Men and Birth: a Vancouver Doula’s Perspective.

Photo By Jessica Austin

Feeling supported, safe, and taken care of is key to having a positive birth experience. The biggest enemies of birth are fear and anxiety, which decrease
mom’s ability to cope with the pain or discomfort of contractions, and can actually slow or halt the birth process altogether. You can read more about why birth support is important in my article, How Good Birth Support Leads To Better Births.

As a birth doula here in Vancouver, I find it fascinating to watch the interaction between couples during childbirth. It is more intuitive for some men than others to fall smoothly into a supportive role during the intensity of birth. Birth is challenging, and it can be difficult for men to watch the mother of their unborn child working hard, sometimes feeling helpless to contribute. Furthermore, no one really teaches them how they can help.

Thankfully, in Vancouver at least,  gone are the days when the father was not allowed into the hospital birth room at all. It is great that we are birthing in a time when men are being allowed and expected to participate in birth. (Note: This isn’t true everywhere in Canada. A recent study was released showing some hospitals in Canada had been decreasing their encouragement of men and other labour support people in hospitals).

The problem is, providing nurturing support during birth is a new role for men, and it can be difficult for them to know how to best fill this role. On top of that, our culture barely talks to women about birth, never mind men! In the more recent past, men were only involved in birth as medical authority figures. Now that men are able and often expected to be mom’s primary support during birth, it’s important to help them figure out how.

Dr. Michel Odent, a popular obstetrician who has done a lot of research on birth, is well known for his position on the presence of men at birth. His position is that men do not belong at birth at all. He believes that having men at birth increases mom’s anxiety and contributes to longer, more  difficult labours. His article, A Top Obstetrician on Why Men Should Never Be At The Birth Of Their Child, stirred up a lot of controversy on the matter.

I do believe women are more intuitively able to provide positive, calming birth support to other women during labour than men are (this is why so many women, even if they have supportive partners, choose to have a professional doula support them during birth). And I also believe Dr. Odent makes some good points in his article about men sometimes contributing to higher stress levels and therefore more difficult births.

However, I think the problem lies in a lack of resources targeted at men about birth. A woman who has a solid, communicative and supportive relationship with her partner will often find great comfort in having him at her birth, especially if he has a basic understanding of what a woman’s needs are during birth and he wants to participate. In fact, a Canadian study was released recently which showed that the presence of partners (men) in the birth room resulted in better birth outcomes and more positive  experiences for moms.

For men to participate in birth in a positive way, they need to understand and embrace two key points:

1. Birth is for women. Really, fellas, birth is the one area where only the woman matters. It’s simply a fact! When it comes to men and birth, you are important in the sense that you have the potential of being an amazing birth support person for mom and helping her have a more comfortable and positive birth experience. You are important in the sense that the journey into parenthood is one you are making together, and you will be important in your role as father once your child is born. But during the birth process, the choices, needs and desires belong to mom. If you embrace that and remember you are there to support her and her needs at all times, rather than wanting to contribute with your own well-intentioned desires and visions, mom will feel much more powerful. And she needs that power to birth your child with strength and confidence.

2. A calm birth is a good birth. As I mentioned above, stress is the enemy of labour. Mom needs to feel safe and calm at all times for birth to progress with its natural flow. The people in her birth space also need to exude calmness and confidence in her and the birth process. Men need to be able to really trust in birth, trust birth is normal and natural, and truly believe mom is capable of birthing your baby (she is!). Mom will feel it if you don’t, and it will contribute to increased stress and anxiety for her. Fears and anxiety about birth are normal, especially for men. It’s okay to ask for support, or bring on a doula to help make sure everyone feels calm and supported throughout the birth.

Our birth culture is shifting more to accepting the presence of men at birth as support people. As a result, men are needing explore ways to contribute to birth in a positive way, avoiding the potential negative impact attributed to them by Michel Odent.

There are limited resources available for men and birth. I think it is important to make resources and information available to men who plan to participate in birth. This means more than just having men tag along to prenatal classes and try to read a pregnancy book or two. This means providing access to information that speaks to men about birth in a way they can relate to, in a way that allows them to draw on their masculine traits to provide nurturing and trusting support to women during birth.

Jessica Austin – Vancouver Doula. Promoting gentle and informed birth culture.

For more information on the Prenatal Workshop, contact Birth Takes a Village at 604-700-4115. 

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  2 comments for “Men and Birth: a Vancouver Doula’s Perspective.

  1. January 4, 2012 at 10:57 am

    I couldn’t agree more, Jessica. I was reading your part about Michel Odent and have come to the same conclusion: that a dad with the right preparation is going to be a solid and effective support for a laboring mom. 

  2. January 3, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    This is wonderful Jessica- I have been contemplating this very question recently.
    I find I have a certain amount of ambivalence (pull in both directions), regarding men and birth.  I like the things you have said and totally agree that certain men, if they are keen to take the time to learn how to help in the birth process AND if they have support in learning how to help their partners can be AMAZING in the birth room.  And as you said, they must trust birth and maintain grounded calm energy. 

    I had a fantastic experience at a birth early this morning where the Dad was totally on-board and encouraging Mom the whole time.  He did wonders for her mental head-space, keeping her laughing and joking in between waves and being fully respectful and present to her needs at all times.

    I have also however, seen examples where having a man in the room simply didn’t contribute positively to the birth and took Mom out of her groove.  It seems to usually be an issue of the man having a lot of fear, lack of trust or limited intuition/sensitivity to the woman’s needs. 

    I so happy to hear that you offer classes to fathers and believe that if men are genuinely interested to learn how to contribute to the birth process, then they can be awesome support.  It seems to me that it is also up to women to be honest with themselves and their partners as to whether that particular man is a good candidate for birth support.  I have seen many times where men felt obligated into taking part, even when they didn’t want to.  I believe this is partly because this is now the social norm- Dads are expected to participate even if they wish not to.  Maybe in certain cases (and I do mean CERTAIN cases, not always) picking a friend or family member to be part of the birth team is more appropriate.

    But for those men who do want to participate and contribute to a positive birth, I will be sure to recommend your course!

    Chloe Dierkes
    urbandoula.com

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