Side-step delivery-room politics and decide who will be there before you give birth
New research shows that more men than ever are now in the delivery room but some dads still prefer to steer clear of it. ‘If your partner doesn’t want to be there, then don’t force him, as it will stress you both,’ says doula Lindsey Middlemiss, from Doula UK. Also, you may not be keen to have him there and prefer to ask your best friend or mum.
‘Just make sure you discuss what you need and expect from each other,’ says psychologist Donna Dawson ‘Be honest about how you both feel and try to find a compromise well before you go into labour.’
'I went into warrior-woman mode and wanted to do it alone with no fuss'
While most mums-to-be can’t imagine their partner not holding their hands through the contractions, when labour starts, you could feel very differently. ‘The night I went into labour I suddenly just felt like being on my own,’ remembers Hannah, 32, from south London, mum to Mimi, five.
‘My mum and partner were both at home with me, but I just took myself upstairs to watch Gossip Girl while the contractions built up. Eventually I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance because things were moving fast. Once at the hospital, I decided I didn’t want my partner fussing over me while I was in so much pain. I was surprised as I’d imagined he’d be holding my hand the whole time, but I went into warrior-woman mode and wanted to do it alone with no fuss. I can’t imagine it any other way now. My partner understood why I needed this space, although he feels he missed out.’
Yes, you’ve both been to the NCT classes and watched many hours of One Born Every Minute, but faced with the real deal, some men find it very stressful. ‘When my labour started, James just panicked,’ remembers Louise, 31, from Hertfordshire, mum to Albie, six months. ‘When we had to make some quick decisions about pain relief, he floundered. In the end we decided to send his mum in, instead – I think we were both secretly relieved.’
Often, partners find it difficult when they realise there’s not a lot they can physically do. ‘I might suggest they take five or get a coffee if they’re beginning to get in the way,’ says midwife Clemmie Hooper. ‘Often the problem is that they can feel like they’re a spare part – they just need a bit of guidance, so I get them involved by asking them to give their partner a massage.’
Don’t expect too much
From cutting the cord to catching the baby at the other end (yes, really), just because some dads are becoming hands on, doesn’t mean yours has to be involved in every aspect of the birth. ‘When it came to it, Ben didn’t want
to stand “down there” and watch it happen,’ remembers Bryony, 31, from Manchester, mum to Nancy, nine months. ‘The midwife kept on saying “it’s coming!” and looking at him expectantly, but he looked horrified and pretended that he had to stroke my face or arm. I didn’t mind – it makes us both laugh to think about it now.’
Consider a second birth partner
Being the sole birth partner can be a big responsibility – especially for first-time dads. Having a back up can help support you both – and most maternity wards welcome two birthing partners. ‘A friend or relative can help share the burden, even if that person ends up sitting in the waiting room,’ says doula Rebecca Schiller.
They can give your partner a break if your labour’s long and he needs a nap. ‘I took my best friend into the delivery room with me,’ says Marie, 30, from Birmingham, mum to Angelo, seven months. ‘My boyfriend was brilliant but she’d been through the birth process herself, and I found having another woman there who knew what I was going through helpful – she knew how I was feeling and made me feel calmer, especially when our midwife couldn’t be there every second of my labour.’
Make sure your birth partner’s on message
In your head, your birth is going to be calm and serene – you’ll be imagining a flower opening, just like you learnt at hypnobirthing. In your birth partner’s head, it’s a different matter – while you’re focusing on your special place, they may be quite stressed. ‘I took my mum into the delivery room with me, rather than my partner,’ says Kay, 29, from Newcastle, mum to Sophia, 10 months. ‘But we hadn’t discussed the finer points of what I was expecting from her. She got quite anxious, and at one point ended up having a few puffs of gas and air to calm down. It brought back memories of her own births.’
‘When we got home, I looked at Facebook and there were awful pictures of me looking sweaty'
And if you don’t want photos from the birth posted on Facebook, make sure that your partner has been briefed. ‘When we got home, I looked at Facebook and there were awful pictures of me looking sweaty – and even a shot of my placenta,’ says Leah, 26, from north London, mum to Maia, eight months.
Remember, your partner is only human
‘There’s so much pressure on fathers to be the perfect birthing companion,’ says Donna. ‘Psychologically, it’s a difficult thing for them to go through. They have to watch the woman they love in pain, unable to do anything about it.’ Plus, while you’re doing the hard work, he’s not getting any rest, either.
‘My labour was incredibly long – and Henry had been drinking extra-strong instant coffee with lots of sugar every few hours, for 48 hours, with no sleep,’ remembers Kate, 34, from east London, mum to Sadie, nine months. ‘After hours of being in the pool, the midwife said I needed to be moved onto the labour ward ASAP. Henry was so wired on coffee that he’d packed up our bags and was flying out the door towards the labour ward. I had to call after him to remind him I was still naked in the pool.’