A Dad's perspective - Survival guide for fathers & birth partners

At 25 I was the first of my close friends to have the opportunity to welcome a baby into this world.

Poppy fields in Afghanistan

I was ready.

I had served two operational tours of duty in Afghanistan leading a team of men in the search of improvised explosives, hard hard could this be?

I was sure the birth would be simple in comparison however, nothing in the world can prepare you for the experience of helping your loved one bring a new baby into this world.

Let me start by saying, I am not one who has ever found humour or respect in those who brag about being at the pub with the boys during the birth of their children. Actually quite the opposite. There’s nothing admirable in being absent from the birth of your children by choice. Though I think there is definitely a societal shift in how men treat labour and childbirth I know men not supporting their women/birth partners during this crucial time in their lives is sadly still prevalent.

If this is you, I hope this blog can help to change your perception…if you’re not open to changing then you can exit stage left here.

This is not a step-by-step definitive guide for fathers/birth partners. It is the lessons learnt by a father supporting his partner and wife through three births; one hospital birth, one miscarriage and one homebirth.

I’m a list writer so bear with me and if you sense any sarcasm…yes, it’s probably sarcasm.

1.       Be a part of the prep.

The 5 P’s is a perfect phrase for all situations, childbirth included. That is, proper preparation prevents poor performance. As the support person you really have the opportunity to own this stage, taking the burden off of the mother-to-be and growing her confidence in your ability to be there for her.

Your list should include things like:

  • Having that car seat locked in and good to rock and roll. Do you need a mechanic to install it? C’mon… A grown adult can install a car seat. Read the instructions.
  • Overnight bag packed? Ask her what she wants, then double it.
  • Go with her to every pre-natal appointment you can. It’s important. Trust me.
  • Conduct a reconnaissance of the hospital (if hospital birthing). Knowing things like the parking facilities, if you need change for vending machines and where you are headed when you arrive can really make the transition smoother. The next point follows closely…

2.       If birthing in hospital, know when to go…and where to go!

Check google maps at different times of the day to gauge how long it will take you to get there. Are there alternative routes in case of an accident or road closures?

Tell your partner you’re really taking this part of your job seriously and that you need to rally car race there once a week (at minimum) to ensure you’ve got your navigation down pat…

In saying this, I am an early person. I have been indoctrinated to think that if you are not 20 minutes early, you are late. This was a regrettable mistake for our first baby, and a common error for many excited first time parents experiencing the early stages of labour.
Hospitals can be uncomfortable and if you show up too early they may even send you home, or worse, not send you home and keep you there for many hours of uncomfortable labouring, for both of you.

Try to encourage your partner to labour at home as long as is safe/comfortable. You’ll thank me.

3.       Know what is going on and what the possibilites are!

The stages of labour, induction, dilation, baby positioning (Spinning babies have super thorough articles on all baby positions!), optimal active labouring positions, pros and cons of drugs and risks, medical interventions etc.

There are tried and tested ways you can encourage baby into a better position for birth (and no, they don't involve talking to your wife's belly trying to convince bub to reposition), this is great tool to have in your toolbox for if and when hospital staff try to tell you that bub is in a 'bad' position. Check out Spinning Babies for amazing resources on this!

And if after reading about all that (and more) you still don’t understand what the Doctor’s are saying on the day/night – don’t be scared to ask! Don’t even ask, demand to know. Ask and ask again. Your partner may be exhausted and not even be aware of what is going on, you need to advocate for her and ensure you know what is going on and why.

Not understanding what is going on has a tendency to cause confusion, leading to uninformed and regrettable decisions and you and your birth partner being easily led towards medical interventions you may not want or need. Which is why you need to:

4.       Know what you both want.

Birth plan. Study that shit. Know it back to bloody front. Tattoo it on your leg if you have to. Be aware. Be present. Be forceful.

5.       Hold your nerve and hear her out.

Does hearing things like doula, birth photographer and home birth freak you out? Hold your nerve. Listen to her and her reasons, do some research of your own and come to an EDUCATED decision on the matter.

Doula's, midwives and birth photographers have an intimate understanding of birth, you have an intimate understanding of your birth partner - don't be offended if she wants one or ALL of the above present at the birth. You have your own unique role to play in this game and you're kidding yourself if you think you can do all of them alone.

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.
— Stephen Hawking

5.       Don’t get stuck in the patient mentality

Yes, you are in hospital – but in most cases, no you and your partner are NOT sick. Don’t let the Doctor’s make you feel like you have no choices and no rights because you do have both of those things! You don’t even have to be there, you could be birthing in a bloody field in the middle of nowhere if you wanted to – sure there are situations that dictate what you can and cannot do but it is YOUR joint responsibility to know what those situations are.

6.       Manage the stress and motivate

Biggest point. Talk about her stress, your stress, grounding, how to embrace the pain as something good, right and wrong ways to motivate, not being a passive little kitten. Know when to do nothing and when to be active.

7.       Don’t sleep. If your partner is awake, you need to be awake too.

To conclude, I want to re-iterate there is no way to be 100% ready yourself for everything that is about to happen, however you can be prepared. There is a beauty in the chaotic, unpredictable stop-start nature of child birth.

As fathers, partners and support people we must embrace it. Deal with everything as it comes, knowing that we have earnt the right to be there. We have earnt the right to stand by these beautiful women as they progress through one of the most amazing experiences in life, and it is our responsibility to do everything we can to guide them, assist them and walk the hard road hand in hand.

Dad supporting labouring Mother

There is beauty in the chaotic, unpredictable nature of child birth.