I once said first-time dads were as worthless as teats on a bull when it comes to helping a laboring mom. I stand corrected.
Dads are among the most needed people in a labor room.
Unfortunately, new dads can easily fall into two categories: helpless or indispensable. Most first-time dads spend the entire time their wives are in labor with one foot in each category.
Throughout history and across cultures, giving birth was traditionally women’s work. Experienced mothers and midwives helped the laboring mother give birth. For too many of us, those days are a distant dream.
The trade-off is that we have modern medicine to intervene when necessary and our husbands by our sides. Male and female doctors (with more medical than birthing experience) fill our hospital rooms. While that’s great on the emergency side, it’s not so great for the natural course of giving birth.
As a mother of nine and grandmother of twenty-six (man, that makes me sound old), here’s my advice to new dads who want to be everything their wives need during labor:
- Don’t make small talk with visitors or staff. Early labor is the time for small talk. Everyone is excited. The long awaited time is here. That time soon fades with active labor. That’s when mom has to concentrate deeply on the work of birthing. What starts out as a thrilling ride, turns into holding on for life, literally—hers and your baby’s.
- Keep your face out of all screens except one. I realize that this can be a long process. It’s become second nature to have your phone handy and accessible. Just don’t. Put it away. There is only one screen that should have your attention—the fetal heart monitor.
- Help her cut the contractions in half. If you’re having your baby in a hospital, chances are at some point mom will be hooked up to a fetal monitor. Watch the patterns. They rise and they fall. Help her prepare for the coming contraction by helping her relax. Speak softly. As the line rises into a peak, tell her it’s done. The worst is over! This will effectively help her to mentally cut her contractions in half.
- Keep her at the center of the universe. Her world is spinning around this child who is about to be born and around you. Every inch of her being needs you and this baby.
- Don’t try to make it better—you can’t. But help her through it. The best way I can describe labor to you is that it’s a sheer act of survival. The birthing mother is fighting for her life and the life of her unborn child. It’s like someone has just told you they are going to run over you with a car. However, if you lie still and relax, it won’t hurt near as bad (but just know that you could die).
Birth really is a beautiful, natural process. Believe me, when I tell you the most important thing you can do is be there. She will draw on your strength.