Fathers Make
a World of
Difference
 

August
Chapter 7: Empowered Birth


“Fathers, like mothers, are not born.
Men grow into fathers - and fathering is
a very important stage in their development.”
- David M. Gottesman

Birth is the most profound act of love imaginable. It is also a rite of passage for a child as well as the parents. From ancient caves and huts to modern homes and hospitals birth has been, and always will be, a very primal event and an initiation for everyone involved. Neither weight lifters nor marathon runners can hold a candle to the strength and fortitude demonstrated by a mother when birthing her child. For a father the experience is distinctly different yet can be equally profound.

During labor stay close to your partner. With my first child’s birth I was in eye to eye contact with his mother virtually the entire time. Praise her, encourage her and let her know what a wonderful job she is doing. A woman can receive tremendous support through your full presence. She will feel more like she is sharing her labor with you. Assuming this is in harmony with what she wants. Take your clues from her as to what kind of support she wants and how. Listen. Her desires are also likely to change throughout the labor. Less talking is usually better than too much. I encourage you to be involved as much as possible, all the way to catching your child when he is born. You will be glad you did.

 

Empathy Exercise: A baby during birth

Imagine you are a baby in the womb and it is nine months since you were conceived. As your hormone activity accelerates you are experiencing changes inside your body. You also notice pressure from the sides of the only home you have known. It is time for a big transition: birth. How is this for you? How would you like the outside environment to be for your arrival? Who do you want to be there to greet you? How do you want to be handled? What about interventions in the process? As soon as you are born, where do you want to be and with whom?

Imagine how you would want to be received and treated by those around you during this most intense and significant time? What is important to you? What do you need? Visualize it or write about it.

A woman during birth

Imagine you are in labor and about to give birth? What do you think the nature of your journey will be like? What kind of support will be best for you? This includes the people you want with you and the environment you will be in. Most of your attention is being focused in your lower body. Your mental and emotional processes are significantly altered due to the hormones that have come to support the birth. Your body has taken over and the energy of birth is commanding your full attention. What role would you want your partner to play?

Imagine what you would do with all of this energy in your body. How you would handle it? What would make it as wonderful as possible for you? Feel free to imagine it or write about it.

Pain Relief

Fathers can be afraid for their partners. Many, including my son Anandas, have told me if they could they would gladly take on the pain for her. Now, where would fathers get the idea that pain is involved in birth if they have never actually seen one? The first possibility would be their own birth experience, when they were born. Evidence shows that babies are conscious before and at birth and they do remember their experience, including pain, although not necessarily consciously.

David Chamberlain writes in his book The Mind of Your Newborn Baby: "The truth is, much of what we have traditionally believed about babies is false. They are not simple beings but complex and ageless small creatures with unexpectedly large thoughts."11

The second possibility, regarding birth being painful, is virtually every cultural and societal reference to birth we have all been exposed to our entire lives. From family stories to the bible, television and films, childbirth is represented as excruciating. It is little wonder most people believe pain is inevitable in birth. However, many women also experience pleasure.

While you cannot literally take away pain, you can be a significant contributor to your partner’s less painful and therefore more joyful experience of birth. You can help provide the kind of environment and support that will have the greatest possibility to allow her what she needs to be instinctual and inner directed in her birthing. It is also helpful to watch films together of satisfying, fulfilling births during the pregnancy. Watch the film Orgasmic Birth.

In the mid-twentieth century Dr. Robert A. Bradley, a US obstetrician, began integrating fathers into labor and birth. Over his career he presided over twenty thousand births with fathers present. Ninety percent were totally un-medicated. He found that the father’s presence supported the mother to be more relaxed. His approach revolved around praise, encouragement and assurance of progress. The doctor was in the background, ‘like a lifeguard at a swimming pool’.12

YES! Birth

Many women have a pain-free birth experience. YES, they feel the energy of the labor. YES, they feel big surges in their body. If a woman can say YES to everything she is feeling, and work with the tremendous energy, transformation can occur in her mind and body. If a woman can welcome this profound energy she can expand with it. You can support your laboring partner by reminding her that she can do it, that she is safe and to say YES. Her hormones will respond to YES also.

Even if there is pain the best approach is to work with the pain. Resistance can cause more pain. Resistance is saying NO and holding on. Let the pain happen. Surrendering to the pain is letting go and this can allow it to transform and lessen in intensity. Say YES, literally and out loud. The possibility exists for her to open her mind and relax her body and receive her baby in a wholly satisfying and empowering way; even in pleasure. It happens and it typically happens with women who hold a positive view of birth. Also remember to say YES yourself to everything you experience during the birth. Let YES become part of the pregnancy, the birth and your life.

Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, an English physician, explained it in this way: “When a woman is in a state of fear, messages are sent to the body telling it there is a danger out there that must be fought or run away from. Blood and oxygen are instantly sent into the arms and legs enabling the frightened woman to fight the danger or run away. In order for this to happen, however, blood and oxygen must be drained from other organs which the body considers nonessential for fight or flight.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to fight or flight, the uterus is considered a nonessential organ. Hence, the laboring woman experiences not only pain, but a multitude of problems. The solution, he believed, was twofold: “Not only do women need to stop being afraid, but doctors need to stop interfering in the process. Laboring women do not need to be poked, prodded, and drugged. Instead, they need to be calmly encouraged, or simply left alone so their bodies may work unhindered”.13

Environment

I recommend a birth environment as calm, lovely, natural, familiar and as comfortable as possible. This description fits almost any home. Except when there is an actual medical condition, fear is the most common barrier to birthing at home. This is understandable, based on society’s long standing view of birth as dangerous. It is possible to dispel fears and be free to make a choice based on where and how a family wants their birth. At the end of the day, what is most important is that a birthing woman feels safe, wherever she is. Do your research and education, become informed together, and then fully support her choice. There are additional resources listed in the back of this book to support you.

The waterbirth room I created for my second child’s birth is perhaps the furthest degree of physical preparation and environment by design. As a father it became part of my ritual in preparation for the birth. It was one of my ways of welcoming my child. Of course, it was also a way of providing something of value for my wife.

Using a water pool for the labor and birth is perhaps the most physically supportive option. It provides freedom of movement, warmth and comfort for the mother. The baby also has the possibility for a sense of continuity; from the warm, moist and mostly gravity-free womb environment, to the outside into similar surroundings. Receiving my son Jeremy in this way was lovely to behold and be part of. Waterbirth is not, however, always available or desired. Homebirth, under the right circumstances, has been proved to be very safe, safer than hospital birth actually.

Creating an environment of your choosing can be more of a challenge if you are going to be in a hospital. However, you can still have an influence. Bring some things from home that will provide familiarity and comfort for both of you. Also cover or remove distracting items.

In his book, Magical Child, Joseph Chilton Pearce says, “Intelligence grows by moving from the known to the unknown and referring back to the known. No new experience can be accepted and interpreted unless it has at least some similarity to past experience.”14

One cannot gain intelligence and defend oneself at the same time. This pertains to all of us but especially babies at birth as they are in an accelerated process of brain development. Birth is a significant transition and journey into the unknown for this highly aware and sensitive young person. The more reference points of familiarity a baby has, during and after birth, the better. Unfamiliarity, pain and separation all activate survival/defense mechanisms and stress hormones. Familiarity provides continuity.

Birth and Sex

The birth itself is also an aspect of sexual experience, and even expression for some. When a woman gives birth, her body and sexual anatomy is involved and highly exposed. As the birth draws nearer, this reality can be confronting for mothers and fathers. Your partner is going to reveal herself in a very big way, physically and emotionally, and probably in front of total strangers if you are to be at a hospital. This level of intimacy had previously been reserved for just the two of you, in total privacy. Your reaction to this may surprise you. This is rarely talked about. It is good to speak about this in advance with your partner in order to support each other. Also, some women do not want their partners to see ‘down there’ when they are giving birth. They think it may put them off sex with them in the future. If your partner has specific requests that will make her more comfortable talk about it, and do what you can to support her.

According to natural birth proponent Sheila Kitzinger, a similar environment to the one you and your partner conceived your baby in is ideal for giving birth. Perhaps it was quiet, calm, lovely and intimate. There are couples who make love to kick-start labor. Some make love during labor and utilize nipple and clitoral stimulation. There is hard science that shows that this can have significant benefits for the laboring woman. Oxytocin is produced when a woman is sexually stirred. It is one of the hormones that encourage the onset and progression of labor, as well as pain relief. Oxytocin has been called the “hormone of love”. The same hormone that got the baby in there is also the one that will help the baby come out.

Also, the vagina opens more when stimulated. Taking this even further, semen contains prostaglandin, a hormone that helps the cervix (the entry to the birth canal) to open.

Some women choose to perceive and feel birth as a sensual experience, and go all the way with that feeling. There are also women who have a spontaneous, and often unexpected, orgasm during birth. Certain conditions are typically a prerequisite for this to happen. These include a sense of safety, trust, intimacy and the ability to let go and relax. If a woman feels nurtured and uninhibited an ecstatic state is possible. The science is there. What if the passion, privacy and support were also? Explore the DVD Ecstatic Birth.15

Support or Interference

The unnecessary use of any drugs or the utilization of mechanical or medical procedures during birth can begin a cascade toward more and more intervention. In other words, intervention can cause complications. If a laboring woman’s natural progression of biological events has been disturbed, each subsequent stage is affected and can become disabled as a result. The ultimate intervention is a caesarean section. In this operation a doctor cuts into the mother’s abdomen and removes the baby. A caesarean is major surgery and as such has risks; significantly more so than normal vaginal deliveries. A caesarean is an excellent rescue operation, when absolutely necessary. Medical support, under the right circumstances, is invaluable and important, and is best when its use is measured.

The ‘fixing gene’ can reveal itself during birth. If you are in a hospital you will be in an unfamiliar environment and this alone can cause insecurities and fears. Hospital routines are based on a fixing model, so be aware. This will be a peak experience, emotions will be running high and you and your partner will be in unfamiliar surroundings and very vulnerable. Inform yourself in advance of your obstetrician’s and hospital’s policies and procedures regarding ‘managing births’. The mother should be respected and empowered to carry out her labor as she feels to. Have a personal birth plan, stating what you both want, and make sure the hospital staff has a copy, is familiar with it and above all agree to it.

Being active during labor is usually best for a woman. Freedom of movement gives a woman the choice to be in whatever position works for her body. Moving her body helps the baby move as well. Gravity will also be a useful asset which only applies if the woman is standing, squatting or kneeling, certainly not on her back. Being horizontal is usually the least helpful position. Think about it.

A woman’s body is perfectly designed to give birth. Except in a small number of situations, a normal, natural birth is possible. Consider informing the staff that requests for interventions are to be brought to you first. This can allow your partner space for what she needs to do. If intervention of any kind is proposed, ask for evidence that it is necessary, what options there may be, and what the possible outcomes are if there is no intervention. It can be supportive, if faced with a decision, to ask for a few minutes to consider a response. Discuss options with your partner, in-between contractions not during one. Consider, with your partner, what your options are and what you want. Birth is rarely an emergency situation, although it may seem the opposite because it is so intense. Come from calmness, avoid reacting.

Dr. Thomas Verny puts forth two ‘laws’ regarding a labor room environment.

First: The quantity of technological devices in the labor room is inversely proportional to the amount of human contact between staff and patient.

Second: The quantity of technological devices in the labor room is directly related to the degree of discomfort experienced by the patient.16

Today’s society tends to focus mostly on the outward, physical outcome of birth. That is to say, on the body. Perhaps because of this the caesarean is often being used as defensive medicine. If the mother and baby survive, the birth is a success. Parents can easily fall under this illusion. They do not want to risk the safety of the baby or the mother. This is certainly understandable. Because of their limited birth physiology and medical knowledge they are depending on the professionals for guidance. They can also be eager to be finished with the drama of the birth and overjoyed at the prospect of holding their new baby. However, what do we sacrifice and what are the resulting costs, in human terms?

We would all do well to consider the entire person – body, mind, emotions and spirit. We could then, perhaps, comprehend the total impact of birth on the wellbeing of the child the parents and society. The mind and body possess an autobiography of the whole self. They tell us the story of the life and times of a person, from conception onward, stored in their cells. This story then becomes a filter through which an individual perceives, interprets and experiences life. Through the care of our children, from the start, we can add precious value to their lives.

Umbilical Cord

Leaving the umbilical cord intact after birth is important. A habit had developed in modern culture of immediately clamping/cutting the cord and then hanging the newborn by their ankles and slapping their bottom to get them to breathe right away. This has changed to some degree but cutting the cord immediately is still common. The cord circulates blood between the placenta and the baby. The blood delivers nutrients to the baby, especially oxygen. Our need for oxygen is continuous, moment to moment. If the cord is immediately cut the baby will have no source of oxygen and panic will ensue. Survival mechanisms will kick in and stress hormones will flood their body. Your baby can feel like he is in a life and death situation, physically and emotionally. Many of us have had experiences, perhaps when swimming, when we were at risk of being oxygen deprived. How did it feel?

The cord, together with the placenta, contains as much as 30% of the potential blood supply for the baby. Cutting the cord too early will deprive the baby of a significant amount of this blood. Early cutting can also reduce the red blood cell count and therefore the effectiveness of the baby’s immune system. Delayed cutting of the cord will enhance blood supply, enrich iron stores, reduce the risk of anemia and cut in half the risk of serious blood disorders.17

The cord is also the baby’s physical connection with the mother and familiarity. It is important for continuity, bonding and brain development. What are we teaching this receptive new baby? If the cord is left connected the baby will breathe in his own time, gently and naturally, to his own rhythm. It will not always look like a big gasp, a scream and a struggle.

It is common medical practice to immediately cut the cord and give the mother an injection of artificial hormones to cause the placenta to detach. The placenta will usually detach naturally, if allowed to. It will take a bit longer than if drugs are used. You have all the time in the world. It is actually best to leave the umbilical cord connected until after the placenta delivers. At that point the baby is complete with this phase of life. The mother’s and baby’s bodies have told us so, because the placenta has delivered. Again, non-intervention allows nature to take its intended course. Ask your healthcare provider for what you want for your family.

David Chamberlain underlines this in Elmer Postle’s documentary film, The Healing of Birth, Invitation to Intimacy. He refers to babies screaming as a reaction to their treatment at birth, “We used to say, what a healthy baby. Well, we were not treating that as genuine communication.”18 There is, typically, some stress involved in birth, as distinct from trauma. A moderate amount of stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Compounded trauma however can have lasting effects and may be able to be avoided in many instances.

Family Bonding

The minutes immediately after your baby is born are precious. You will likely remember them forever. Your child will as well, at a very deep level. This is the primary bonding time for your family and is paramount. Do what you can to ensure this process is as comfortable and supported as possible. Your baby is best placed immediately on your partner’s tummy/chest; cord still intact with direct skin to skin contact. This is what nature intended and wants. Unnecessary separation can have lasting effects. Your baby has already undergone parting from his mother’s body, the home he knew, and needs as many elements of familiarity as possible.

Unless there is an actual and immediate medical emergency, accept nothing less than continuous connection between mother and baby. Everything else can wait. Cleaning and poking and weighing and all of the common procedures are secondary to your family’s initial time together. Also be sure to speak to your new baby. He will recognize your voice and it will add comfort and familiarity. Also, close eye to eye contact is important for all three of you. If there is a very good reason to separate mother and baby then you are the next best one to be with your child. Keep him in connection with you if this happens, if at all possible.

Debriefing after Birth

There are different layers of possibility with debriefing after a birth. I recommend debriefing for everyone involved in every birth. Writing about your experience of the birth can be very valuable. This writing is for you and not necessarily to share with anyone. Writing is one type of debriefing and you may also want to speak with someone. You and your partner would do well to speak together about your individual experiences. Express what the birth was like for you. How did you feel? Perhaps describe it physically as a framework to access the deeper stuff. Speaking with another father may be good for you too; if it is someone who is sensitive and you can open to. You could also speak with your own father. And you may also want to speak with a counselor.

I have worked with new fathers in this way and they have found it to be of profound value. Debriefing is also valuable with birth experiences from years ago. This will support the birth of subsequent children you may have. Without debriefing or resolution of some kind these peak experiences can sort of rattle around inside and become a distraction from the love that is present to experience. The important thing is that you feel complete and whole.

You can also tell the birth story to your new baby. They may be pre-verbal however they have an intelligence and understanding that is real, for them. Any time we have a significant experience in life it is valuable to acknowledge it and how it was for us. This allows integration. The same is true for your baby.

Integrating the Outcome of Birth

Every birth is different and will be a unique experience for each person present. It could be a glorious experience and you will bask in its’ glow for years to come. However, the birth of your child could turn out differently than you planned. There may be unexpected or adverse aspects to it. This can be a challenge to integrate and accept. Because of the very personal nature of birth there is often an element of mourning involved in a birth that did not go to plan.

Over several decades of working directly with birth, as well as with adults in the therapeutic realm, I have learned that every birth has something to teach us. This is not to say that it was all a brilliant experience for you or your baby and partner, on the surface. Once it is over however, it is an experience in the past. Get support for yourself if you need it. Give yourself permission to cry or be angry (in a safe way) and express exactly how you feel. This is an important part of the process.

Then, give thanks and do your best to accept the birth. Allow yourselves the space to learn from it and heal. The traumatic birth of my first child is an example. It stimulated me to explore myself and research and then to develop waterbirth. Subsequently, the combination of the two births and life experience led me to my current work with fathers and childbirth professionals. I am deeply grateful for all of it.

The birth of your child will be an initiation into an entirely new phase of your life. It is a pivotal point in your transition to fatherhood. Take as much time as possible to be with your new family. Partake in every sensation. Immerse yourself in the emotions made available to you as a result of the birth. The more emotionally available you are, the more whole you will feel. Be grateful for the event, bless the outcome and embrace your new family.

The most valuable advice I can give regarding birth is to trust the process. With every fiber of your being be willing to trust birth and say YES. It is normal, natural and healthy and yes it is intense. Use your tools and welcome everything birth has to offer.

©2010, Patrick Houser


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Patrick Houser is a father and a grandfather. His second son's arrival was the first waterbirth in the U.S. This led him into nearly 25 years of support for both choices and working with parents. He has gained wide experience from various fields including a degree in marketing, owning a construction firm and a natural health centre. Patrick is a Life Coach and co-founder of Fathers-To-Be, a new concept in antenatal education, for men. Fathers-To-Be also offers consulting and training for health service providers. E-Mail or www.fatherstobe.org These articles are excerps from his book Fathers-To-Be Handbook: A road map for the transition to fatherhood.


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