Fathers Make
a World of

Chapter 6: Preparing For Birth

“The greatest use of a life is to
spend it on something that will outlast it.”
- William James

I have found being at births profoundly rewarding. Birth is, however, a female event and a very personal time for a woman. She needs to feel safe and supported, whatever that means for her. She may want to be at home, in a birth center or in hospital; alone (known as Unassisted Birth10) or just with a midwife; in water, moving around or squatting. As is most often the case today, she will likely want you included and very involved in supporting her. Her wishes may also change several times during her pregnancy or labor, which is her right. Your job is to be of service to her and your baby. If she wants you at the birth, and you wish to participate, then you are privileged indeed. Discuss what role you will provide. Most of all, regard it as though you have been invited to a fabulous banquet. It is a banquet celebrating life and love. You, the mother and baby are the guests of honor.

Managing Your Energy

Learning to manage your thoughts, emotions and physical energy is invaluable. It will better prepare you to handle the many new experiences that you will be presented with during this time, especially at the birth. There will also be direct benefits for your family.

Oxytocin is a hormone a woman’s body produces. It is a necessary element for the onset and progress of labor and the birth. However, if adrenalin is present in the woman’s body it will cancel out oxytocin and labor can slow down or even stop. Adrenalin production can be a direct neuro-chemical response to fear or anxiety. In addition, adrenalin can be transferred across distance, from person to person; it is ‘contagious’. Can you recall a time when someone near you was anxious or angry and just their presence unsettled you and caused you anxiety as well? This is the same response mechanism that can affect a laboring woman. The mother can be affected if you or anyone else near her is wound up or afraid. You can learn to manage your physical and emotional energy and remain calm. This will be something of value you can provide for your partner and child.

Lars, a father of two, related a story to me about the pending birth of his third child. “I was away on a business trip when my wife, Jiaya, called to report that she was having contractions. When I arrived home she was well into her labor and thrilled that I was there. However, it soon became apparent we were having a challenge connecting. I was still in ‘business mode’. I was not really present yet. Jiaya became distracted and agitated because of the dissimilarity between us. I could tell her stress level was becoming elevated as a result. Jiaya’s labor slowed down and subsequently came to a complete halt.”

Fortunately, because of the preparation they had done, they knew what to do. They paused and had a lie down together. They held each other and looked into each others eyes; they started a gentle breathing cycle together. This encompassed a couple of hours, there was no hurry. Jiaya told me, “As we connected I could feel Lars ‘land’. I began to feel safe in his presence, in his arms, in his love. I surrendered fully and as I did, after awhile, my contractions began again.” Jiaya’s body and mind relaxed when she felt she and Lars were in harmony. They were in connection and doing it together.

A woman, who trusts and feels safe and intimate with her partner, can more easily open up and let go. Their son, Noah, was born a few hours later. Fathers are important and they make a difference at birth. Even though they are not the ones giving birth, the nature of their presence can have a considerable effect on the labor and birth.

Begin noticing your body: when you tighten up, clench your jaw or fists or get a knot in your belly. These are all indicators of nervousness, anxiety or fear. We all experience this now and then, especially with first time occurrences like birth. When this happens, notice your thoughts also. There is usually a correlation between what you are thinking and how your body and emotions are responding. This level of attention may necessitate some practice if it is new to you. Learning to attune to your own personal anxiety responses will prove very valuable. Meditation, visualization, breathing, the Father’s Circle and affirmations will all support you as well. Any level of self-awareness is good and you can practice to get better. Perhaps also practice with your partner. Physical exercise can also help you to reduce your stress levels.

Calm is a quality that deserves to be emphasized. If a father has low stress levels and a quiet mind, what remains is calmness. This is a most valuable contribution and exactly what the mother needs. It is a bit like being a sculptor. When viewing a sculpture the work that has been done to create it is not visible. It is the space around the sculpture that gives it form and purpose. Like the space you are now providing, around your family. What you have done is remove mental chatter and fearful thoughts and what remains is calm. Consider yourself an artist and you are sculpting an environment where your family can be held in your tranquility and love.

Another way to deal with stress and reduce adrenalin is through repetitive motions. Using a stress release ball (a rubber ball that fits into the palm of your hand) is a good example. Squeezing the ball re-directs physical energy and dissipates it. One of these comes in the Fathers-To-Be Tool Kit. Similarly, a midwife ‘in the know’ will sometimes knit or read during a woman’s labor. Her awareness is still with the mother yet she is directing her physical energy through another activity and letting the woman progress without too much attention on her.

My Preparation for a Birth

My preparation for my second child’s waterbirth was wide-ranging. My wife and I had counseling, individually and together. We wanted to resolve any concerns or fears we had about birth in general or the use of water. In the end, we reached certainty about both.

It was 1980 and ours was the first documented waterbirth in the US so there were no books to read or Google to search for what to do and how. We brought together a few friends and colleagues and held several meetings to prepare everyone. We interviewed numerous doctors and midwives. They all wanted to be as far away from the event as possible except for one midwife, whom we employed.

I rented a portable, fiberglass Jacuzzi and had 300 gallons of distilled water delivered (a bit over the top, but who knew?). Next, I transformed our two car garage into a functional and beautiful waterbirth room. Using my carpentry skills I built a wood frame bed platform next to the tub. This was in case Kathryn decided she wanted to give birth outside the water. I hung pictures and curtains on the walls to make it cozy and placed oriental rugs on the floor. We had motion and still camera’s standing by to record this historic event. I filled the tub and heated the water.

Kathryn’s labor began suddenly and progressed quickly. She was feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of her contractions. Kathryn and I entered the wondrous and almost mystical atmosphere we had created; to welcome our child. As we immersed ourselves in the water we were enveloped by its’ warmth. Kathryn was relieved by the comfort and freedom of movement the water afforded her. The support team arrived at various times and quietly assumed their roles. After only a ninety minute labor Kathryn birthed Jeremy into my willing hands. For a few minutes Jeremy was suspended in his expanded watery world peacefully integrating his experience, time stood still. I felt privileged, humble and proud; all in an instant. The three of us embraced.

We had a sense that the inner preparation we had done was central to our experience. We were unencumbered and available for every aspect of the birth of our child. We felt like we had participated in a miracle, and we had.

©2010, Patrick Houser

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Patrick 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 providers. E-Mail or www.fatherstobe.org These articles are excerps from his book Fathers-To-Be Handbook: A road map for the transition to fatherhood.

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