In Celebration Of Fathers

my journey of conscious uncoupling from nhs midwifery Jun 11, 2024

This week is men's mental health week and it is also Father's Day and so I decided to dedicate this week's blog post to fathers. 

In two decades of working in the world of pregnancy and birth I have met some amazing fathers and just in the last few weeks three of my clients shared their birth stories and pictures with me. I can see in those photos and hear in those stories the incredible way in which their men held them through pregnancy and birth.

There’s nothing more attractive in a man than truly showing up for his woman and baby with integrity. 

Fathers, I see you!

I also see that stepping up as a dad isn't always easy and this isn't something that is often talked about. We are only just getting comfortable with speaking openly about the impact of the birth experience itself on the mother, never mind fathers, and yet they are intrinsically linked. At the very least you will be dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic birth for her but if you were there, you'll likely be dealing with your own issues, too.

And it often feels like you shouldn't really express this.

You didn't go through birth, did you? How could you possibly be entitled to draw any attention to how you feel? 

Well, it is men's mental health week and as the daughter of a man who, for reasons unbeknown to anyone around him, ended his life just weeks before his thirtieth and my third birthday (our birthdays were only three days apart), I appreciate that men are starting to talk about their mental health.

Let's also talk about the fact that witnessing the birth of their children is as significant an experience for dads as it is for mothers.

When I did a little scoot through the internet in search for information on birth trauma in men, I was delighted to see that the Men's Health Magazine has published an article on the topic and the authors are stating that 5% of men suffer PTSD after witnessing the birth of their babies. Given the number of births in the UK this concerns a significant amount of men and according to the same publication, men are twice as likely to develop depression within the first year of becoming a dad than they are at any other stage of their lives. 

Awareness is the first step, isn't it? 

The good news is that dads tell me over and over that knowing what to expect helped them immensely. Birth preparation makes as much sense for fathers as it does for mums (and I bet she'll find it really sexy if you don't just tag along but get curious about it all and get stuck into the task of getting ready for your baby).

When we became parents, Gerald and I knew each other for just over a year.

Gerald and I didn't really do our homework, we just thought birth is natural and we trusted the professionals. We were both pretty shaken by our experience but when Lena was born, Gerald really stepped up as a dad right from the start (you can read the story of it here).

He truly took care of me in the postnatal days and weeks and there was never any sense of him helping out or him minding her. We were on equal footing as parents and though I was in charge of feeding, Gerald always knew where to pick up as a father. We were a team and that is how we have lasted despite being thrown in at the deep end as a new couple. I only learned that he had found his experience of labour and birth difficult way later down the line. 

So how can you avoid birth trauma as a dad and how can you support her at the same time?

In pregnancy and birth the best way to be a father is for you to trust your woman.

Trust her instinct and trust in her ability to give birth. Ask her how she imagines for your baby to be born and support that. Learn about how birth works and learn about the ways in which women give birth in today's society.

Trust your baby to know how to be born. 

Figure out your biases and be honest with yourself. 

If she dreams of bringing your baby into the world naturally and in her own power, she will need your help. Read my post "About Birth And Whiskey" to meet some couples who took everything into their own hands often after initial poor experiences within conventional settings but not always.

If she is going to give birth in the hospital or even at home attended by midwives you might need to back her up.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, she will need your calm and steadfast presence and you hers. You'll need to have each other's backs.

This will most likely mean doing some inner work, especially first time around.

There's a lot to integrate in the journey to parenthood.

As she is expanding physically (she'll appreciate hearing that she's absolutely amazing and gorgeous in creating this miracle), you are expanding emotionally as individuals and as a couple.

It's a massive shift and, if you let it, pregnancy has the potential to be a fast track couple's-development-program. You have the opportunity to get to know and understand yourselves and each other a lot better through pregnancy and birth.

How will this baby change your relationship? It's really exciting, yes, but it can also be frightening.

Perhaps, like Gerald and I, you are expecting a big surprise to land in the middle of a relationship that feels far too new for parenthood still. 

And even if this baby has been long awaited, conceived after a long journey through fertility clinics, it can feel like a lot.

It can all feel overwhelming regardless of how you got here. 

The societal pressures on mothers and fathers to be are real.

It is pretty much understood as a given these days that fathers will be present at the birth of their babies.

Does this hold anxiety for you? And if so, have you got someone to speak to about this?

Are your friends available for this kind of chat and will you approach them with it?

Have you dared to ask yourself the question of:

“Do I actually want to be present at the birth of my baby?”

And have you asked your wife or partner if she really wants you there?

If the answer to both of those is yes, then it is time to find out what your beliefs are about birth. 

In your mind does it play as a scary medical emergency or do you see it as a physiological event that's not to be feared? 

You may never have thought about it before. Some fathers worry tremendously about holding a baby for the first time (and turns out they are ALL amazing at it), but most men have never had an occasion to think about birth before they are first finding themselves expecting a new baby.

What about you? 

Have you thought about birth much?

Or, if you have had babies before, what kinds of memories do you carry?

What's your own story?

How were you born?

Are you scared sh*tless at the idea of supporting her or do you really look forward to it?

Maybe this time you want this experience to be more intimate in your own home just between the two of you?

Everything is possible!

If you are scared, it helps to go on a fact finding mission.

And if, upon some self-enquiry, you decide that you are better off out of the immediate birth space, then that’s also okay. It’s better to find this out beforehand than on the day. Talk to her about it. It may be the counter-cultural thing to do but it is okay to be true to what feels right for you.

I have also worked with couples where the partner wanted to be present but didn't think it would be wise to get too close.

Some men are afraid to faint for example.

Here's a story for you: I actually ruptured my left achilles tendon catching a fainting dad at a birth!

So, yes, if you just can't see yourself in the picture it's worth exploring why that is. Be clear about your apprehensions, and if you come to the conclusion that you might be better keeping your distance, make sure you are present through pregnancy and find a second support person who can be there for her at the birth. 

Most of the time, once you have had a chance to learn more about birth and about how to handle yourself in challenging new situations, you'll be up for keeping a lid on your fear and be a solid birth partner. You might consider hiring a doula, someone who has seen birth before and who can support you both through the process. 

Many men tell me that they fully support their women in their decisions and that is fantastic.

Let her know that and act as though you do, even if she decides to decline aspects of routine care.

Ask yourself: "Do I trust doctors more than myself?", because if you do, you'll likely assume that she feels the exact same way (and she might). 

Culturally the majority of people operate under the premise that medically trained people know more about our bodies than we do ourselves. As a society we have come to outsource our general health to the medical system. We bring our bodies to the doctor, describe our symptoms and expect a fancy name for our dis-ease along with a pharmaceutical to fix it. 

Does this describe you or have you ever engaged with the idea of healing by taking responsibility for your ailment. Have you ever altered your nutrition for instance and felt better as a result, gone to the gym? Do you believe that you can take care of your body and figure out most common ailments yourself?

Do you believe that pregnancy will progress spontaneously and without any major medical input when a woman nourishes herself, invites movement into her body and connects with nature? Would you trust her to know more than any doctor or midwife?

Or do you believe your woman and unborn child need to be monitored closely because pregnancy is a medical condition that they both need to be saved from by experts?

It's good to know where you stand on outsourcing versus owning your health before you engage with the medical maternity system. 

If you disagree with her on any of the decisions that you'll be asked to make as parents, let her know in private, get some information and evaluate it as a couple. Please don't side with a midwife or doctor during a challenging conversation, your partner is bound to feel betrayed if you do. Instead ask for more time and decide when you are ready.

Most decisions can wait until you are on the same page.

When you have looked at the logical information, stats, figures and evidence, remind her to tap into her own instinct and trust that. It's her body so the ultimate decision is with her. This is not only true morally but legally, too. She might need you to remind other people of this fact for her. Although it is absolutely possible to find nothing but support for your decisions, coercive practices are more common than you may expect (according to last month's report on childbirth trauma the quality of maternity care you'll receive is decided by post code lottery).

The end of pregnancy particularly can become quite stressful.

The vast majority of my clients will breeze through their pregnancies nicely until about 36 weeks and then there'll be talk about induction of labour. The need for this is implied to pretty much everyone at this stage and around half of all women have their labours induced despite a lack of evidence to support this.

How would you feel if your partner decided to decline induction of labour for instance?

And then, in labour, she might need to opt in or out of various interventions. Remember that it's okay to ask for a moment alone with your partner so you can talk things through. In most instances there'll be time to get clear on how she wants to proceed, true emergencies are generally rare, during home birth, when nobody interferes, they are even less common.

The importance here is to know what kinds of situations to anticipate in labours that are being observed through the lens of routine guidelines and care pathways.

Don’t underestimate your potential input as a father to be, nobody can respond to your partner the way you can.

You know her best and you know your baby.

In the sometimes lengthy dance of labour, you can be the catalyst for her finding that last ounce of energy to keep going until your baby finally emerges.

Own it and claim your space. Hopefully your midwife will be focused on you as a unit and will see and honour your ability to help carry your woman through the challenges of labour. If you get a sense that you are perceived as being in the way check in with yourself. Are you just wanting to be polite and not get in the way?

Remind yourself that you are fully entitled to be there and stay close to your woman regardless of what anyone thinks. 

A well informed, assuring and calmly assertive partner can make all the difference to a labouring woman.

I have seen men be their women’s beacon, their pillar of strength and it's a privilege to witness such deep and unique connections.

Don't forget to line up some support for yourself, too. 

Who can you call upon for a pep-talk if you are finding it tough going?

Plan for sustenance, prepare food for the big day (and eat it).

Labour has highs and lows and the task of bringing your baby into the world requires some deliberation and thought but in the end, it also just happens.

Birth is the most special yet mundane event imaginable, particularly if it occurs in your own home. It carries the potential to set you up for parenthood and for life as a family and that is not to be underestimated. 

Value yourself as a father, care for yourself so that you can care for your family.

If you are struggling with your mental health, I highly recommend following @the_grounded_masculine on Instagram. Fin is a father of four who has been brave enough to speak about his own struggles in early fatherhood. I will link in a fab interview he did on The Renegade Mama podcast below.

Fancy some down to earth and fun birth prep with your partner or wife?

Enter our draw for winning a spot on the upcoming Born Through Yoga Class on June 29th. I will be co-hosting this event with Tara at The Little Yoga House and it is going to be brilliant!

Here's our special Father's Day Giveaway! 

Good luck!

And to the women who are reading this, lift up the men you choose to have in your life, celebrate them.

Celebrate your husbands, partners, fathers and definitely celebrate your sons.

As a society we have put a lot of emphasis on teaching our sons how to treat women well and, yes, I can see where this comes from!

We wanted equality and we want good men. 

The good news is that equality is yours for the taking.

We've got equal rights by law which means that women legally possess every opportunity that men own.

All we have to do is step into it if we want to. 

The truth is that realistically and biologically this will mean making certain choices that men won't have to make. That's entirely out of our control and, as I see it, it is impossible to regulate for this and if we want kids, statistically speaking, we will have less time to spend on our careers, even if we were to just take our maternity leave. 

For families to thrive, we need true partnerships in reverence of each other and in celebration of each other's strengths so let's be role models for our daughters and treat the men in our lives well. Not by acting like we are their mothers, doing their cooking and washing and then complaining about it, no, but by allowing them to step into a mutually respectful relationship with us.

That's the only way equality is going to work.

We owe it to ourselves and to our children. 

 

Resources:

Fin's podcast episode on The Renegade Mama 

The Grounded Masculine Podcast

Men's Health Magazine article

Would you like more of my writing? You can! I have written a book called¬†'7 Secrets Every Pregnant Woman Needs To Hear Before Giving Birth: The New Midwife‚Äôs R.O.A.D. To Birth‚ĄĘ Hypnobirth System'.¬†

It offers perspective on common misperceptions about pregnancy, birth and risk and it gives you my R.O.A.D. To Birth hypnobirth system that my clients have used for years. It shows you how to Recognise and Release your Fears, Overcome obstacles, Accept what you can't control and Do the work. 

Get The Book

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