Preparing for birth as a man is no easy feat.
Everything about the pregnancy and birth experience is happening — and is going to happen — outside of us.
However, control is both an illusion and delusion.
Birth is still one of the very few remaining mysteries of the universe, and in addition, every pregnancy and birth experience is unique.
Sometimes, this does our head in, and it’s a real challenge to surrender.
How Do Men Try To Fix Birth?
By ‘dads fixing birth’, I am referring to the practical, emotional and psychological responses that some men have when they perceive that their partner needs help or “saving” during birth. Usually the trigger to try to fix birth arises from a place of fear and the primal instinct to protect.
‘Fixing’ can come in the form of words like ‘calm down’ or ‘relax!’, because some men find the intensity of birth too much to be with. It can be trying to control what is happening in the birth space, by directing caregivers to take or cease certain action (when advocacy is not called for or needed). It can be suggesting, insisting or even ordering pain relief or other medical intervention when witnessing their partner experiencing powerful contractions. Doing so is merely an escape from the intense, difficult and conflicting feelings going on inside.
Where Does It Come From, And What Can A Man Do?
In many ways, the birth experience is counter-intuitive to the model of masculinity that we have inherited and adapted in our own lives as men. Man as a ‘protector’ has been passed down to us since the beginning of time. It’s a primal masculine instinct. Central to this role is that men have served as guardians for our families. Strength has been worn as a badge of honour. Over generations, we have been told and shown that we as men should not allow our loved ones to suffer hurt or harm. This has been deeply ingrained in our psyches.
So when it comes to birth, it brings up many valuable points to consider:
- How do we acknowledge this honourable part of our masculine identity during childbirth, without it negatively impacting on a woman’s experience of the birth and the birth outcomes?
- How do we as men come to learn and know all that we need, and to trust that childbirth (when ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’) isn’t something that our partners need ‘saving’ from, or is pain that needs to be ‘fixed’?
- How do we be both the vulnerable, loving and connected man, and also the powerful, strong advocate that can and will be fierce in protecting the birth space if called to?
- How do we need to be encouraged, educated and supported as men to share an empowered birth experience with our partners – practically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually?
My short answer to these big, important and complex questions is that expectant dads need more opportunities to be engaged, educated and supported in father-focused and male-friendly ways as we are preparing for birth.
A man’s role at birth needs to be a clear area of focus that is both intentionally and consistently acknowledged and meaningfully addressed throughout a couple’s childbirth education experience. Childbirth education needs to evolve beyond being only mother-baby focused. Not as a trade-off for what mothers and babies receive in focus and care, but in addition to what we’re doing now. We need to think, engage and educate more broadly than we are now, for the benefit of all. Independent birth education classes tend to go into more depth with the partner's role at birth than hospital classes, which is well worth looking into. We're also now seeing more men's birth and parenting preparation classes sprouting up, which is great news for mothers and fathers to be. But we still need to see more.
In addition to childbirth education classes being more dad and couple-focused, there is a clear role for other men to play. Experienced dads – those who have ‘crossed over’ and experienced birth – also need to step up to be of service to expectant dads. We need them to share their experiences and acquired wisdom as an offering of guidance and inspiration. To answer questions, encourage and support, bond and celebrate with, so that dads-to-be have an accessible and real idea of what it means to be a dad at birth.
Men gathering with men without sports and alcohol is still not a sociocultural norm that is widely embraced and practiced. That said, there is a growing movement of men and fathers who are being the change and normalising this more, and it’s a game-changer for masculinity and fatherhood. This is a change that we not only to see, we need to be part of creating as fathers.
The bottom line is that men need (and deeply desire) more engagement. That is what’s missing the most. The more that the pregnancy, birth and early parenting spaces engage men, the more confident, capable and connected men at birth will be.
While I keep passionately advocating for these changes to be more mainstream, here are 5 reasons why dads don’t need to fix birth:
#1: Birth Preparation Is About Learning To Trust Your Birthing Partner And Your Birth Experience
Many parents-to-be enter into their childbirth education experience believing and thinking that they’re going for the information. There’s no denying the importance of being informed and educated about your birth. This is essential to you feeling empowered and building your sense of safety and confidence in your birth choices, plan and vision.
However, childbirth education classes also create an opportunity and space for couples to learn and connect as you are preparing together. Dads are not just showing up for the information dump. Nor are you there out of obligation or there as an accessory. As a dad, you’re there to learn to trust your partner and trust your birth. This is what dads gain most from childbirth classes.
Many childbirth courses for couples are now educating parents-to-be on the difference between birth pain (a reality for some, when medical intervention is necessary and mother-baby safety is clearly or even potentially being compromised) and the normal sensations of labour and birth. Men need to understand the difference and know that normal birth isn’t a painful experience that needs fixing.
This journey continues beyond childbirth classes, right up until labour commences. It’s about you as a couple being in connection throughout the pregnancy and birth preparation as your partner finds her place of ‘I can do this!’ and you as a couple find your place of ‘We can do this!’. You as a man have an active, not a passive role in this process that requires constant communication and presence.
#2: Your Partner Needs To Trust You Too
In order for you as a couple to find your place of, ‘we can do this!’ together, your birthing partner needs to trust that you have found (or are actively and consciously engaged in your process towards finding) your place of ‘I can do this!’
She needs to know that you believe in her and the birth process. This is critical to her capacity to safely let go with you during birth. She needs to know that you don’t believe that you needs to fix her or the birth, and that you won’t slip if things get edgy.
She needs to know that you’re as solid as possible in your beliefs about what normal birth is, and that you trust birth. She needs to know that you understand what your role as her advocate is, and that you’ll be there for her with loving strength if called to be. She needs to feel you confident, capable and connected as you move towards this peak experience together, and that you’ll be there for her, no matter what. The stakes could not be higher.
#3: As A Dad And Partner You Need To Find Your Own Individual Place Of ‘I Can Do This’
The way that men find our place of ‘I can do this!’ is very different than it is for women. Trust often comes through building a sense of safety and confidence.
For an expecting dad, in addition to trusting our partner, it’s all about having belief in your caregivers and trusting that you’re in the best possible hands with your birth. This is why it’s so important for midwives and doulas to build rapport with dads – caregivers are VIPs in the worlds of expectant dads and play a significant role in shaping their experience of birth.
Confidence also comes for dads when they feel ‘ready’ with a toolbox of things they can physically do, like be the provider of food and hydration, hold heat packs or warm towels on their partner’s lower back, support their partner in birth positions during labour and contractions, or be responsible for managing the birth pool.
It helps if you can visualise yourself there and building confidence in knowing what to do and how to be in the birth space. When trusting of birth, dads have clear strategies of how they will be hands-on and harness their masculine energy in a positive and supportive way. They’ll also understand that by nature, birth is more a ‘being’ space and be aware of how to self-regulate masculine energy (creating a balance of ‘doing’ and ‘being’).
#4: Fixing Isn’t Your Role At Birth
Dads, your loving presence is the most important thing that you can and do bring to the birth space. Yes, there is a lot that you can do practically to soothe and support your partner, but it’s not what you’re ‘doing’ that really matters. It’s that you’re there and how connected you are to her that means the most. Your birthing partner’s core needs are love, safety and connection. While doing things for her can and does make a difference, the way you ‘be’ with her is ultimately what makes the greatest difference.
This is the part that can really challenge men as it is counter-intuitive to our model of masculinity and our instinct to be strong and also protect. How do we flex our masculine muscles as a protector and surrender to the vulnerability of birth with more gentle loving presence? This is the inner process that we as men are being called to undertake as we prepare to be present for birth.
From many accounts that we hear from women who had connected and present partners unwaveringly by their side at birth, their man is still very much held up as being their ‘rock’. This seems like a new model of the modern man and dad – you are a rock that is both strong and loving.
#5: Trying To ‘Fix’ Birth Will Create More Issues Than It Will Encourage And Support
The idea that birth needs fixing implies that something’s wrong. That it’s not okay. That birth should be different, easier, prettier, less loud, smoother, less intense, and so on.
Fixing is about taking action. It comes from a place of fear, worry and anxiety. It is often triggered by adrenaline. In the birth space, adrenaline is a ‘birth blocker’. It stops the flow of oxytocin that helps labour progress more quickly, easily and pleasurably. Hormones are highly transferable in the birth zone, so when a dad becomes adrenaline-fueled and dives in to ‘fix’ birth, mum feels this immediately and her sense of safety is rocked. She is pulled right out of her primal brain (where birth happens) and has to process what’s going on in a logical and rational way as she tries to figure out how she can feel safe again to keep on birthing. This can be the beginning of a sequence of birth interventions that can in some cases become a snowball.