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.)

my husband, my nuclear midwife…

I internally cringe whenever I hear someone comment on how women have been birthing with the assistance of midwives for the majority of history. Historically, midwives did not deliver babies. They were not some expert called in for the pregnancy or birth. Traditionally, midwives were the important women in one’s life – mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and close friends. They would step in to help when needed, tending to household duties, taking care of older children, bringing food, and picking up any slack when a woman was birthing and getting to know the new baby.

I remember jokingly saying to my husband after our first child was born that I wouldn’t mind having a midwife if we could call one up after the baby was born. She would come in, comment about how beautiful the baby was, clean the house, make some food, and help out where needed. His face dropped and he exclaimed, “But that’s my job.”

In today’s age of nuclear families, my husband has taken on the role of a traditional midwife. He doesn’t deliver our babies or try to coach me . He doesn’t interfere at the times when I need to be connected with my body and our baby. He merely supports me and helps out where he can. With the birth of each child, he has taken off 2-3 weeks from work in order to cook, clean, and help out however I need him. It’s because of his support that I have been able to focus on getting to know each of our children, establish breastfeeding with them, and not feel as though the entire house has fallen apart.

This post is part of Science & Sensibility’s 6th Healthy Birth Blog Carnival.

our fourth birth…

Before going to bed, I had a few thoughts that I should stay up late and finish some projects. The ningling idea that we would have a baby soon was on my mind. However, I reassured myself that I had time to finish those projects. After all, our first three children were born bwtween 40 weeks 4 days and 40 weeks 6 days.

My husband had been home sick for several days. He was planning to have one more day at home to recuperate before heading back to work until the baby came. Being sick, and concerned that he would disrupt the rest of us, he had been sleeping in another room.

Around 1 AM, my husband was getting ready for bed. I asked him how he was feeling and he said he was feeling better. For the next 30 minutes, I found myself in that odd half awake/half dreaming phase. At the end of that, I had a vision of the baby pushing off with its feet and using it’s head as a battering ram to break my waters. That thought brought me fully awake. Again, I told myself that I couldn’t be in labor and decided I should probably go to the bathroom. When I got out of bed, I was leaking fluid. I stopped by to check on my husband and told him what happened but assured him that you can leak amniotic fluid for weeks before going into labor. I began to question my denial when I had to grab a towel with another small gush, but I had yet to have any contractions. With my other children, my water hadn’t broken until I was pushing.

I decided to go finish some things on the computer and then headed back to bed. Around 2 AM, I began having contractions and decided to get up. My children and husband were all sleeping and I thought it best to let them get as much sleep as possible. As the contractions became more intense, I found myself thinking about my husband. With each one, I imagined the way he smelled and felt and the way he tasted when I kissed him. I soaked in a hot bath for a while and then went back to the living room. The contractions would come closer together for a while and then take a break, picking back up where they had left off.

Around 6 AM, I decided I should go ahead and awaken my husband to fill the birth pool. I told him that I was in labor and he told me that he had been dreaming about my mother. They had been downstairs talking and before I came in she told him that he should head back up to help with the kids. It seemed fitting that he should dream of her, but I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t gotten to see her.

My husband pulled out the pool and air compressor as I closed the bedroom door, hoping that the sound of the compressor wouldn’t wake the kids. As we waited for the water to fill, we sat snuggling on the couch. I moaned through the contractions, opening myself and relishing my husband’s touch. At some point I got on my hands and knees while my husband went to go check the water. It wasn’t long before I decided to go to the bathroom and I felt that it was the right place to be. As I was sitting on the toilet, waiting for the water in the pool to be ready, I was slightly concerned that at that rate I might birth the baby on the toilet. I asked my husband to add some cold water to the pool so that it would be cool enough to get in.

I walked down the hallway to the living room and my husband gave me a hand as I climbed into the pool. The water felt wonderful, and I leaned on the side of the pool while on my hands and knees. The water wasn’t that full, but the warmth was comforting. My body started pushing and I felt the baby’s head. My husband called out that the baby was crowning. He swears he only said it once, but I remember hearing it twice and thinking that he needed some type of response. I managed to say, “I know” while thinking that a head being out was much more than crowning, before my body was pushing the rest of the baby out.

I pulled the baby up between my legs and sat back in the pool. My husband asked what the gender was, and I looked to find that we had another daughter. He went to wake up our other children, and our older son (7 1/2) and daughter (5 1/2) came in to meet their new baby sister. Our 2 1/2 year old son was taking a bit longer to wake up and came in a little while later to meet her. We waited to cut the cord until after the placenta came out and the cord had stopped pulsating.

Born on April 14, 2010 at 7:02 AM, our new little daughter had come two weeks earlier than her older siblings. She is a tiny little pixie who measured 20 inches and weighed 7 pounds 12 ounces. I am enjoying her baby sweetness. It’s a little bittersweet to think that she is my last baby, but with our latest addition, our family feels complete. Her middle name is after my mother.

our third birth…

The night before 03 July 2007, I got everyone to sleep by about 11:00 PM. It had been a very long day. I wasn’t consciously expecting to have a baby the next day, but I did a lot of things that evening by compulsion to be prepared. I didn’t feel like sleeping. My body had been trying to shift cycles to be up at night and be tired during the day – not the easiest with two active children to take care of.

I went in the living room with my lap top and worked on my home business for a couple of hours. By 1 AM I was finished, but something told me I was going to be having a baby by 5 AM and that it wasn’t really worth going to bed. Who knows why I was thinking 5 AM. I also had a three hour labor in mind. The baby started shifting position a bit and I started playing word games on the computer, checking messages, and generally entertaining myself rather than going to bed. Contractions started around 1:55 AM, coming every 5 0r 6 minutes. Each one made me smile.

I heard my husband get up around 2:30 AM. He came in and asked why I wasn’t in bed yet. I told him we were going to have a baby. He asked if he should start filling the birth pool, which was set up in the playroom. When he said it might take a couple of hours to fill, I told him to go ahead and get started. He stepped out in the garage to grab our Python (what we use to fill the aquariums with water). When he stepped back in, he commented that the contractions seemed to have picked up. I agreed.

He started filling the tub. The contractions felt good and productive. I found that counter-clockwise circular movements really let me get into them. Standing up and gyrating my hips in a counter-clockwise motion felt so right. I spent the next couple of hours standing and moving through contractions, going to the bathroom, or slipping into the nice warm pool. Whenever I had a contraction in the pool, I would get on my hands and knees before it started. Outside of the pool, I would rock my hips in a circle.

Around 4:45 AM, the contractions were strong enough that I felt I needed to push. I got on my hands and knees in the water and pushed. I thought I heard a pop then when my water broke. My husband hadn’t reacted so I told him my water had just broken. He hadn’t heard a thing, so I must have just felt the pop. Immediately, I needed to push again, while my husband had come over to the pool. He looked at me and asked if I was pushing. I briefly said yes before I needed to push again. He rushed to the bedroom to wake up our two children. The baby’s head came out while he was gone. It felt as though time had stopped. My children ran in and began asking me questions, but my husband told them they needed to just watch and wait to talk to me. I felt the need for three quick pushes and my new baby’s body flipped out into my hands.

I sat back in the pool, laughing. I brought my newest baby up to my chest and cuddled him, with our family gathered around beside us. The kids were ecstatic. My husband asked if it was a boy or girl. I knew it was a boy. I had felt it all along, but I turned him over to check and confirmed that we had another son. He woke up at that point and was not happy about suddenly being somewhere else. He had his eyes shut tightly against the light which had been turned on, so my husband went to turn it off.

I think I was laughing and smiling throughout this. Our older children (ages 4 1/2 and 2 1/2) had big smiles on their faces the whole time. In the last few months, they had decided they really wanted a baby brother. 

We hung out in the pool for a while. Iwaited to cut the cord until it hadn’t been pulsing for a while. Once my daughter knew she had her baby brother, she asked for a baby sister next. My son asked when we would have the next baby. I told them we should probably get used to having three kids for a while before we even considered another baby. The baby nursed a little. After the placenta came out, we went to the bedroom. I laid him on the bed in a towel so that we could get a diaper on him while I took a quick shower, and he proceeded to poo all over the towel. I cleaned him up and my husband held him while I showered. Then we hung out in the bed while my husband made phone calls and the kids stared at him and asked questions.

He weighed 9 pounds 4 ounces and was 21 inches long. He was born at 4:55 AM – exactly three hours after labor started.

our second birth…

At 40 weeks, three days, I knew that we would have a baby the next day. Coincidentally, that was the exact same time I started labor with our first child. Knowing we wouldn’t have much time to bake in the next weeks – something my son loved to do, we decided to make cookies. We made up a double batch of oatmeal cookies, since oats help with milk supply. 

My husband called to tell me he was on his way home. I told him we would have a baby the next day, a Saturday. We had planned to have my father-in-law help us haul some wood for us to use to make an art table and play kitchen for gifts. Since we wanted an uninterrupted babymoon, we decided my husband should call his father and see if he could come help us that evening.

That night I was out installing the second car seat while our two year old pretended to drive the car when my in-laws pulled up. My husband and his father left to get the wood while my son and I entertained my mother-in-law. When they came back, we all sat in the kitchen enjoying the oatmeal cookies and caffeine free iced tea I had made earlier in the day. His parents left, never realizing that I was having contractions.

We played for the rest of the evening. Around 11:30 PM, my husband asked what we should do. I said that since everyone was tired, I thought we should go to bed. I snuggled with my son, and he went to sleep very quickly. I was aware of having contractions through the night, but for the most part I slept. There was a huge thunderstorm that night. I got up around 3 AM to the sound of hail. I padded out to the kitchen and looked out on the deck to see quite a bit piling up, thinking what a wonderful story that would be to tell the baby later on.

Around 6:30 AM, laying in bed was no longer comfortable. I went into the bathroom to draw a warm bath and soak for a bit. The running water woke my husband and he came in to see how I was. We sat there, me in the tub, him on a stool, holding hands and kissing. We spoke of all sorts of things. Intimacy isn’t always physical; it’s about sharing with someone you love. 

My son woke up around 9:30 AM, and came in to see me. I suggested to my husband that they go get donuts as a special treat and some father-son bonding. He asked if there was time, and I assured him that there was.

They came back, a bag of donuts proudly carried my my son. My husband brought me some ice water with a straw. What is it about ice water with a straw that I love in labor? I was occasionally getting in the tub, but mainly I wanted to be on the bed. My guys headed downstairs to play and would check in from time to time.

At some point, I started visualizing a white flower opening to reveal a baby inside during contractions. I don’t know where that image came from, but it seemed to be important for this baby. Around noon, I found myself chanting, “Let my body do what it needs to do” during contractions. My husband and son came in around 12:30 and asked what I needed. I told them to stay close because the baby would be here soon.  

They went and got drinks and then sat on the bed. It irked me at the time. I had said to stay close, not sit there and watch me. I had just enough time to think that before my body decided it wanted to push. I reached down and felt the baby’s head was coming, and my water broke as the head was on its way out. I birthed the head in a half back bend, then flipped so that I was on my hands and knees. I reached down and between my legs and caught my precious baby, as she let out a wail to tell me she was not happy about being cold. I brought her up to me and she immediately quieted. A girl. She was born at 12:38 PM on 18 September 2004, weighing 7 pounds, 11 ounces and measuring 20 ½ inches.  It was a good thing my husband decided to stay in the room, otherwise he might have missed the birth of his daughter.

I took my new baby and went and sat in the nice warm tub, which she seemed to appreciate. My husband explained to our son that this bath was just for Mommy and the baby, as he was all set to strip and join in. Our new daughter was busy looking around. I brought her up to nurse and my son was not happy about that. He tried to keep her from nursing until I explained that the baby needed Mommy, too. Then he tried to make her nurse. 

We waited until after the cord had stopped pulsing to cut it. The placenta still hadn’t come out, so we went and curled up on the bed for a while. Four hours after her birth, I went in the bathroom and felt the need to push. The placenta came out and we put it in the freezer to plant with a tree.

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.

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: