A woman who found her husband “useless” at her first labor asks an advice columnist in this Arizona newspaper if its okay to just go with a doula this time and leave him out of it. She says his inadequacy in the room just made it harder, and wonders,”Is there a rule that says husbands need to be there for every minute of their wives’ labor?”
This last weekend a pregnant woman asked me the same question. A good (male) friend had told her he wished he’d been elsewhere at the time of the birth. He felt that he was useless, in over his head and overwhelmed by what was going on physically. He thinks they all would have been better off if his wife had gone in there with some other women. It’s a “woman’s world,” he told her.
Here’s the columnist’s answer: “The only rule that applies here is that life partners need to be able to talk to each other about difficult subjects. Be gentle, be clear, be open to the possibility that he learned from last time. And hire the doula regardless.”
What a perfect response!
Though the actual physiology of birth hasn’t changed much in many thousands of years, the culture around birth is in constant flux. At one time it was Don Draper in the waiting room with a bottle of rye. Now dad is expected to not just be there, but be the perfect labor partner, too. I don’t think we should go back to the Don Draper culture because it relied on sexism (and Betty Draper’s “Twilight Sleep” birth was a waking nightmare) but I do think that a couple does well to drop the pressure around cultural expectations and focus more on their own instincts, anxieties, hopes and insecurities. It doesn’t have to be inherently sexist for dad to be in the waiting room.
Know thyself is more important, in other words, than know thy trend.
A lovely, chic Italian (male) childbirth ed student of mine once asked, “But what if I don’t feel all ‘wonderful’ about birth? What if I just think that birth is revolting?” He said it like he meant it. Re-VOLT-ing.
All eyes shot over to me — I’m pretty sure the entire class was ready for me to convince this guy that birth really and truly is beautiful and powerful. But instead I told him I thought that was really interesting. And we talked a little about what he might find revolting.
His wife wasn’t upset by his comment in terms of her own (anticipated) needs, but I could tell she felt deeply embarrassed because he wasn’t falling into line with the current expectation that dads embrace labor and birth and all it brings.
I told the class that some research shows women have more straightforward labors when there’s no man in the room at all (partner, male OB, etc). The conversation ended up going all over the map about varying expectations and roles at different times in history/culture. I hope the result was that all the people in the class felt that their own (perhaps embarrassing or socially unacceptable fears) have a very important place in this kind of discussion.
“…life partners need to be able to talk to each other about difficult subjects. Be gentle, be clear…”
Stellar advice. Use it at all times.
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Photo Credit: Derek Swanson/Flickr