Whether you’re becoming a first-time dad or your growing brood is set to hit double figures, every man will feel that lurch of trepidation as they head for the delivery room. Human biology decrees that your partner must endure all the heavy-lifting when it comes to giving birth. That can often leave you standing on the sidelines, feeling powerless, ineffectual and afraid.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Nadine Richardson has been a childbirth educator, doula and prenatal yoga teacher for over 20 years and is also the creator of She Births® (shebirths.com), a program of antenatal courses that run both online and face-to-face, designed to empower both mums and dads with a tool-kit of practical and emotional skills.
Armed with the right know-how, she insists, you can make a huge contribution in the delivery room as the partner. “You are the first generation of fathers invited into the childbirth room. Therefore your role is much more important than it’s ever been before.”
Here’s Nadine’s tips to give your partner the support she needs and make the “miracle of life” less stressful.
1. Be Her Right-hand Man (But Don’t Feel Like You Have To Do Everything)
“As the father, you are the primary support person,” Nadine says. “ The delivery room will be a completely unfamiliar environment to you. But it’s also completely unfamiliar for the woman giving birth.
“Understand that your role is to be your partner’s advocate – to ask questions and help make decisions in consultation with the care providers. Yet it’s also to be the key practical support in terms of massage and acupressure and creating a conducive environment for the birth.
“The partner can also be the emotional support and the ‘normalizer’ – doing all those things that doulas do all the time. But it’s important to understand as a father you don’t have to go in and play that role if you’re not comfortable with those three areas – the advocacy, the practical and the emotional.
“Give yourself permission to choose. Have a discussion with your partner about what you are and aren’t comfortable with. It’s really important that you don’t feel pressured to do all those things if they’re not within your dynamic. It’s very easy to hire a doula to come in and fill those gaps and help you out.”
2. Dodge The Scare Stories And Wire Your Brain In A Positive Direction
“TV has not been a great teacher about childbirth. The drama that sells in Hollywood is not what’s going to make your birth a beautiful experience. The human brain receives and encodes negativity five times faster than it does positivity. And when you hear a story, you are 23 times more likely to remember that information because it’s in narrative form. As a result, we’ve all been hypnotized with stories of traumatic births.
“The best thing you can do is switch off the TV and protect mum and yourself from entertaining those negative, medicalised views of traumatic childbirth. Start filling yourself up with positive stories instead. Read the positive stories on the She Births® blog or watch the birth videos in our free app. Wire your brain towards a positive outcome, because if it’s possible for one it’s possible for all.”
3. Understand That You’ll Mainly Be Labouring On Your Own
“It’s worth understanding that the midwife and the obstetrician will not be there for 95 per cent of your labour. That’s just the truth: you will be labouring alone. And the majority of your labour will also happen at home for most people. It’s worth readying yourself for that onus of responsibility.
“Personally, I wasn’t expecting that when I had my baby, I remember thinking ‘Where the fuck is my mid-wife?’ She just was popping in every half an hour to check my blood pressure. I thought she should be holding my hand and rubbing my back. That’s actually the dad’s role. But often, no one’s actually told dad that it’s their role.
4. You’re Not As Powerless As You Think
“As the partner, you can’t “fix” labour. But you can help! There are a huge number of practical things you can learn to do, from setting up the space to providing pain relief and helping to make the key decisions.
“We’ve got a little acronym we use to help dads with the decision-making when something’s been suggested by a medical provider. It can be hard to process things in the heat of the moment, but just remember the word B.R.A.N.D.
“The B stands for what are the benefits. R stands for what are the risks. A is for give us the alternatives. N is what will happen if we do nothing, but also for intuition – what’s your intuition as parents telling you. D stands for give us some privacy or space to discuss and decide together as a family.
“We’ve had dads who don’t even speak English as their first language and they’re in these busy hospital systems in these big discussions about inductions or pitocin augmentation or whatever. And they just say, “Stop! Wait, let’s do the BRAND”. It can make you feel more empowered in the decision-making and lead to outcomes with less disappointment.”
5. Enjoy Some Skin To Skin Time
“Your skin is the second best option to mum’s skin. So even immediately after a Caesarean, when a baby can’t be with mum, the next best place to be is on dad’s chest. Take your shirt off, get that skin-on-skin contact. I believe that what’s on the skin is potentially even more important in that early postpartum time than what happens during a vaginal delivery. The immunity and strength it gives to the baby is quite profound. Don’t be afraid to lift your baby out of the crib as you’re waiting for mum to come out post op.
“Don’t be shy. Say: I want to go with my baby to nursery and I want to give them a cuddle because I know that’s going to help regulate their temperature and support their immunity rather than being swaddled in a totally sterilized hospital blanket that has no biome intelligence to it whatsoever. Take permission to have those cuddles early on.”
She Births® is available as a weekend course across NSW and VIC. Also available as an Online Program. Check their free app and more info at shebirths.com.