, it’s imperative that the provider or staff make eye contact with him and answer him directly. Dads who say they felt ignored or invisible during the pregnancy is just not okay.
Prenatal education classes must address the unique needs and concerns of the expectant father in a way that is honest and real, but not in any way condescending. His role should be elevated in front of the expectant Momma – she needs to see how important his role is to the overall success of her pregnancy, birth and parenting experience. It’s not enough to tell Dads how important it is for him to be there for his laboring partner – he needs to know that no one else can claim the emotional connection he has with both Momma and baby.
He needs to be prepared for all of the different emotional responses he might have to the birth itself. The physical aspect of helping her through contractions will not the be the challenge for him. But watching the woman he loves really struggle as she moves through contractions will be incredibly painful for him.
He needs to know that he doesn’t have to be her everything in birth. That he doesn’t have to try and be her doula. He just needs to be there. Be present and available to her for each and every contraction. His role during the birth is not unlike everything he’s already been doing for her during this pregnancy – he’s probably held her hair back once or twice while she threw up, he’s had to listen to her when she’s had a bad day, he’s probably given her countless back massages. All he needs to do on the Big Day is make sure that he’s bringing all of that and a little more to help her cope with her contractions.
Basically, he needs to be prepared to love her straight through from the first contraction to the moment when his little baby makes it into this world – and then beyond.
Just as I feel that every woman is fully capable of giving birth, I feel that every man is fully capable of providing excellent labor support to the woman he loves. But I also think that having additional birth support team members might be exactly what is necessary for this birth experience to be a positive memory and birth story worth telling for both of them. Maybe it makes sense to have a doula or other labor companions in addition to Dad.
I often tell women in my classes, “If you need warm and fuzzy there when you give birth, and he is not warm and fuzzy – then make sure you bring yourself some warm and fuzzy!” It’s so important that we allow the Dads to be themselves during the birth – which means some of them will want to put on their catcher’s mitt and take charge, while others will want to sit at the head of the bed and hold hands with the laboring woman making sure to never look “south of the border”! Either way, that’s excellent knowledge going in and will allow the couple to choose the members of their birth support team well so that Dad can do whatever he needs to make sure this experience positive for him as well.
If we want men to be great Dads, we need to welcome them into this experience first. Then we need to acknowledge and honor their role during pregnancy, birth and parenting. We need to give them the space to explore their own vulnerabilities around becoming a Dad and support them better in their role as birth support partner. We need to explore how and why a doula or other support person can free them up to be fully present during the birth of their baby. This way they can witness their partner’s strength, be truly present for the miracle that is their baby’s birth and better prepare to bond and attach to their newborn soon after delivery.
I love guys. Almost as much as I love guys who are about to become Dads.
Did you feel like your role as expectant Dad was honored? In what ways did you feel welcomed into this world of women? What changes could be made so that you felt more included during the pregnancy and birth?