We’ve all seen basic instruction for birth and labor – be sure to do this, be sure to check that. Beyond these, I find very few mentions about minor trivialities or small occurrences that fathers should avoid saying or doing during this period.
Sometimes I think it would be just as helpful to tell fathers about some of the most idiotic things that they can say or think during a birth. Here are some of the attitudes that may seem harmless, but can have devastating effects if not properly dealt with before labor starts.
Bad attitude: “I think I will step out a sec to check in on….” Do not multitask. Only step out when you are not needed, or if there are planned for circumstances like; checking on the children, or getting her some cool water to drink. Stepping out for sports scores, the news, a favorite tv show, or poker night gives the impression that you are only there in obligation, not in spirit. Tip: Only think about things that cannot be checked up on at any later time.
Bad attitude: Where the hell did I put my notebook?” Do not be a detached observer. This is the wrong time to channel your inner film critic, watching intently and taking notes for a later conversation. Finding ways to be involved is more than most people can ask of for any activity. Tip: Trust me, there will be plenty of opportunities to reminisce for years to come.
Bad attitude: “Holy crap, look at that!” Even though this may sound innocent enough; amazement or being shocked at what is going on at the time of labor only sends two messages. You really don’t know what is going on, or something just scared you. The last thing a labouring mother needs is fake surprises. Tip: If you did not prepare by watching videos of birth beforehand, just bite your tongue.
Bad attitude: “Geez, is she done yet?” Ask yourself, does everyone in a marathon finish at the exact same time? Of course they don’t. Set up a refreshment table on your porch if you plan on worrying about time. Irony loves to rear it’s ugly head at times like this, and if you worry about a timetable, it will most likely just slow her down. Tip: These are lifetime events, savour the time no matter how it progresses.
Bad Attitude: “What are all these other women doing here?” Many people forget to remind fathers that prior to the 20th century, women gave birth in groups. That tradition will never truly go away. It’s best to buck up and find a way to fit in and be comfortable around them. Tip: Remember that they are there for the mother, and not much else.
Bad attitude: “How can I avoid getting that stuff on me?” Or, the total opposite, “Gee, this stuff is really cool, come here and give me a hug!” No two births are the same in any way, and the levels and types of fluids involved is no exception. Whatever you see or feel during the birth is neither too gross or too much fun. Letting oneself get into either mindset might imply to the mother that you view yourself as being at a biology class rather than at an actual birth. Tip: Think about how weird it is seeing parents at the playground on the equipment while hardly watching their kids…don’t be that guy.
Bad attitude: “Is this a screaming contest, or did I walk into the wrong birth?” This is a horrible thing to think. Labor and birth should be neither too hard nor too easy. Women’s intuition is heightened during labor, and she will hear it in your tone. The worst thing you could say is either: It can’t be that bad; or it’s too much honey, have these wonder-drugs… Granted, it is possible is the pain is actually too much, but she needs to infer it first, not the father or anyone else. Tip :Find that fine line of acknowledging birth’s difficulty, while maintaining that your wife is strong enough to handle it.
This list could go on and on. However, I believe the point has been made. Go into a birth with a good grasp of the logistics and biological aspects, but do not fret about not having specific instructions. Moderation can be the best approach: don’t wing it, but do not bring a textbook either.
There is no shortage of resources telling fathers of what they should think, do, and say during labor and birth. It has me wondering if too much of one thing has created an unbreakable mould of strict instructions that give the father no real room to be himself. Perhaps if instructions were more open-ended, fathers could have time to think about what they want to do, instead of what they are told to do.