I recently finished reading the new book Labor of Love by Cara Muhlhahn and I was struck by this quote:
“Anyone would cry to see the way families interact around a homebirth. In a home environment, the intimacy and integrity of the family, especially the father or partner, often have pivotal roles to play. In the hospital, these key players are mostly cast aside except to hold the woman’s hand and cheer her on: ‘Push!” At home, they can support the mother in any number of invaluable ways, from regulating the temperature of the water in the pool to preparing food or choosing her favorite music.”
I have noticed this as well–I recently watched the new documentary Orgasmic Birth and was struck by the glaring differences in how fathers behaved at home compared to in hospitals. At home, they embraced their wives. They danced, they murmured, they stroked, they kissed, they held. At the hospital, they held her hand or tentatively stroked her back (with body at a distance–just a hand reaching out to lightly touch her). I’ve seen this in real life as well. I tell men in my classes not to be “scared” of their wives in labor, but to walk through the waves (of discomfort, anxiety, whatever) and just hold and love her. I tell them that they do not need to be “trained” to be more “special” or different than they are. They don’t need to be doulas. What they need to do is love her the way they love her and reach out to her to show her that. I tell them that hospitals can be intimidating and it can be awkward to show physical affection in that setting, but to do reach past that and do it anyway. I’ve read a number of posts and emails recently about whether fathers belong at birth–I think they do, but I also think that the hospital climate too often discourages them from having a real role or being valuable. I think they can be stripped of their position as “lover” and “father” and left feeling helpless and useless.