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Is your Guy the Birth Plan Superman?

September 20, 2011

Phillip White

Most men want to participate in the birth of their children, but for others it can be an intimidating time, and one they really aren’t prepared for.  Sometimes guys attend the birth because they feel pressure to.  In the U.S. only 10 percent don’t attend.  But due to the fact that 11% of men are afraid of birth, and their presence does nothing to enhance the childbirth process, I’d suggest you reconsider adding them in your birth plan.  Ask yourself the following questions:

Does he know what to expect?

Women sometimes ask men to do things they aren’t ready for or things they are poorly equipped to handle.  Birth is one of them.  Does the guy want to be emotionally supportive, not all guys are cut out to attend a childbirth.  This is especially true for guys headed into the Birth Machine environment.  If a guy already has fears and anxieties about being in a hospital, if they are queasy in their stomachs when seeing blood or other bodily discharges, then that’s a bad sign.

Their sensitivities can be behaviorally modified over time, but that requires focus.  I suggest having them watch some birth films, or show them books on birth that have real time birth photos.  But if they have instilled fears, they will once wince and turn even more against the idea of attending the birth.

Does he know what transition is?

Fathers-to-be, who are ignorant at a birth, are not going to know how to support anything.  They won’t know what things mean, and the prospects of their decisions.  You don’t want a guy signing you over to the birth machine.  The instinct in men to protect is not effective if they don’t know enough about what is happening around them.  It’s like giving them a loaded bazooka, and they do not know what the thing does.

We wrote our child birth education book for guys, so that they would have learned context and gained proper knowledge so that they don’t strap their mates up on the interventions conveyer belt.  Maybe part of the reasons for the increase in interventions and c-section has to do with the ignorance of the men and women attending birth, and frankly after talking with most guys before and after childbirth, you will find they are still ignorant.

Try to find a place where men are included in the antenatal education.  Buy them our book.  Make sure they have a place to talk to other men, so that they can share all their anxieties before the birth – not during the birth. (Well most men are just going to keep silent.)  You should know that most guys are not emotionally ready to provide anyone any emotional support, too.  They may learn to provide it, but it drives most guys crazy that their favorite person is going through any sort of anguish or pain, and that makes them near crazy.

I think men should go to the birth, but I also think that if they are ignorant, they really add nothing for their partner.  They are in the way as many midwives, hospital nurses and doctors put it.

Have they talked to any man who has been at a birth before?

Most guys don’t talk about birth in detail, but men need some social support – whether they want to admit it or not.  I discussed that in another blog piece this summer.  Men are not naturally going to share their feelings with anyone, including their brother-in-law, father, best friend, etc.  Men for the most part are poor communicators, and like to be rugged individualists who need no social support at all.  The gun-slinging, macho men still rule, I’m afraid.   Women might think that is attractive, but for the most part, many men seem like slugs.  But if they get the proper education, they will get it, and understand their role.  If not, why not hire a doula, if they do understand there is still a place for a doula on your birth team.

If you have a birth plan that has elements that are not generically provided by the medical world, guys might freak out.  They might not understand hypnobirth, or water birth.  Put them in touch with other fathers who have experienced that type of birth.  Make sure they read about it, and become comfortable with the idea.  Else, you could be dragging the cat with its hair bolt straight into a night of horror.

Are they fearful?

Facing the unknown in life can be the most challenging part.  When women and men face birth, they may have fear that seems overwhelming and freezes good intentions with whatever goes against the birth plan.  The more things that go wrong, the more the fear overtakes one’s soul.  Remember they had 9 months to prepare.  Did you see them making the effort?  If not, then your birth team which is committed and ready should take care of the birth.  Give the guy a break and let him play errand boy.  Don’t pay attention to his presence.  You have a baby to birth, and you need to focus and not slip into emotional frustrations about his lack of care and concern (people usually have to be taught to care).  It is those blasted expectations that cause us the most unrest, so hopefully you will have seen long before if he was ready.  Don’t blame him for not being perfect; most of us have obvious defects in body, soul and character.

Fear is something you need to not have in your birth environment.  Just ask him to leave if he feels afraid.  The hormones that birth the baby are partially controlled by your thoughts and emotions.  If you are prepared and don’t give into fear and feel in a safe place, you will be releasing the right types of chemicals, but FEAR, is what shuts down the birth process, slows and stops labor.  Adrenaline may be good for “fighting and flighting,” but it sucks for the uterus birthing.  Birth is a sexual process and when you are comfortable in your environment and not afraid, it helps to open your body to deliver the baby.

Give your guy options not just expectations so that he can provide you with the best birth experience possible.  Many men tell me that they had all these expectations on their shoulders, and that the whole birth experience was like a bad dream: that is until the baby was in their arms.  Men want to be there for the birth of their children.  They want to be at your side.  Don’t make it a hassle.

Bad Medicine?

Birth in a hospital can be an expensive proposition.  Men may see the expenses of birth and assume the more they pay the better the service.  This is not true.  The fact is that you will be spending the most time with your birth professionals.  You need to know the importance of those professionals, and not get stuck with a professional who is against your birth plans.  That is a central topic in our book.  You need to match the type of birth you want to the right facility and professionals.  Don’t expect to stroll in an have your way.  The vast majority of locations are hospitals, and they are entrenched bureaucracies that control birth through interventions, procedures and time schedules.  Hospitals are where you go after an accident or when you are sick.  Pregnant women are not sick, are they?  Long labors will always end in short surgeries, if you see what I mean.  Have you checked the track record of your professional.  If you can’t get a look at their c-section rate, then expect to have a c-section.  Put that in your birth plan.

Not researching the professionals you use in childbirth means you are not sure what their philosophy is about birth.  Medicine has taught doctors for years that birth is a “pathologic process,” that they need to be actively in control of by using interventions and surgery.  Training emphasizes the worst-case scenarios possible.  Doctor also make more money if they perform those routine interventions and a lot more with a surgery.  That’s what they are trained to do, and if you want a natural childbirth, you may find that  they  or the staff will be imposing those interventions on you whether you want them or not.

Change your professionals to those who support your mission.  You are paying them aren’t you.  Your partner should understand and support your decisions.  He should respect you for doing the research and finding the right path.  The pocketbook should not dictate how your children are born; though it does have an influence when your insurance doesn’t cover an option you desire.

The Myth

Since the mid 1970’s men have become more enlightened as to what the childbirth experience is like, but that doesn’t mean they are ready and prepared.  Don’t believe that your guy has to be at the birth.  He needs to be supportive and committed primarily.  Having a guy who wants to be a father is awesome.  In the past our fathers taught us nothing about childbirth as it was a sacred place for the sisterhood of women, but as modern society has stripped much of those relational values away, men find they are called to fill in the gap.  It doesn’t always work as well as it sounds.  Most men want the experience not because they want to support you through childbirth, but because they are expecting the first glimpse of their baby.  It is the big first moment for most dads.  Let them enjoy and savor it, as it helps to emotionally bond them to their children and you.  Just drop the expectations of superman, ready to birth a crowning baby as fast as a bullet.  If he can provide more than just experiencing birth, then it will be because you helped get him educated and prepared.

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