For just about as long as humans have inhabited the earth, birth has been secret women’s business. Then suddenly in the last three or four decades it became normal, indeed expected, that men would be present at the time of their children’s births. Some men are enthusiastic about it, some are scared stiff, but all probably wonder exactly what they will need to know to be the best support partner as they welcome new life.
There’s a few things men should know about birth before they ever step foot in the room with a woman in labour. Most of them begin with one very simple rule. Support the hormones! In order to labour effectively, women need to release a whole cocktail of hormones. The main one is oxytocin, which is a hormone you are not unfamiliar with yourself, so it’s quite easy to explain how to use it, how to protect it during birth.
The three things a woman needs to release oxytocin in labour are
- WARMTH / COMFORT
And now we’re going to get a bit personal so hold onto your hats!
You know that feeling after sex? When you lie there feeling all warm and fuzzy, not a care in the world? That feeling is actually a hormone. The hormone of love. Oxytocin! And during birth a woman needs vast quantities of it. Way more than you’ll ever get from a private interlude with your wife – bad luck there hey.
So now (grasp that hat firmly) imagine that you are trying to get it on, to get your rocks off, to get a leg over ….. to make love, and your wife is asking you how you feel, if you’re ok, if you want a drink, would you like more blanket, can she turn the lights on / off etc etc. Will sex work in the same way that it does normally? No? Well neither will birth work under those same conditions.
As you support your wife in labour you will need to call upon all the lessons you have ever learnt about her. You will need to know intuitively what she needs, you will need to communicate without words.
You need to let the active, thinking part of her brain, the part that laughs at your jokes, and hates it when you leave the toilet seat up, switch off. That part of the brain needs to sleep during labour. So fundamental rule number one of labour support is:
ONLY SPEAK WHEN YOU ARE SPOKEN TO!
Clearly you need to think on your feet, sometimes it may be necessary for you to speak, but the point is that keeping pleasant chatter to a minimum is essential. Don’t talk to her when she’s in the middle of a contraction unless she is on fire, or being eaten by a bear, and do your darndest to scare the bear away and put out the fire before you disturb her then too.
One example of choosing to speak wisely relates to HYDRATION:
In order for her body to work most efficiently she needs to be well hydrated. So between contractions, offer her a sip of water, be gently pushy if she flat out rejects you for a long time. Without hydration the contractions will hurt more, and be less effective. She might not feel like drinking, but she really needs to.
Another example of choosing to speak wisely relates to TRANSITION:
Not all women have transition. But basically, if your wife has it, it’s the point in time that she will announce that she can’t do it, she’d rather die, and she hates you and everything you stand for, or some variation of the above. The point is that she will be irrational, and she might be argumentative, and desperate too. The good news is that for most women transition is short, and the better you support her the shorter it will be.
Now is the time to keep her on track for her birth plan. If she plans a drug free birth and then demands an epidural, STEP UP!
Hold the space for her, tell her to take it one contraction at a time, each one is one less she has to do, encourage her, keep her occupied until she’s pushing, and pushing is just around the corner once you get to that stage. An epidural might make it further away (they frequently slow labour down) and if she didn’t want one for the nine months leading up to this moment, she doesn’t want one now, she just THINKS she does, that is the nature of transition. Now is when you have to know her better than she knows herself. She might be mad at you in the moment, but she’ll tell everyone how fabulous you were for the next thirty years so it will all be worth it.
The final piece of knowledge you need is this. YOU CAN TRUST HER. Trust her to know what is best for her and her baby. Trust that she won’t do anything to endanger the baby and that no one else on earth can offer you the same guarantee.
Your wife will lay her life on the line for your baby, no doctor, nurse, midwife, no one else can do that for you, so you should trust her.
You should listen to her when she tells you what she wants for her birth because many a man who thought he knew better than his wife has lost her over it. Do not override her decisions for birth or pregnancy based on your fears, do not seek the backup of people outside of your marriage in order to change her mind, be the partner she can rely on. Seek reassurance from her, as she does from you. Birth can bring you closer together, but it can also tear you apart, which camp do you want to be in?