Be a Man: One Father’s View on Birth

Welcome to the June 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Embracing Your Birth Experience

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about at least one part of their birth experience that they can hold up and cherish.

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Our children, all four of them, have been born at home – planned unassisted births. While this isn’t something that everyone knows about us, many people do realize this fact. Over the years, we’ve had several friends come to us to discuss unassisted birth, our reasons for having UCs, and usually, for a father’s perspective on unassisted childbirth. In most of these situations, it was a case of the mother wanting to have an unassisted birth while the father wanted nothing to do with it. Every one of those couples, after having the other father listen to my own husband, walked away more assured and more willing to listen to the wants (dare I say needs?) of his wife. Each couple went on to have their own succesful unassisted birth.

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Photo by Lindsey Turner

What wonderful advice did my wise husband give? He told them to “Be a man!” It sounds condescending. It sounds aggressive (something my mild mannered husband is not). It sounds completely chauvinistic. But it isn’t.

Each time he then went on to say that birth is an intimate experience. As much as a man may want to consider his part in bringing forth this child into the world, when it comes to the actual birth, he has a supporting role only. His wife is the one birthing the baby. She is the one who needs to listen to her body and their baby in order to do what she needs to for a successful birth. Certainly, both people can and should research, learn about the signs of impending problems, talk about what they need to do in various situations, learn about what is normal and what are merely variations of normal birth, etc., just as you would with any other aspect of life (says the couple of research fanatics).  However, when it comes time for the baby to be born, it’s down to mom and baby.

A husband’s role is to support a woman during labor and birth – however she decides she needs, whether that means fetching drinks with bendy straws, cooking a fantastic meal, holding her hand, or massaging her back. His main priority is to give her whatever it is she needs in order to listen to her body and their baby for a successful outcome. He keeps unwanted people away and doesn’t allow others to negatively interfere. He protects while serving. He supports her in any way he can. He trusts her to listen to her body just as she trusts her body to tell her what she needs to do and when/if she may need help just as our children trust us to have their best interests at heart.

I’m very thankful of the support my husband has given me during each of our births and for the support and partnership he shows me in our journey as both parents and people. He couldn’t be a better man.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon June 12 with all the carnival links.)

luck has nothing to do with it…

We are not lucky; we are fortunate. There is a difference.

When my husband called his grandmother to announce the birth of our fourth child, he expected to hear excitement and congratulations. There was a bit of that, before she went into a lecture about how lucky we were. If someone was speaking of how fortunate we are to be the parents of four intelligent, beautiful, wonderful children, I would whole-heartedly agree. I feel wonderfully fortunate every day I gaze into their little faces and listen to their new discoveries or feel them snuggled up close for kisses. I wouldn’t trade a day of it. I’m fortunate to have them in my life; there are many people who would love to have a child but for whatever reason can’t.

However, this wasn’t what my grandmother-in-law was referring to. She was stating that we were lucky to have a healthy child…because we chose to have an unassisted birth, just as we have for each of our children. She believed that we were lucky not to have problems because we chose not to go the conventional route of childbirth in the United States – the kind filled with unecessary interventions which cause problems.

There are true needs for help in some births. However, those instances are rare and are not unexpected. There are signs of true impending problems. The majority of problems and difficult births in the US  are actually caused by health professionals.

Prior to starting our family, my husband and I researched. We are researchers, both by nature and profession. We researched and dug through medical journals. We learned everything we could, and then we made the decision that we felt was best for our family: unassisted childbirth.

So while we may be fortunate to have these wonderful little people in our lives, don’t call us lucky just because we made an educated decision about what is best for our children rather than blindly being driven down the managed drama of interventions. Save that discussion for someone who doesn’t know any better. Luck has nothing to do with it.

a birth legacy…

Birth Activist is hosting a blog carnival in honor of Women’s History Month, asking that individuals write about their herione when it comes to childbirth and pregnancy. I briefly considered writing about Laura Shanley. She has done quite a bit to advocate for unassisted birthers. However, while I admire what she has done, I’ve always felt an internal strength when it comes to our decision to have unassisted childbirths (UC), and it reminded me of someone else.

My grandmother was a nosy, persnickity old woman who didn’t have any problem telling you just what she thought you should be doing. She had homebirths with the first two of her three children, including my father, but after the treatment we received from my husband’s parents and family after just mentioning homebirth, we decided to keep our decision to UC to ourselves until after our first child was born. My grandmother found out after our son was born, and the next time she called, I waited, half expecting to hear a rant from her. Instead, she stated that I was a “strong girl from good stock.” She then asked if that baby was sleeping with us, to which I replied yes, mentally cringing for any backlash. Instead, she said, “Good! That’s where babies need to be – snuggled up to their mamas!” It surprised me. She spread the word through my father’s family to anyone who brought up our decision that my husband and I were highly intelligent, well-educated individuals who knew what we were doing and would then repeat her phrase about me being a “strong girl from good stock”.

I waited again when I was pregnant for the second time, as she obviously knew we would be having another unassisted birth. She didn’t say anything until after our little daughter was born. I was speaking with her on the phone when she asked if I had had that baby by myself again. When I replied yes, she told me that was how her grandmother had done it. I was intrigued, as I never had heard this story before. Apparently her grandmother, my great-great-grandmother had birthed all 12 of her children unassisted. My grandmother told me that “she would come in from the field and have the baby. The next day, she would strap that baby to her with a piece of cloth and head back on out to work.” That was all that was ever said. I later recalled seeing a list of names at some time in my childhood. I happen to share my great-great-grandmother’s first name, albeit by coincidence, as my mother never knew the name.

When I think about who my heroines are when it comes to birth, I am reminded, not of a single person tangled in our generation’s technology and hysteria, but of all the women who have gone before me, lovingly birthing their children. These are the women who have perpetuated our species, who have raised us, and who have passed on their knowledge and strength to subsequent generations through the legacy of birth and child-rearing.

a matter of trust…

This post is part of the 2010 API Principles of Parenting blog carnival, a series of monthly parenting blog carnivals, hosted by API Speaks. Learn more about attachment parenting by visiting the API website.

My husband and I are researchers. Before we we decided we were ready to become parents, we researched. We read books and websites and spent hours (years) digging through medical journals. We wanted to be prepared. We learned that birth is best left alone, the truth about things such as circumcision and vaccinations, about breastfeeding and about parenting. Intellectually, we were prepared long before that fateful night when we said, “Let’s start trying for a baby” – the night our first son was conceived. In the end, we had to give up any semblance of control and just trust.

We eschewed ultrasounds, which while very popular in our mainstream society, are actually contraindicated unless there is a medical need. They haven’t been proven safe and there is actually research which indicates that they are unsafe. Depsite the fact that the Amercian Academy of Pediatrics says that ultrasounds should not be used routinely because of this, many doctors and midwives still offer routine ultrasounds, and even worse doppler use (which uses a constant stream of ultrasonic waves rather than the intermittent waves used by ultrasound). The inconclusive information gathered during these routine procedures doesn’t improve birth outcomes. In fact, the information is wrongly used to negatively impact birth outcomes, with increasing numbers of unnecessary interventions, inductions, and caesarean sections.

We turned our back on hospital birth, where women are generally told how to position themselves for the ease of the attendant rather than optimal birthing position for mother and baby. Due dates are used as expiration dates, and babies who need more time to gestate are treated as sour milk. Babies are monitored through invasive means, causing stress to the babies and mothers and increasing negative outcomes, resulting in even more interventions. Women are told when and how to push (or not push), are drugged and cut, and are lied to in order to make them more compliant. At no point in the situation are women allowed the calm and quiet they need in order to listen to what their bodies and babies need. There is no trust in birth or life – only in the faulty technology and medical gods.

We turned our back on any assisted birth. We were well researched. We knew what to look for in case there was ever a serious problem which required help. In that event, we would be headed to the hospital. Instead, we chose not to have any interference in the birthing process. I centered myself, listening to my body and listening to my baby for the most optimal outcome. Women have been giving birth for millenia, trusting in what they know.

When our beautiful son was born, his eyes gazing around in wonder, we trusted in our instincts. We held him, kissing his little head, inhaling his unique scent, and keeping him close to our hearts. I nursed him when he was hungry. He slept when he was tired. We kept him close by at all times. He learned when he was ready to learn something. As he grew, our trust was returned by him and we knew to trust him, too.

By inequivocably giving up parental rights during pregnancy and birth, parents have given up much more than just the optimal birth for their family. They have given away their ability to trust. It’s no wonder that new parents so often cave to the pressures of doctors and family against what their instincts and babies are telling them. They have already been beaten down and now believe that they can’t possibly trust what they and their babies know to be true.

Instead of feeding on demand when babies give signs of hunger, new parents are told to space feedings and often to not even try breastfeeding. They allow their precious babies to be separated from them. When every instinct in a parent’s body screams to them to hold their baby and keep him/her close, the parents turn their backs on this new, trusting infant based on the advice of others. The children are never allowed to know themselves fully and to grow whole. After all, they can’t be trusted.

It wasn’t that long ago when women birthed their babies by listening to their bodies or nursed their babies at their breasts, keeping them close throughout the day and the night. In fact, this is still the norm in most of the world, where children are treated as precious resources rather than objects to be trained into something they aren’t in the name of technology and money…in the name of progress.

labor support…

Welcome to the February Carnival of Natural Parenting: Love and partners!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we’re writing about how a co-parent has or has not supported us in our dedication to natural parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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My husband and I have a unique relationship, or so it often seems when discussing relationships with others. We met each other the first day of college at an ice cream social. He was 18 1/2 and I had just turned 17. The next day I showed up for band practice to find that he and I would be playing percussion together. And that is how it started. It wasn’t a romantic relationship at first, but one of complete friendship. We quickly became best friends and have stayed that way ever since. While our communication has improved over the years, as I hope it continues to do as we grow in our personhoods, we’ve always been able to go to one another and bounce ideas.

So, when I approached my dear husband one day, long before we were ready to have children, and confidently exclaimed that I wanted to have our children via unassisted childbirth, he looked at me. He didn’t rant, scream, or try to put an antiquated foot down. Instead, he quietly said, “Tell me more.” At that point I began to show him research and talk to him about childbirth in general. The fact that both of us are researchers by heart helped in this matter. When I pulled out notebooks filled with articles from medical journals, showed him websites, and ordered books on the subject for us to read, he listened.

At that point, I can’t say that he was completely comfortable with the idea. However, it wasn’t that he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of unassisted childbirth or my ability to listen to my body and our future children. Childbirth and child rearing were merely out of his realm of experience. They are out of the realm of experience for many young men. He supported me in a way that I will never forget, and one in which every woman deserves.

We’ve spoken with many couples over the years about unassisted childbirth and our experiences with it. In every case, the desire for such a birth has been the woman’s, pulling along a reluctant husband. At these times, or any time that birth comes up with a man who isn’t quite behind his wife, my husband says one phrase, “Be a man.”

By “be a man,” my husband isn’t implying that a man should go off and hunt down a bear with his own two hands. My husband strongly believes, as do I, that a woman needs to be comfortable and supported in order to listen to her body and baby for an optimal birthing outcome. My husband then goes on to say that the husband’s (or partner’s) role in the birth is to do whatever he needs to in order to make certain that the birthing woman has whatever she needs/wants so that she can listen to her body and do what she needs to. Birth is not a spectator sport or a team sport. It is a very primal experience for a woman. Her partner’s role is one of support, whatever it may look like. For me, that means I need time by myself in order to listen. I labor alone, with my husband coming in to see if I need anything.

When we found out we were expecting our first child, my husband was overly excited about both our future child and our birth plans. He happened to mention the word “homebirth” to his parents, although not once did he say anything about our plans for an unassisted birth. We didn’t think much about his casual reference at the time, but it wasn’t long before we thought about it quite a bit, as extended relatives, some of whom we didn’t even know, called us up to confront us, demanded that we change our decision, and attacked us in general. Through all of that, my husband stood firm. He offered to show research and talk through their fears but always ended with the fact that it was our decision to make and really none of their business. He even told his parents that while the baby would be his first priority after it was born, until that time, his wife was the first priority; nothing they could say (or scream) would change the fact that it was his job to support and protect me.

He supported me throughout that first birth and the births of our next two children, just as he will with the upcoming birth of our fourth child. He has listened throughout the years, both before and after we began having children, about many topics: birth, breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, natural products, unschooling, consensual living, vaccinations, and supported the choices we have made, though I may have been the one to do the initial research.

Parenting itself is a labor of love, and I am thrilled to have my best friend as my “labor support” in this most important endeavor.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants: