When Dad's in Labor
You've seen those videos on YouTube right? "Dads Experience What It Feels Like To Give Birth", where they strap on the electrodes on their abdominal area to stimulate what it's like to have real contractions. And they scream and moan and eventually at the end, they fess up to their partners that the pain was worse than what they assumed would take place.
But what if Dad isn't so optimistic about birth to begin with? I think this is something every woman thinks about before that big day. And even Dad probably has some concerns of how we will react too. Will he hide in the corner covering his eyes? Will he be right up in the action taking pictures of baby's head crowning? (Been there done that) Will he be supportive enough to help me cope?
As Doulas, part of our expertise is guiding, supporting and motivating Dad through labor as well. Not only will we give him a bathroom break, but emotionally we can be there to process him through the entire experience. There may be hours spent waiting while he's becoming antsy in that small delivery room, we can be there to lend a distraction and give him a break.
Tips for Dad to remember -
Early Labor. If labor begins slow and at home, relax with her as much as possible. Do not rush to the hospital unless she wants to. Draw a bath for her (If her water hasn't broken), suggest a massage and a nap. Go out to eat together, go see a movie, go to the park. Going out may sound like the last thing she may want to do, but distraction of those early contractions will be helpful if it's not truly the "real thing" just yet.
Once she's in labor.... NOTHING she says or does to you is personal. Especially if this is your first birth, neither of you can predict what will set her off or help her cope. Love her like you're alone at home, comfort her through each contraction. You will both eventually fall into a rhythm that works for everyone.
Help time her contractions. It may sound silly, but this is a huge way to become involved during labor, and make her feel validated that you're helping somehow. It is also important if you both plan to stay home a bit before driving to your birth center or hospital. Here is a great how to on timing contractions. You may even be able to find an app on your phone to easily track.
If Mom gets an epidural, it will then be a few hours of waiting. Continue to comfort through physical touch if need be, but also try to keep her distracted of the time. Through a movie, music or games. Take pictures, even though she may rat on you for it, I promise she will appreciate them down the road.
Be her advocate. Know her birth preferences before the big day. Ask if she has a birth plan (though she will probably be so excited and tell you) and read it together, understand why she wants things a particular way. There may be times where she is unable to speak and you may have to speak on her behalf to her nurses or care providers, speak up for her and be sure to communicate her wishes.
Be prepared for some surprises. I don't think any Lamaze or childbirth class can completely, 100% prepare you for everything you will experience in labor. Pay attention during these classes but something still may happen that you have never heard of.
You may also be surprised about what she may or may not want. If she wants you to squeeze her hand as tight as possible every contraction, you do it. If she wants to stand and rock with you every contraction, you do it. She will thank you in the end.
Be prepared to support her through change. Things may not go completely perfect the way she has it on her birth plan. This may be emotionally hard for her to grasp or she might not care in the slightest. Support her regarding her own emotions. If she is content with how things went, do not imply that she should feel a different or certain way. Validate her current feelings. If she is upset, be upset with her. You may not be able to fix things, but not feeling alone will be helpful.
Be prepared to look when you said you wouldn't. I hear this from so many Dads. "I'm staying up by her head the entire time, no way am I looking down there. Curiosity may get the best of you! My daughter's father swore he wasn't looking in that direction for any reason. The second our nurse saw crowning and said "Wow look at all of that hair!" he had a front seat, up-close view.
Be prepared to change your own mind. You may think you want to watch and then change your mind in the moment. That is okay. You need to do whatever will allow you to support your partner best. And if that is staying up next to her head the entire time so you don't pass-out, you do exactly that!
Get ready for the best experience of your life. Meeting that anxiously awaited little newborn. There is no way to describe this feeling.
Support her through recovery. Your partner will go through A LOT during her recovery period. Help her as much as she needs, even if she does not ask. She will be tired and emotional (yes, worse than pregnancy hormones). Be prepared to expect the unexpected along with her and really listen to her nurses or care provider on what will happen during her recovery.