A few weeks ago, I spoke to a mother from one of my most recent birth classes. She told me something that her husband said to her in labor that I found very profound. Staff at the hospital were becoming concerned that this mother’s labor was “not progressing” and “not normal.” She, in turn, became worried that she wasn’t normal and that something was wrong. Her husband told her: “There is no normal. There is no right way. There is only your birth.”
This was so beautiful, and so true, that it brought tears into my eyes. Last week I finished reading a new book called Fathers at Birth by Rose St. John. In it, she addresses something similar:
“Of course your baby is the greatest gift of labor. but another great gift is you are pressed to your max or beyond, and you succeed. It expands who you know yourself to be…Labor is all about finding your threshold and learning you can go beyond it…If your partner feels, for whatever reason, that labor did not unfold as she had hoped, she needs your assurance. No woman should be judged or judge herself for doing whatever she has to to do to bring her baby forth into this world. And no man should be judged or judge himself for how he attends his partner or how he responds to birth. You are dealing with life on the edge. You do not know what will happen in it, and you are not in control. Together, you are participants in the mystery, and you do the best you can…On some levels, it doesn’t matter how you both get through labor. There is no prescription. No script. No right way. Its commanding power does not depend exclusively on you or your partner to do it. No matter how you get through, it alters and expands you…whether you are powerfully present, totally absent, or anywhere in between; birth deposits its power into your lives. The transformation is enduring. You can never go back.”
She also addresses the “weight” men shoulder when attending their partners in birth:
“Since men are not the ones doing the actual labor and birth, they may be embarrassed to admit how exhausted and relieved they are once it is over and all is well. they may also be reluctant to admit the amount of dedication and work it took them to attend their partner. I don’t think most women (or anyone else) realize the weight many men shoulder during labor and birth. What happens to a man’s partner and his baby, in effect, happens to him…[quote from father re: being present for his wife in labor] I don’t think anyone has any idea of the amount of effort it takes to be in a physically supportive role where you have to take action, yet be in a witness role where you have to be truly present…”
I posted more about this new book at Citizens for Midwifery:
and More About Fathers at Birth
and also at the International Childbirth Education Association:
Excellent! I loved the first quote from the father especially.
I love that the role and importance of Daddy being there is finally being recognized. Birth is *not* just about Mom. Daddy’s role and his wants/needs need to be taken into consideration as well. Birth is about the *family* not just one person within that family. Our men are terribly under-valued in our society…and we need them! 🙂
Love the first Dad’s quote especially as well, but wanted to add that it for some women NOT having Dad present is the way – I had my husband present at my first birth mainly because I felt it was obligatory, not because I personally really wanted him there. For numbers two and three he was not there – and I was more free to focus, had no one trying to direct me. As a doula I’ve seen some amazing dads at births, but it is okay (and sometimes in everyone’s best interest) For dad not to be there too. It doesn’t lessen the father’s importance, or the profound transition into fatherhood. Just for me, when birthing, it was about me and baby – it was right for us.
This is a most excellent point, Rebecca. I actually have several draft posts sitting in my file about this very issue–kind of “do men really belong at births/want to be there?” musing posts. It is a hard topic to write about, because it goes against the grain of what seems like “should” be desirable, which is probably why I’ve never managed to finish writing the posts!
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