Fathers, like mothers, are not
Chapter 7: Empowered Birth
Men grow into fathers - and fathering is
a very important stage in their
- David M. Gottesman
Birth is the most profound act of love
imaginable. It is also a rite of passage for a
child as well as the parents. From ancient caves
and huts to modern homes and hospitals birth has
been, and always will be, a very primal event and
an initiation for everyone involved. Neither weight
lifters nor marathon runners can hold a candle to
the strength and fortitude demonstrated by a mother
when birthing her child. For a father the
experience is distinctly different yet can be
During labor stay close to your partner. With my
first childs birth I was in eye to eye
contact with his mother virtually the entire time.
Praise her, encourage her and let her know what a
wonderful job she is doing. A woman can receive
tremendous support through your full presence. She
will feel more like she is sharing her labor with
you. Assuming this is in harmony with what she
wants. Take your clues from her as to what kind of
support she wants and how. Listen. Her desires are
also likely to change throughout the labor. Less
talking is usually better than too much. I
encourage you to be involved as much as possible,
all the way to catching your child when he is born.
You will be glad you did.
Empathy Exercise: A baby during birth
Imagine you are a baby in the womb and it is
nine months since you were conceived. As your
hormone activity accelerates you are experiencing
changes inside your body. You also notice pressure
from the sides of the only home you have known. It
is time for a big transition: birth. How is this
for you? How would you like the outside environment
to be for your arrival? Who do you want to be there
to greet you? How do you want to be handled? What
about interventions in the process? As soon as you
are born, where do you want to be and with
Imagine how you would want
to be received and treated by those around you
during this most intense and significant time?
What is important to you? What do you need?
Visualize it or write about it.
A woman during birth
Imagine you are in labor and about to give
birth? What do you think the nature of your journey
will be like? What kind of support will be best for
you? This includes the people you want with you and
the environment you will be in. Most of your
attention is being focused in your lower body. Your
mental and emotional processes are significantly
altered due to the hormones that have come to
support the birth. Your body has taken over and the
energy of birth is commanding your full attention.
What role would you want your partner to play?
Imagine what you would do with all
of this energy in your body. How you would
handle it? What would make it as wonderful as
possible for you? Feel free to imagine it or
write about it.
Fathers can be afraid for their partners. Many,
including my son Anandas, have told me if they
could they would gladly take on the pain for her.
Now, where would fathers get the idea that pain is
involved in birth if they have never actually seen
one? The first possibility would be their own birth
experience, when they were born. Evidence shows
that babies are conscious before and at birth and
they do remember their experience, including pain,
although not necessarily consciously.
David Chamberlain writes in his book The Mind of
Your Newborn Baby: "The truth is, much of what we
have traditionally believed about babies is false.
They are not simple beings but complex and ageless
small creatures with unexpectedly large
The second possibility, regarding birth being
painful, is virtually every cultural and societal
reference to birth we have all been exposed to our
entire lives. From family stories to the bible,
television and films, childbirth is represented as
excruciating. It is little wonder most people
believe pain is inevitable in birth. However, many
women also experience pleasure.
While you cannot literally take away pain, you
can be a significant contributor to your
partners less painful and therefore more
joyful experience of birth. You can help provide
the kind of environment and support that will have
the greatest possibility to allow her what she
needs to be instinctual and inner directed in her
birthing. It is also helpful to watch films
together of satisfying, fulfilling births during
the pregnancy. Watch the film Orgasmic Birth.
In the mid-twentieth century Dr. Robert A.
Bradley, a US obstetrician, began integrating
fathers into labor and birth. Over his career he
presided over twenty thousand births with fathers
present. Ninety percent were totally un-medicated.
He found that the fathers presence supported
the mother to be more relaxed. His approach
revolved around praise, encouragement and assurance
of progress. The doctor was in the background,
like a lifeguard at a swimming
Many women have a pain-free birth experience.
YES, they feel the energy of the labor. YES, they
feel big surges in their body. If a woman can say
YES to everything she is feeling, and work with the
tremendous energy, transformation can occur in her
mind and body. If a woman can welcome this profound
energy she can expand with it. You can support your
laboring partner by reminding her that she can do
it, that she is safe and to say YES. Her hormones
will respond to YES also.
Even if there is pain the best approach is to
work with the pain. Resistance can cause more pain.
Resistance is saying NO and holding on. Let the
pain happen. Surrendering to the pain is letting go
and this can allow it to transform and lessen in
intensity. Say YES, literally and out loud. The
possibility exists for her to open her mind and
relax her body and receive her baby in a wholly
satisfying and empowering way; even in pleasure. It
happens and it typically happens with women who
hold a positive view of birth. Also remember to say
YES yourself to everything you experience during
the birth. Let YES become part of the pregnancy,
the birth and your life.
Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, an English physician,
explained it in this way: When a woman is in
a state of fear, messages are sent to the body
telling it there is a danger out there that must be
fought or run away from. Blood and oxygen are
instantly sent into the arms and legs enabling the
frightened woman to fight the danger or run away.
In order for this to happen, however, blood and
oxygen must be drained from other organs which the
body considers nonessential for fight or
Unfortunately, when it comes to fight or flight,
the uterus is considered a nonessential organ.
Hence, the laboring woman experiences not only
pain, but a multitude of problems. The solution, he
believed, was twofold: Not only do women need
to stop being afraid, but doctors need to stop
interfering in the process. Laboring women do not
need to be poked, prodded, and drugged. Instead,
they need to be calmly encouraged, or simply left
alone so their bodies may work
I recommend a birth environment as calm, lovely,
natural, familiar and as comfortable as possible.
This description fits almost any home. Except when
there is an actual medical condition, fear is the
most common barrier to birthing at home. This is
understandable, based on societys long
standing view of birth as dangerous. It is possible
to dispel fears and be free to make a choice based
on where and how a family wants their birth. At the
end of the day, what is most important is that a
birthing woman feels safe, wherever she is. Do your
research and education, become informed together,
and then fully support her choice. There are
additional resources listed in the back of this
book to support you.
The waterbirth room I created for my second
childs birth is perhaps the furthest degree
of physical preparation and environment by design.
As a father it became part of my ritual in
preparation for the birth. It was one of my ways of
welcoming my child. Of course, it was also a way of
providing something of value for my wife.
Using a water pool for the labor and birth is
perhaps the most physically supportive option. It
provides freedom of movement, warmth and comfort
for the mother. The baby also has the possibility
for a sense of continuity; from the warm, moist and
mostly gravity-free womb environment, to the
outside into similar surroundings. Receiving my son
Jeremy in this way was lovely to behold and be part
of. Waterbirth is not, however, always available or
desired. Homebirth, under the right circumstances,
has been proved to be very safe, safer than
hospital birth actually.
Creating an environment of your choosing can be
more of a challenge if you are going to be in a
hospital. However, you can still have an influence.
Bring some things from home that will provide
familiarity and comfort for both of you. Also cover
or remove distracting items.
In his book, Magical Child, Joseph Chilton
Pearce says, Intelligence grows by moving
from the known to the unknown and referring back to
the known. No new experience can be accepted and
interpreted unless it has at least some similarity
to past experience.14
One cannot gain intelligence and defend oneself
at the same time. This pertains to all of us but
especially babies at birth as they are in an
accelerated process of brain development. Birth is
a significant transition and journey into the
unknown for this highly aware and sensitive young
person. The more reference points of familiarity a
baby has, during and after birth, the better.
Unfamiliarity, pain and separation all activate
survival/defense mechanisms and stress hormones.
Familiarity provides continuity.
Birth and Sex
The birth itself is also an aspect of sexual
experience, and even expression for some. When a
woman gives birth, her body and sexual anatomy is
involved and highly exposed. As the birth draws
nearer, this reality can be confronting for mothers
and fathers. Your partner is going to reveal
herself in a very big way, physically and
emotionally, and probably in front of total
strangers if you are to be at a hospital. This
level of intimacy had previously been reserved for
just the two of you, in total privacy. Your
reaction to this may surprise you. This is rarely
talked about. It is good to speak about this in
advance with your partner in order to support each
other. Also, some women do not want their partners
to see down there when they are giving
birth. They think it may put them off sex with them
in the future. If your partner has specific
requests that will make her more comfortable talk
about it, and do what you can to support her.
According to natural birth proponent Sheila
Kitzinger, a similar environment to the one you and
your partner conceived your baby in is ideal for
giving birth. Perhaps it was quiet, calm, lovely
and intimate. There are couples who make love to
kick-start labor. Some make love during labor and
utilize nipple and clitoral stimulation. There is
hard science that shows that this can have
significant benefits for the laboring woman.
Oxytocin is produced when a woman is sexually
stirred. It is one of the hormones that encourage
the onset and progression of labor, as well as pain
relief. Oxytocin has been called the hormone
of love. The same hormone that got the baby
in there is also the one that will help the baby
Also, the vagina opens more when stimulated.
Taking this even further, semen contains
prostaglandin, a hormone that helps the cervix (the
entry to the birth canal) to open.
Some women choose to perceive and feel birth as
a sensual experience, and go all the way with that
feeling. There are also women who have a
spontaneous, and often unexpected, orgasm during
birth. Certain conditions are typically a
prerequisite for this to happen. These include a
sense of safety, trust, intimacy and the ability to
let go and relax. If a woman feels nurtured and
uninhibited an ecstatic state is possible. The
science is there. What if the passion, privacy and
support were also? Explore the DVD Ecstatic
Support or Interference
The unnecessary use of any drugs or the
utilization of mechanical or medical procedures
during birth can begin a cascade toward more and
more intervention. In other words, intervention can
cause complications. If a laboring womans
natural progression of biological events has been
disturbed, each subsequent stage is affected and
can become disabled as a result. The ultimate
intervention is a caesarean section. In this
operation a doctor cuts into the mothers
abdomen and removes the baby. A caesarean is major
surgery and as such has risks; significantly more
so than normal vaginal deliveries. A caesarean is
an excellent rescue operation, when absolutely
necessary. Medical support, under the right
circumstances, is invaluable and important, and is
best when its use is measured.
The fixing gene can reveal itself
during birth. If you are in a hospital you will be
in an unfamiliar environment and this alone can
cause insecurities and fears. Hospital routines are
based on a fixing model, so be aware. This will be
a peak experience, emotions will be running high
and you and your partner will be in unfamiliar
surroundings and very vulnerable. Inform yourself
in advance of your obstetricians and
hospitals policies and procedures regarding
managing births. The mother should be
respected and empowered to carry out her labor as
she feels to. Have a personal birth plan, stating
what you both want, and make sure the hospital
staff has a copy, is familiar with it and above all
agree to it.
Being active during labor is usually best for a
woman. Freedom of movement gives a woman the choice
to be in whatever position works for her body.
Moving her body helps the baby move as well.
Gravity will also be a useful asset which only
applies if the woman is standing, squatting or
kneeling, certainly not on her back. Being
horizontal is usually the least helpful position.
Think about it.
A womans body is perfectly designed to
give birth. Except in a small number of situations,
a normal, natural birth is possible. Consider
informing the staff that requests for interventions
are to be brought to you first. This can allow your
partner space for what she needs to do. If
intervention of any kind is proposed, ask for
evidence that it is necessary, what options there
may be, and what the possible outcomes are if there
is no intervention. It can be supportive, if faced
with a decision, to ask for a few minutes to
consider a response. Discuss options with your
partner, in-between contractions not during one.
Consider, with your partner, what your options are
and what you want. Birth is rarely an emergency
situation, although it may seem the opposite
because it is so intense. Come from calmness, avoid
Dr. Thomas Verny puts forth two laws
regarding a labor room environment.
First: The quantity of technological
devices in the labor room is inversely
proportional to the amount of human contact
between staff and patient.
Second: The quantity of technological
devices in the labor room is directly related to
the degree of discomfort experienced by the
Todays society tends to focus mostly on
the outward, physical outcome of birth. That is to
say, on the body. Perhaps because of this the
caesarean is often being used as defensive
medicine. If the mother and baby survive, the birth
is a success. Parents can easily fall under this
illusion. They do not want to risk the safety of
the baby or the mother. This is certainly
understandable. Because of their limited birth
physiology and medical knowledge they are depending
on the professionals for guidance. They can also be
eager to be finished with the drama of the birth
and overjoyed at the prospect of holding their new
baby. However, what do we sacrifice and what are
the resulting costs, in human terms?
We would all do well to consider the entire
person body, mind, emotions and spirit. We
could then, perhaps, comprehend the total impact of
birth on the wellbeing of the child the parents and
society. The mind and body possess an autobiography
of the whole self. They tell us the story of the
life and times of a person, from conception onward,
stored in their cells. This story then becomes a
filter through which an individual perceives,
interprets and experiences life. Through the care
of our children, from the start, we can add
precious value to their lives.
Leaving the umbilical cord intact after birth is
important. A habit had developed in modern culture
of immediately clamping/cutting the cord and then
hanging the newborn by their ankles and slapping
their bottom to get them to breathe right away.
This has changed to some degree but cutting the
cord immediately is still common. The cord
circulates blood between the placenta and the baby.
The blood delivers nutrients to the baby,
especially oxygen. Our need for oxygen is
continuous, moment to moment. If the cord is
immediately cut the baby will have no source of
oxygen and panic will ensue. Survival mechanisms
will kick in and stress hormones will flood their
body. Your baby can feel like he is in a life and
death situation, physically and emotionally. Many
of us have had experiences, perhaps when swimming,
when we were at risk of being oxygen deprived. How
did it feel?
The cord, together with the placenta, contains
as much as 30% of the potential blood supply for
the baby. Cutting the cord too early will deprive
the baby of a significant amount of this blood.
Early cutting can also reduce the red blood cell
count and therefore the effectiveness of the
babys immune system. Delayed cutting of the
cord will enhance blood supply, enrich iron stores,
reduce the risk of anemia and cut in half the risk
of serious blood disorders.17
The cord is also the babys physical
connection with the mother and familiarity. It is
important for continuity, bonding and brain
development. What are we teaching this receptive
new baby? If the cord is left connected the baby
will breathe in his own time, gently and naturally,
to his own rhythm. It will not always look like a
big gasp, a scream and a struggle.
It is common medical practice to immediately cut
the cord and give the mother an injection of
artificial hormones to cause the placenta to
detach. The placenta will usually detach naturally,
if allowed to. It will take a bit longer than if
drugs are used. You have all the time in the world.
It is actually best to leave the umbilical cord
connected until after the placenta delivers. At
that point the baby is complete with this phase of
life. The mothers and babys bodies have
told us so, because the placenta has delivered.
Again, non-intervention allows nature to take its
intended course. Ask your healthcare provider for
what you want for your family.
David Chamberlain underlines this in Elmer
Postles documentary film, The Healing
of Birth, Invitation to Intimacy. He refers
to babies screaming as a reaction to their
treatment at birth, We used to say, what a
healthy baby. Well, we were not treating that as
There is, typically, some stress involved in birth,
as distinct from trauma. A moderate amount of
stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Compounded
trauma however can have lasting effects and may be
able to be avoided in many instances.
The minutes immediately after your baby is born
are precious. You will likely remember them
forever. Your child will as well, at a very deep
level. This is the primary bonding time for your
family and is paramount. Do what you can to ensure
this process is as comfortable and supported as
possible. Your baby is best placed immediately on
your partners tummy/chest; cord still intact
with direct skin to skin contact. This is what
nature intended and wants. Unnecessary separation
can have lasting effects. Your baby has already
undergone parting from his mothers body, the
home he knew, and needs as many elements of
familiarity as possible.
Unless there is an actual and immediate medical
emergency, accept nothing less than continuous
connection between mother and baby. Everything else
can wait. Cleaning and poking and weighing and all
of the common procedures are secondary to your
familys initial time together. Also be sure
to speak to your new baby. He will recognize your
voice and it will add comfort and familiarity.
Also, close eye to eye contact is important for all
three of you. If there is a very good reason to
separate mother and baby then you are the next best
one to be with your child. Keep him in connection
with you if this happens, if at all possible.
Debriefing after Birth
There are different layers of possibility with
debriefing after a birth. I recommend debriefing
for everyone involved in every birth. Writing about
your experience of the birth can be very valuable.
This writing is for you and not necessarily to
share with anyone. Writing is one type of
debriefing and you may also want to speak with
someone. You and your partner would do well to
speak together about your individual experiences.
Express what the birth was like for you. How did
you feel? Perhaps describe it physically as a
framework to access the deeper stuff. Speaking with
another father may be good for you too; if it is
someone who is sensitive and you can open to. You
could also speak with your own father. And you may
also want to speak with a counselor.
I have worked with new fathers in this way and
they have found it to be of profound value.
Debriefing is also valuable with birth experiences
from years ago. This will support the birth of
subsequent children you may have. Without
debriefing or resolution of some kind these peak
experiences can sort of rattle around inside and
become a distraction from the love that is present
to experience. The important thing is that you feel
complete and whole.
You can also tell the birth story to your new
baby. They may be pre-verbal however they have an
intelligence and understanding that is real, for
them. Any time we have a significant experience in
life it is valuable to acknowledge it and how it
was for us. This allows integration. The same is
true for your baby.
Integrating the Outcome of Birth
Every birth is different and will be a unique
experience for each person present. It could be a
glorious experience and you will bask in its
glow for years to come. However, the birth of your
child could turn out differently than you planned.
There may be unexpected or adverse aspects to it.
This can be a challenge to integrate and accept.
Because of the very personal nature of birth there
is often an element of mourning involved in a birth
that did not go to plan.
Over several decades of working directly with
birth, as well as with adults in the therapeutic
realm, I have learned that every birth has
something to teach us. This is not to say that it
was all a brilliant experience for you or your baby
and partner, on the surface. Once it is over
however, it is an experience in the past. Get
support for yourself if you need it. Give yourself
permission to cry or be angry (in a safe way) and
express exactly how you feel. This is an important
part of the process.
Then, give thanks and do your best to accept the
birth. Allow yourselves the space to learn from it
and heal. The traumatic birth of my first child is
an example. It stimulated me to explore myself and
research and then to develop waterbirth.
Subsequently, the combination of the two births and
life experience led me to my current work with
fathers and childbirth professionals. I am deeply
grateful for all of it.
The birth of your child will be an initiation
into an entirely new phase of your life. It is a
pivotal point in your transition to fatherhood.
Take as much time as possible to be with your new
family. Partake in every sensation. Immerse
yourself in the emotions made available to you as a
result of the birth. The more emotionally available
you are, the more whole you will feel. Be grateful
for the event, bless the outcome and embrace your
The most valuable advice I can give regarding
birth is to trust the process. With every fiber of
your being be willing to trust birth and say YES.
It is normal, natural and healthy and yes it is
intense. Use your tools and welcome everything
birth has to offer.
* * *
Houser is a father and a grandfather. His second
son's arrival was the first waterbirth in the U.S.
This led him into nearly 25 years of support for
both choices and working with parents. He has
gained wide experience from various fields
including a degree in marketing, owning a
construction firm and a natural health centre.
Patrick is a Life Coach and co-founder of
Fathers-To-Be, a new concept in antenatal
education, for men. Fathers-To-Be also offers
consulting and training for health service
These articles are excerps from his book
Handbook: A road map for the transition
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