Fathers began attending the births of their children relatively recently. Here is a brief history of father’s role in childbirth:
Birth in the 50’s
In the 50’s fathers were not expected to be present for their baby’s birth. Dad’s role was to drive his labouring partner to the hospital when she started labour. She was admitted, to eventually give birth, heavily medicated and attended by strangers. Dad would not see his partner again, or meet their baby, until well after the birth, which was often many anxious hours later.
Birth in the 60’s
In the 60’s, Dr. Robert Bradley introduced the radical concept of fathers in the delivery room. Women began to demand that their partners accompany them in their labours, and many fathers assumed the role of ‘birth coach’. It became their responsibility to get mom through her labour, using newly popularized techniques like ‘Lamaze’ breathing or the Bradley method.
The fact that the ‘birth coach’ was also becoming a father was largely forgotten or ignored.
Birth in the 70’s
By the mid-70’s the pendulum had swung again, this time towards the middle. Most couples attended prenatal classes to help them prepare for the labour and birth, and Dad’s role became more self-defined. He could simply sit beside Mom while she laboured. Or he could work actively to help her remain relaxed through contractions, and provide many other comfort techniques to help her deal with her labour pains.
Thirty years later, there is increasing awareness that birth can be a profoundly emotional experience for dads as well as for moms. As in the 70’s, fathers still define their own role at the birth. Not every man (or woman) can provide effective and expert labour support. But nearly every dad is capable of‘being’ at the birth. Mom need not feel alone while she labours if Dad is there, even if all he does is hold her hand. So your presence is important, and you will have an effect on your baby’s birth no matter what you do (or don’t do!)
Your role during labour should be considered in consultation with your partner. Find out what she is expecting you to provide. If you don’t feel her expectations are realistic, discuss it with her. One option to ease pressure is to hire a professional doula (labour support person) to attend the birth with you. The doula can provide expert, continuous, one-on-one emotional and physical support during the labour, freeing dad up to just ‘be’ with mom, and experience the birth with her, free of rigid expectations as labour coach.
There is nothing glamorous about attending a labour – it is exhausting and challenging, regardless of how you define your role. But working together to bring your baby into this world can also be intensely satisfying. Making and sharing the memories of your baby’s birth can bring you and your partner together as you assume your joint parenting roles of mother and father.