There was a time when a man was not expected or even allowed to participate in the childbirth experience. Instead he paced the floor in the waiting room, cigars in his pockets, impatient for a nurse to bring news of his wife and newborn. Thankfully times have changed, and now not only are dads in the delivery room a common sight, but for many women, family and even close friends are there, too.
If a woman chooses a hospital birth, she will likely have several people attending the delivery, including an obstetrician or midwife, one or more labor nurse, a baby nurse, and potentially an anesthesiologist. She will usually have a coach—often the husband, but at times a mother, sister, close friend, or doula. Anyone beyond that is there to provide additional love and support. Witnessing the miracle of birth can be an amazing and joyous occasion, and being invited to share in that experience should be considered a privilege. For a mom-to-be, choosing who attends her labor and delivery is a very personal and important decision.
An Intimate Experience
Childbirth can be a wonderful time for couples as they share in the life-changing experience of becoming parents. For many women, birthing with emotional support and assistance from their husbands alone is ideal.
Candy and her husband, Mark, felt it important to have only the necessary medical staff join them for the births of their two children. “I think it is not only a special bonding time for both the mother and the father, but for the parents and the new baby as well,” says Candy. “I loved the privacy of the whole thing. It was very close and personal. Just the way I think a baby should be brought into the world.” Concerns about modesty in front of others and learning to nurse a new baby made the choice for a private birth easy as well. “It is hard enough [learning to nurse] without five people staring and offering their advice,” says Candy.
A woman can get a sense from her husband as to whether he’s confident in the role he’ll play during labor and delivery. If he seems unsure or chooses not to attend the delivery for whatever reason, and she wants assured support yet not a lot of family or friends in the room, she may consider a doula.
Comfort of a Doula
As professional, one-to-one labor supporters, doulas can provide gentle, reassuring assistance for a couple through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the postpartum period.
Deahdra-Lynn and her husband chose a doula mainly to provide emotional support for their young son during a homebirth, but the couple found their doula was a great birth attendant as well. “After 30-some hours of labor … I was getting a little grumpy and [the doula] said maybe she could come to the house and show me some different things to help me,” says Deahdra-Lynn, who appreciated learning an effective position that helped her lengthy labor progress. “My doula gave me words of encouragement. We’re very glad we had her.”
Because a doula is familiar with all aspects of labor and delivery, she can offer a constant nurturing presence and serve as an advocate for the mom with the medical staff during a hospital birth, if need be. Deahdra-Lynn’s husband was concerned that the doula would assume his primary role as coach during the birth, but the couple found that didn’t happen. Instead, she was a welcome presence during labor.
Making Your List, Checking It Twice
Childbirth is undoubtedly a highly emotional and physical experience. It’s crucial that a couple give thoughtful consideration to who will share this time with them, as women tend to carry their birth experience with them for the rest of their lives. There is no guarantee of how a woman will feel or act during labor. Does she want an audience if she’s moaning in pain, throwing up, or baring herself to everyone in the room? If her relationship with her mother-in-law is tense, will having her there make the experience more or less comfortable? Is the thought of laboring without the nurturing support of her mom unthinkable? Will having her dad there fulfill a dream of hers?
Kim had her mom and sister with her during labor and asked her father-in-law, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law to come into the room at the very end as the baby was being born—but things didn’t turn out as she planned. “They came in beforehand while I was in labor and I didn’t realize it,” she says. “I found out later and I was crushed. I felt very disrespected. I cried for hours that night—it was supposed to be a happy time and I felt very violated and upset about it.”
Women must be selective and clear about who can be in the room at what time. “It can really matter to you how you feel about the people [in the room],” says Kim. “If you have any negative feelings about them at all, you don’t want them in there. Your hormones and emotions are going whacko, and when you’re in labor those feelings will be multiplied.”
A Positive Support Network
“At the beginning of the pregnancy we just really weren’t sure if we wanted anyone except for us to be present [at the birth],” says Ingrid. Yet after further discussion, she and her husband changed their minds and had her mother, sister, mother-in-law, father-in-law, and midwife attend delivery. “They were important to us and they also wanted to be a part of the delivery … to share in the experience and to see their first grandchild born. Never once did I feel uncomfortable,” says Ingrid. “They were so amazed … so quiet and so attentive.”
Heather, who also had extended family in the room during delivery, echoes Ingrid’s positive sentiment and says for their next child’s birth they “… hope to have as many family and friends as our house will hold. I am a firm believer in being surrounded by love and help during such an amazing life milestone. I can’t think of a better way to enter this world than surrounded by so much love.”
Sharing Birth with Siblings
It’s important to prepare any children you plan on inviting into in the delivery room. Include them in the pregnancy, use books or videos to give them an idea of what to expect from birth, and explain that displays of discomfort or even pain can be natural. Prepare activities for your child to fend off irritability and boredom in case labor is lengthy. Arrange ahead of time for an adult the child loves and trusts to be there specifically for the child. This person can explain what is happening, take the child from the room if a trauma arises or the child becomes uncomfortable, and assist with the child’s other needs such as hunger or using the bathroom. Remember that a birthing room is a highly charged atmosphere; if you have a history of difficult labor and delivery or think your child will struggle seeing you in an emotional state or in pain, you may want to leave him or her at home or out of the room with a loved one.
Heather’s two-year-old son attended the birth of his sister Chasey. “In the end he was practically in my lap as Chasey was born,” says Heather. “I would never have been able to leave my son with someone while his sister was born out of my body. We prepared for her birth together every day. A baby being born is a very important family event that I don’t think anyone should be excluded from regardless of age.”
Candy mentions that having her four-year-old daughter attend the birth of her brother was never an option for them. “[She] was just too young to understand about the moaning, blood, and commotion. I think she would have left there more traumatized than enlightened,” says Candy. Other women may choose not to include children in the room because they distract from the focus needed to deliver a baby.
A Memorable Moment
Childbirth is a life-changing event for women, a unique and often empowering experience leading into the journey of a lifetime—motherhood. Whether a woman has a meaningful, private birth with her soul mate or a special delivery surrounded by the love of family and friends, her birth will be a precious milestone as she welcomes a sweet little one from her womb to the world.