Not all men are meant to be the primary labour support in the delivery room. There I’ve said it. Truth be told, witnessing your partner during childbirth can be extremely traumatising for many men. As a midwife for many years I’ve seen it firsthand – the well-intended partner who is attempting to be super supportive yet ends up stressed out, panicky and quite often rather pale in the delivery room. In the end, sadly, leading to feelings of disappointment and failure.
The question really is- are all men made to be the primary labour and birth support in the delivery room and the answer is simply- No.
Now the thought of the two of you not being together during this special time may seem preposterous, but just hear me out for a few minutes and consider the realities of the situation.
I’m not picking on men here, in fact, I’m defending them. Men are amazing creatures with many strengths, but generally speaking intuitive care giving is not often one of them. Seeing a loved one in a state never seen before and not knowing what to do to help can be distressing and extremely frustrating for both parties.
It’s only been about 35 – 40 years since men became widely accepted (and only recently expected) figures in the birthing room. The original thinking was that it would provide emotional support, strengthen the couple’s bond as well as the bond with the baby and generally both would benefit by “sharing” in the experience. However years on and we have little or no scientific proof to back any of this. In fact we have just the opposite. Many midwives and doctors will tell you- having men in the delivery room can sometimes slow down and impede the labour process. Now I know that’s a loaded statement but there is physiological evidence behind it.
First of all, it has been proven that it is physically impossible to be in a complete state of relaxation if there is an individual around who is full of adrenaline. Some men will unknowingly emit this stress hormone as they watch their partner in labour (especially unmedicated labour) which in its turn causes her undue anxiety and stress. No matter what he says, she will sense the stress on a physiological level. When a woman’s adrenaline is high, oxytocin (essential for labour) and endorphine (our natural painkiller) production reduces, and labour very likely slows down.
I’ve been in many birthing rooms where the labour is not progressing so the partner pops out to grab a coffee or a bite to eat; minutes later the labour progresses and baby is on it’s way. This is no coincidence. When adrenaline levels come down, the woman is able to start producing more oxytocin and the birthing process will progress easier. In many antenatal classes, men are taught to soothe their partners during labour by talking to them and massaging their back. Although the intention is solid, the outcome is often counter-productive. We’ve all heard that one labouring woman yell at her partner “Oh shut up”! And for very good reason; most labouring women need intuitive support and care giving. Their brains need to be in a state where they can focus on the task at hand.
Diversions, questions or suggestions at the wrong moment, can disrupt the ability to focus and interfere with finding that quiet mindset to focus and concentrate.
As I’ve said before, some men are not intuitive caregivers. Add to that the fact that most have had little or no training in providing labour support. While most men will say that ‘being there seems to be the right thing to do’, as a couple you should think twice about the role the father-to-be can play. By automatically putting the male partner in a position where they have to be the primary support in such a foreign situation, it can be daunting. Ultimately an open and honest discussion about who is most capable to be in this position should be had. Men should definitely be given the choice, and women should respect it. At the end of the day there are plenty of alternative options out there if he prefers to not be her primary labour support. Whether it’s a trusted friend, family member or professional support such as a doula or private midwife, they will be able to fulfil the role of intuitive support and caregiver during labour and medical care in the case of a midwife. The result may be a more relaxed and gratifying experience for both of you.
Again let me say this is not EVERY man. But this is a conversation worth having. Each of you should have the right to express your true feelings, concerns or fears. You created this child together, but not every aspect of the process needs to be shared for you to be in it together. The end goal is a safe delivery, healthy baby and happy couple. The woman should not begrudge the man if he prefers not to be there or if he prefers to be supported by a professional. And the man should not be afraid to share how he feels about being there or not. Be open, honest and remember there will be a million other ways to be an awesome dad and partner.
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