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This blog post is dedicated to Dads/Partners – the ones who are or will become parents someday.
I have to admit that I’ve always loved guys. I was a really big “tom-boy” as a kid and could always be found outside either climbing a tree, playing with crawdads, digging up night crawlers to go fishing with my brothers, or choosing the teams for neighborhood football games. I played with boys all the time. I even had an imaginary friend, Tommy, that I used to play with for hours on end because he saved me from having to play dolls with either of my sisters!
(The irony of ending up in this profession is not lost on me. As a Childbirth Educator, so much of what I do is associated with women and babies. Something you couldn’t PAY me to be interested in when I was a kid!) But… I’ve never stopped loving partners. And I think that it’s time we do a better job honoring the Dad/Partner experience as expectant-parents-to-be.
Gone are the days of, “Go smoke in the waiting room and we’ll come get you when the baby’s born!” This is a wonderful advance in terms of welcoming partners into the labor room – but sometimes I wonder if the pendulum’s been swung too far in the opposite direction without any real thought about what that means for partners. They’ve now been told, “You’re it! Get in there and be their everything!” But we haven’t done our due diligence to check in and find out 1) if they even want to be present at the birth and 2) if they feel adequately trained to be the laboring person’s main (and sometimes only) labor support.
Often, when partners accompany the pregnant person to the first childbirth class, they’re not super psyched to be there. For a lot of them, they’ve felt left out of much of the pregnancy, and they’re worried that these classes will just be more of the same. From a physical standpoint, there’s no way that a partner and a pregnant person can experience pregnancy the same way. But this doesn’t mean that their experience of the pregnancy is any less than their partner’s experience.
Sometimes pregnant folks are upset that their partner doesn’t react the way they want them to at the news, “I’m pregnant!” I’m not sure exactly what they’re expecting, but if there’s any hesitation, or a question like, “Are you sure?” too often the pregnant person assumes this means that they’re not excited, that they don’t want the baby, that they’re not ready to become a parent.
But most parents – pregnant or not – have a lot of mixed emotions when they find out that there’s a baby on board. They’re happy, but also completely freaked out. They’re excited, but scared to death! They can’t wait to meet this little person, but are super anxious about how the baby will change their relationship. Pregnant folks rarely cut their partners any slack on their initial reaction to the news! (Even if their reaction matched their own from six hours earlier when they first saw a double line on the pee stick!)
Initially, most partners are pretty psyched about the pregnancy – “My boys can swim” is a welcomed surprise for many Dads! But soon after, no matter how this pregnancy came to be, it sinks in that the partner will need to step up and provide for their family. It doesn’t matter if the birthing person will be going back to work after their leave or not! Dads and partners also worry about whether they’ll be able to fill their own parent’s shoes or avoid resembling their parents in every way… depending on their own relationship.
What I know about today’s partners is that they want to be involved – way more involved than their own parents had been before them. They’re looking forward to meeting their baby and can’t wait to be a part of their life. But guess what? They’re also unsure of themselves.
We just need to do better about welcoming partners into this world of pregnancy and birth.
How does this happen? First of all, pregnant folks need to include partners in every aspect of their pregnancy – if they want to be included, that is! Not every partner wants to know every little detail. Partners, like pregnant folks, do not become completely different people just because their partner is going to have a baby. Pregnant people need to stop placing unrealistic expectations on their partners. But if the partner wants to be included, then by all means, the pregnant person should be carving out space for them to feel welcomed and accepted into this mysterious and powerful experience of pregnancy and birth.
Partners must be seen as co-creators of this new little person (no matter how the pregnancy came to be) and given the honor and respect that the role of “parent” deserves.
If the expectant partner takes time off work to attend clinic appointments, comes prepared with questions or concerns, and voices these during the appointment, it’s imperative that the provider or staff make eye contact with them and answer the partner directly. Partners who say they felt ignored or invisible during the pregnancy is just not okay.
Prenatal education classes must address the unique needs and concerns of the expectant partner in a way that is honest and real, but not condescending in any way. Their role should be elevated in front of the expectant pregnant person – they need to see how important the partner’s role is to the overall success of their pregnancy, birth and parenting experience. It’s not enough to tell partners how important it is for them to be there for the laboring person – they need to know that no one else can claim the emotional connection they share with both the birthing person and the baby.
They need to be prepared for all of the different emotional responses they might have to the birth itself. The physical aspect of helping their partner through contractions will not the be the biggest challenge for them. But watching the person they love most in the world really struggle as they moves through contractions will be incredibly painful on an emotional level.
They need to know that they don’t have to be their everything in birth. That they don’t have to try and be the doula. They just need to be there. Be present and available to their laboring partner for each and every contraction. Their role during the birth is not unlike everything they’ve already been doing during this pregnancy – they’ve probably held their hair back once or twice while they threw up, they’ve had to listen to them when it’s been a bad day, they’ve probably given them a million back massages! All they need to do on the Big Day is make sure that they’re bringing all of that and a little more to help them cope with their contractions.
Basically, partners need to be prepared to love the birthing person straight through from the first contraction to the moment when their little baby makes it into this world – and beyond.
Just as I feel that every pregnant person is fully capable of giving birth, I feel that every partner is fully capable of providing excellent labor support to the person they love. But I also think that having additional birth support team members might be exactly what’s necessary for this birth experience to be a positive memory and birth story worth telling for both of them. Maybe it makes sense to have a doula or other labor companions in addition to the partner.
I often tell pregnant folks in my classes, “If you need warm and fuzzy there when you give birth, and your partner is not warm and fuzzy – then make sure you bring yourself some warm and fuzzy!” It’s so important that we allow the partners to be themselves during the birth – which means some of them will want to put on their catcher’s mitt and take charge, while others will want to sit at the head of the bed, hold hands with the laboring person, and make sure to never look “south of the border”! Either way, that’s excellent knowledge going in and will allow the couple to choose the members of their birth support team well so that partners can do whatever they need to make sure this experience is positive for them as well.
If we want partners to be great parents, we need to welcome them into this experience first. Then we need to acknowledge and honor their role during pregnancy, birth and parenting. We need to give them the space to explore their own vulnerabilities around becoming a parent and support them better in their role as birth support partner. We need to explore how and why a doula or other support person can free them up to be fully present during the birth of their baby. This way they can witness their partner’s strength, be truly present for the miracle that is their baby’s birth and better prepare to bond and attach to their newborn soon after delivery.
I love partners! Sometimes as much (perhaps even more?) as I love the pregnant people they’re supporting.
Did you feel like your role as expectant partner was honored? In what ways did you feel welcomed into this world of pregnancy and birth? What changes could be made so that you felt more included?