Studies that reflect the impact of childbirth on the bonding of the father and newborn started to appear in mainstream publications nearly 40 years ago, yet we are still left with a fairly traditional idea of how fathers at birth are portrayed during this process.

The modeling that most Americans see in mainstream media regarding fathers during labor and birth seem to follow some outlandish and overly exaggerated portrayals:

• The wide-eyed, scared father standing outside an operating room
• The distant father, watching TV or playing video games, or texting constantly during labor
• The “birth coach”, complete with stopwatch for tracking contraction and an authoritative position on breathing methods

Preparation for labor and birth for fathers often begins with prenatal care. As midwives, we are careful to include fathers in as much of the care as they are willing to participate in. Generally, first-time expectant fathers walk into prenatal care as if they were in another country – the language, customs, culture all very foreign and unfamiliar. As women, we are more likely to have some exposure to these things over the course of maturing in our society, but men typically see only the dramatic media images that scream that birth is something to fear. In many ways, men are presented with two obstacles: learning new culture and language, but also working towards deprogramming some of the myths that are counter to the idea of natural birth.

What if every father was given the opportunity to be as involved in the care of his partner and baby as he desired? As midwives, the opportunity to receive a new baby into your hands is thrilling and awe-inspiring. Imagine how much more awesome this event is when the hands receiving this new life are the hands that are part of his/her creation? Fathers should have every available chance to be recognized as a vital piece of the expectant family, including the respect that for some fathers, being an observer and not a participant is more desirable.

In the past 18 years in my role as a midwife, I have been blessed to witness men become fathers in a variety of ways, each one unique and an extension of the couple’s relationship and sometimes a mirror of varying cultural beliefs, comfort levels and feelings about their own fathers. When fathers ask, “What do I need to know to support her in labor?”, they often are unaware that they already have most of the information that they need even before that first prenatal appointment: the most appreciated support is often the type of care they offer their partner every other day of their relationship. We trust that the father’s intimate knowledge of his partner’s needs, comforts and communication style brings far more benefits to the birth experience than what can be learned during the course of a pregnancy in books.

The labor and birth experience will set a foundation for parenting. Though the focus seems to always appear to be on the mother’s experience, we know that the father is directly impacted by the events and his translation of what takes place. Midwifery care offers a beautiful, supportive and nonjudgmental approach to create a space for men to become fathers. I am grateful for the birth experiences I have shared with my husband, and for the things I have experienced with him that have increased my understanding of the varied ways a father can support the mother in her labor and birth. I feel blessed to be able to witness fathers and mothers during their transition into parenthood.

Happy Father’s Day!

Jennifer

Related links:
Fathers at Birth: Your Role in Bringing Your Child into the World
Is the Participation of the Father at Birth Dangerous? by Michel Odent, MD
Fathers at the Birth and After: Impact on Mothers
Preparing Fathers for Birth