Birth today is more complex than ever. We all know there's no way to know what the birth will be like. In itself, that leaves us believing there is nothing we can do to prepare. We're left with believing the only way to prepare for birth is to arm ourselves with lots of information and then make a Birth Plan. All those things are true, yet that's not quite the end of the story. We need birth skills...that's the how-to of childbirth. This doesn't mean you are doing the birth by yourself. It means that when a woman is pregnant, she does need to learn to birth. However, it also means YOU need to learn how to help.
Today, there are two types of birth: the usual way with labor and delivery and the new way, with a cesarean. Whichever way you give birth, during pregnancy is the time to learn how-to work with your baby's efforts to be born. As a man, you often feel pretty much like a third arm. All the focus is on the woman and baby. But your role is vital, and knowing what to do and how to do it is not rocket science.
You've probably been told that your role is to support the pregnant woman. Support is great. Be there. However, support doesn't offer the ability to offer help. To coach gives both the dimension of being there and assistance. Use whatever word you want; just know that she expects you to do more than hold her hand, wipe her brow and rub her back. Here are some things you need to know.
- Birth is birth, no matter what happens. Birth is your baby's efforts to be born. When you take time during pregnancy to learn birth skills, you will feel closer to your baby, partner and more capable of helping her do the work, no matter what type of birth happens.
- Birth is an activity. Think of it this way. Birth is a lot like driving a car. You use lots of skills at once to control the vehicle and pay attention to what's happening around you. Birth is learning to control our birthing body and listen to the message of the baby's efforts to be born.
- Your role in birth is to help the woman help your baby. You're not the mechanic. That's the role of your obstetrician or midwife. However, they are never 'doing' the birth...the woman is. Nor are they the best person to help her, you are...just like a good map-reader on a long trip.
- Don't assume women know how to birth. Every birth is different and women have little control over the labor process. That's coming from your baby. However, she can respond and work with the process when she has good birth skills. When you learn coaching skills, you'll help her stay on track throughout the whole process. That's working together, and the process brings you closer as a family.
- Men see and hear very well. The usual way to give birth...labor and delivery...is often accompanied by significant pain. This is natural. Your birth skills help the woman manage, cope and deal with the pain. Use your sight and hearing to determine whether the woman is coping well or needs your help. When you see tension or hear stressful breathing, she needs your coaching skills right away.
- There's not just one coaching skill. There are many. These include breathing, relaxation, being aware of whether the woman is remaining open or closing her legs. Keep in mind that your baby's head is about the size of a grapefruit. If she is closing her legs, can a grapefruit come out? Use your common sense.
- She doesn't have to like labor pain. Who likes pain? Birth pain is natural. The closure of a balloon (the uterus) is being tugged open and this stretching causes the pain. Work with her management skills even though her negative voice is telling her and you, 'I can't do this.' Yes, she can, and the more you use your coaching skills to help her stay on top of the birth pain, the more you'll feel useful and appreciated. Tell her it's okay to not like it and encourage her to manage.
- Being a great birth coach leads to being a relaxed father. Men who know how-to help during birth are comfortable with their newborns. Fathers who have felt useless during birth often feel just as helpless and unskilled when faced with a newborn. Choose to become skilled, do the work with her and reap the rewards...your sense of worth and her deep appreciation, as well as her ability to trust you.
- Cesarean deliveries are no different. If the woman is going to have a cesarean delivery, you can still learn birth skills during pregnancy. The pregnant body is still preparing for birth. Learning coaching skills for an operative delivery reduce the sense of alienation often experienced, even when the cesarean is wanted and necessary. Still enjoy learning how to help. Then take your coaching skills into the surgery and recovery. You'll feel just as involved with this type of birth.
- Your birth providers LOVE to see fathers really help. Nothing pleases an obstetrician or midwife more than to see women cope with birth and fathers who really know how to help. You'll get lots of compliments and birth providers telling you, "She couldn't have done it without you."
A great, kind, helpful map-reader is great on a journey. Don't be a backseat driver full of criticism. Learning coaching skills gives you the exact skills you'll need for this very dynamic and infrequent experience. If you've already had kids, then you'll just get better. If this is your first time, then step up to the plate and know your partner and birth providers want you to really help. When you go to hospital, your role remains the same. Coach with and around all the assessments, monitoring and procedures. At a home birth, just continue to work together when your midwife arrives.
Birth coaching is a great experience when you have the appropriate skills. Thankfully, birth skills and coaching skills are based on what we share as humans...things like breathing, relaxation, communication and touch. Birth is a very athletic event. Training and practice is essential.