Birth Partners & 2nd Babies
The birth partner, most often the baby's father, has a significant impact on the birthing mother. Many times, the influential behavior of the birth partner is just as significant as the care provider, yet typically much less informed and research-oriented than the mother. This can create a variety of issues with the perinatal period, particularly the birth environment. Many times, the influence of the birth partner with 2nd (or subsequent) babies is even stronger than with first babies, most often due to issues that arose during a first birth (that could often be avoided with better care and a more compatible birth environment).
Fathers have a unique, and incredibly valid, approach to the birthing time. They not only care deeply about their unborn child, but also about the woman they love and cherish. With the continuing cycle of iatrogenic (provider-caused) complications resulting in far from biological birth stories, dad's protective urges come on strong during pregnancy and birth. This is one of the biggest reasons dads need to be involved in perinatal education and every part of prenatal care. When meeting a care provider, dads need to be informed and they need to ask questions. When a father says "I don't care about that baby book" - there is a part of me that feels they aren't taking the responsibility needed for their child. Who doesn't want to know more to make better decisions? If fathers are worried about their babies and significant other, they should no doubt take the time to learn how they can help them and make them safer. Sounds like common sense, huh? Partners need to take the time to discuss the importance of the birthing experience with one another, and lay their fears out on the table. This is the start of communicating the importance of birth.
Dads often don't grasp the extreme impact a birth experience will have on the mother (or even themselves). They don't experience the birth the same because they don't get the same flow of hormones or physical feelings like the mother, and for this reason, EB does not promote specifically dads being a coach or main birth partner. First of all, mothers hardly need to be "coached" by anyone, if the birth environment is supportive of biological birth, and having someone who fears the situation be the main support is not conducive to a safe situation. We believe the dads can have a tremendous positive presence on the birth, even without being actively involved, and some dads are the best support a mother could ask for. However, because of a woman's unique ability to relate to the birthing mother, we suggest mom selects the main birth partner because of what they will bring to the birth, not who they are (i.e. the father simply because someone thinks they *need* to be present), and this may be in the form of a doula, a sister, or other close friend, and yes – sometimes the father. This relieves the performance stress off of dad, allows mom to be properly supported, and lets dad experience the birth in a much more positive way. Dads are affected by the birth experience very similar to how mothers are affected. Depending on the method of birth, and his involvement, it will impact his view of the mother, his relationship with his child, and most definitely affect the way he understands biological birth.
The most significant impact I see from dads are on care providers and birth locations – some of the two most important aspects of the birth experience. These two things will have an incredible affect on what happens to the mother and baby during the entire perinatal period. Her quality of prenatal care, her ability to birth biologically, postpartum routines, breastfeeding experience, and overall health and well-being. Mothers, wanting their partners to have a direct involvement in decision making, as they should, will allow their birth partners to decide their birth experience simply from allowing their birth partners to have a big say in who attends their birth and where they give birth.
Let’s say mom wants a midwife-attended home birth. Dad doesn’t know much about birth other than “it is scary, painful, and not necessarily safe” and “so and so had to have a cesarean” so he feels they *need* a surgeon [OB] to attend the birth and all medications readily available. He hears even less positive stories about birth than Mom does, so his fears continue (or even increase) while mom may be reading and listening to even one or two positive birth experiences. If this is a 2nd time dad, his strong opinions most likely come from the previous birth experience. Mom “needed” an epidural. Mom “needed” to be induced. Mom “needed” a cesarean. But you REALLY need to understand the course of your labor to see why those things happened. If Dad isn’t up on his research, he continues to hear the typical pregnancy “expectations” instead of how they can positively affect the birthing experience. And, if he isn’t so interested in a childbirth course, he’s not going to listen to very much of the information being given (which is one reason why a variety of teaching techniques can be so valuable). I see a continued pattern of the dads that have a strong opinion about care providers and birth locations – being the same dads that have researched little or haven’t taken much time to listen to the mom’s wishes and perinatal needs.
Why? Well, it really comes down to communication, and it also comes down to human rights. I’ve been in those shoes. I was in that place of having a birth partner who was not OK with home birth or a midwife. My husband didn’t want to read anything, didn’t want to attend a childbirth class, and thought all of it was a bit ridiculous, actually. Did he attend class? Yup. Did he read any books? He skimmed through one. Did he go to prenatals? When he could get off work. But, ultimately, speaking about the importance of this birth experience and all the things I needed to avoid (unnecessary interventions and the temptation of an epidural – which never even crossed my mind during labor, by the way) was what allowed him to give up a little of his “control” and be understanding of my needs.
One thing that benefitted me was he had seen animals being born before, and figured human birth would be somewhat similar – he didn’t fear natural birth, but did doubt my ability to handle it. I recall having severe back pain during my first pregnancy (that I should have seen a chiropractor for) and was bawling my eyes out unable to walk to the bathroom – and his response was “If you can’t even handle back pain, how are you ever going to be able to handle natural birth?” The only thing that allowed me to have the birth I wanted was the fact that I stood up for myself. Basically, it was MY body and since I was the one researching and learning and becoming uncomfortable with my chosen OB-attended situation [during my first birth], I was the one that had the right to make the important decisions. Why on earth would I let someone make such an important health decision about myself and my child without having much interest to read, research, and learn? Had I not had that perspective, my birth would have gone MUCH differently. I would have had a cesarean. Period. I switched to a midwife-attended home birth, and my husband’s response was “well, ultimately it is up to you – and I know you’re going to do what you want anyway.”
You’re dang right it is, and absolutely I will. My body. I don’t ask your advice on who to attend me when I poop – and birth is really that normal. Do things happen? Sure. But, you know, things can happen when you poop, too. Do some people need to transfer? Absolutely – and I want a care provider to watch over me who is so attentive and understanding of biological birth that they know exactly when that transfer is necessary. In fact, quite a few moms get poor care, damaged bodies, and negative birth experiences with all the surgeons and medical needs right at their bedside. Why? Well, if this care provider you trust so much to attend this “unsafe birth” only comes in 5 minutes before crowning – how on EARTH will they ever really know what’s going on? You’re trusting an L&D nurse to attend you – not an obstetrician. Think about who you’re really hiring. Midwives are typically more trained than L&D nurses – especially L&D nurses who’ve never experienced biological birth (which most of them are in this situation).
Moms, you need to stand up for yourself. If you want a specific birth experience, it is your responsibility to do what is necessary to create that environment. “But, it is his child, too.” Yes – it is – and we all want what is best for our children, no? Make sure you’re getting your information from quality sources so that your fears don’t mask the truths. Dads/Partners can have a tremendous positive influence on the birth experience – but if they want the opportunity to make such important heath decisions, they need to be as actively involved in the research and understanding as mom. Birth is a human rights issue – and it is about the only “feminist” issue I stand strong on because uninformed persons (whether by choice of not wanting to listen or research, or by simply only hearing horror non-normal birth experiences) are what continue to cause the far from biological birth experiences everyone in western culture is so accustomed to. Parents, do your research. Mothers, have faith in your bodies, communicate, and do not give up your rights. Ultimately, this baby is growing within your body, and you have the responsibility to make the decisions for this child.
This goes for any birth location and with any care provider. By all means, communicate with your birth partner. But, if you’re entirely on different pages – or even in a different book altogether – don’t simply give up. Your needs are important, and ultimately you are the one birthing. If you’re not comfortable in your current situation, only YOU can change it.
Still need some tools for convincing? Check out these statistics on home vs. hospital birth at Citizens for Midwifery: