Ponderings on men and women during labor...

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Marite13's picture
Joined: 08/07/09
Posts: 3368
Ponderings on men and women during labor...

So, this is a question that my mom and I chatted about A LOT during my first pregnancy, when she was acting as my labor support in NCB classes because my husband was out of the country. She was also at my DD's birth, both because I wanted her there, and because of her having been there for all the classes.

So, correct me if I'm wrong, but, before the current medical model of birth came in- say a 100 years ago and more- women supported women during labor. Am I wrong? It's not something I've heard about much when they talk about the history of childbirth- everyone knows it used to be normal for midwives to deliver babies in a woman's home, but did her husband help with the birth? Or did her mother and sisters and daughters have those roles, while the father did other things?

In my experience, my DH just wanted to FIX THE SITUATION (which is a very man thing to do, right?). Which is why he thought drugs were such a great idea. I know he has more confidence in me and the birth process now, after seeing me quite ably deliver our daughter without any interventions- but before that all happened- we argued for WEEKS before her birth. He thought I was being selfish and self-centered, because he honestly thought, the birth wasn't just about me- and I needed to have some respect for how it was going to affect other people (him). Basically, it was his way of saying that he didn't want to have to watch me suffer. In the end, he was really fine for the whole thing, and all those arguments were silly. My mom on the other hand had no problem knowing that she would just have to SUPPORT me through whatever I was going to go through, without trying to fix it for me. Now maybe that is the difference between a man and a woman, or the difference between an about to be grandma vs first time dad.

So anyway... my question, which I would love to hear your thoughts on- not a debate per se, but just a friendly exchange of ideas (which is why I'm posting here and not on the debate board)- do you think that a man's place during labor is as his wife's/partner's #1 support?

I've seen a lot of women (having both medical and natural births- ok maybe not, I guess mostly I've seen women having babies in hospitals say this) say that they only want DH and the OB/nurse/midwife in the room. Many women express that a birth is something sacred for a couple to experience alone together.

I know I'm not saying I don't want DH there... I want him there, to witness the whole thing more than anything- but I want women there too. With this next birth we're planning a home birth, and I'm sure we'll have DH, my mom, a good friend of mine, the midwife, probably a doula...

So what do you think on all this?

(and I honestly don't mean this as a debate or a slam against men... it's just thoughts, but I would love to hear what others have to say about it!)

emansmom's picture
Joined: 03/24/09
Posts: 752

I feel the same way Mara. I feel like the most important people to me during the labor/birth are the women I choose to have there. I am also not saying that I don't want my husband there to see the babe be born but honestly I hardly remember him when I think of my labors. I remember our doula, my mom, the midwives as being my "support team". I feel like it is too hard for my husband to "help" me do anything because obviously he doesn't have a clue what it really going on with my body where as the women I have present DO! I also think he is VERY happy that I have these women "help" me rather than feeling like he has to do something. I prefer him to not even speak during the labor or pushing! lol I don't at all look at him as my #1 support he is just an observer. As soon as the baby is born I am super glad he is there and able to share that time.

Like you I have heard on NUMEROUS occassions people say that they didn't want anyone at the birth but their husbands. To me that is just such a weird idea but each family has their own ideas and I respect that. I CANNOT imagine what my births would have been like with just my hubby present. Especially our first (which was in the hospital). I don't know how anyone could birth in the hospital without a women centered support team but that is just my feeling. With our first when I told my hubby I really wanted a doula present he was very leary about it and I think felt like I was saying he wasn't good enough for the job. The day I went into labor he was SO SO SO thankful that we had hired a doula! He could not stop talking about how great doulas were and how glad he was that we had one!

Danifo's picture
Joined: 09/07/10
Posts: 1377

I like having my husband there because there aren't many people I would derive comfort from their presence. I don't believe I could get that comfort from a midwife just because I don't have a long history with them. However, if my labours were long a midwife/doula might be more useful because they are more knowledgeable.

My husband was happy to let me call the shots and it worked for us. I have a friend who wanted an unmedicated birth and got an epidural. Her husband knew how much she wanted an unmedicated birth and he kept challenging her. They both ended up being mad at each other.

krazykat's picture
Joined: 08/11/07
Posts: 1143

My mom and I have also had this discussion. She has been an OB nurse/professor/college dean, and my perspective is as a doula. We agree that it is "women's work", for the most part that is. For some women (a minority I would say), the partner is the person they feel the safest with, and the chemistry is undeniable during labor and birth. It just works for them. But for most, they turn to the woman support person (or doula) towards the end. I have had moms bury themselves in my embrace, or grab ahold and pull me to them. It is fascinating. As women, we know the dance. We know the song. And we know the language, often unspoken, of birth.

The partner is just as important, but in a different way, IMO.

Jenn0113's picture
Joined: 03/09/07
Posts: 5335

Jumping right in here. I think, for me personally, it depends on the spouse as well as the female coach's personality. My DH was no help at all. The months leading up to my birth he was pressuring me into an epidural to make life easier on him. The day of my labor he was stressed and nauseous and laying on the couch. I told him this time he can wait in the lobby with our parents.

I think my mom would be way too emotional about it and she also wouldn't bee very NCB encouraging. That's what I mean about the coach.

However, I have friends IRL that have amazing husband's that WANT a NCB and have coached them through multiple births. So I think it depends on each person more than it does male/female. In my case - I want to be left alone.

Jenn0113's picture
Joined: 03/09/07
Posts: 5335

"krazykat" wrote:

My mom and I have also had this discussion. She has been an OB nurse/professor/college dean, and my perspective is as a doula. We agree that it is "women's work", for the most part that is. For some women (a minority I would say), the partner is the person they feel the safest with, and the chemistry is undeniable during labor and birth. It just works for them. But for most, they turn to the woman support person (or doula) towards the end. I have had moms bury themselves in my embrace, or grab ahold and pull me to them. It is fascinating. As women, we know the dance. We know the song. And we know the language, often unspoken, of birth.

The partner is just as important, but in a different way, IMO.

Ok - reading this I have to say that it makes total sense!

Joined: 05/31/06
Posts: 4780

I think that it is incredibly individual.

My first birth I had my DH, my Mom, my Sister and my care providers. ALLLL I wanted was my husband. My sister was actually a bit of a distraction (yes, she is a woman, but she had never been pregnant at that point and didn't know much about birth). My Mom was tripping over herself not to be in my/DH's way. We learned from that.

My second birth I just had my DH. We had a blast. He was amazing, and I treasure those memories.

My third birth I had my DH, a midwife and assistant midwife, and a doula. As it was a very long and very difficult labor, our support staff was wonderful, had great chemistry, and did an absolutely incredible job of supporting us. And by US I mean DH and I. He is and was my rock. It was the most bonding experience we have ever shared, and honestly the beauty and difficulty of that labor changed both of us as individuals, and changed us as a couple. We came out of it feeling like we could do anything. My DH is my best friend, he is who I turn to when I am hurting, be it emotionally or physically, so it was very natural for him to be the person that I relied on most heavily during the most physical and emotional experiences of my life. For all three births he focused me, calmed me, encouraged me, and made me laugh.

If other people have different experiences with their partner or even don't want their partner there that is great too! For me, he was necessary and incredible. I think that the most important thing is the dynamic and the faith in birth itself which creates a good birthing support team. Male or female, as long as the people supporting you love you, and trust birth, you are generally in great hands, IMO.

Jbaum2's picture
Joined: 04/19/11
Posts: 257

I think it varies from person to person. In the beginning of our pregnancy, my DH wasn't on the same page as me, but after he was able to express his concerns / fears, we have been on the page since. I'm lucky that he is my Best friend and biggest support. When I told him I wanted to do hypnobirthing, he was skeptical, but fully supports my choice and he is 100% on board to be my support during labour. We don't have any family present and I couldn't imagine not having him there. He was there in the hospital with my M/C and he handled the situation when i couldn't.

I think that as long as a woman has a support team that she is comfortable with, that is all that matters.

I know my mom has asked to come up when I go into labour, but we want it to be about us bringing our baby into the worls. Mom is going to come just after baby is born, so we have a little time to adjust to them ourselves.

I find the 'support' I have been getting from women (other than our moms - who completely respect which ever choices we have made) has been frusterating. It seems like they think their birthing experience is the only type of expreience out there. (like every baby is born the same way). How you HAVE to have the drugs, there is no other possible way. Even if you explain to them your wishes on NOT wanting drugs if it can be avoided, they tell you not to be silly, just take the drugs, take them as soon as you get into the hospital (ARG - One of my biggest frusterations!!!).

Even though DH was skeptical at first about Hypnobirthing / Babies, he's willing to try it before pushing the idea of drugs. He respects my wishes and doesn't have the bias of pushing his beliefs because of his expereince's (like these woman have). I have just stopped talking to women about our choices, because it is disheartening for us.

kridda_88's picture
Joined: 01/28/08
Posts: 1798

I think at all depends on the woman and the spouse. I know for me I wouldn't want anyone but my DH by my side other than my mom but most important to me is actually my DH. He was my rock through my labor with DS2. He was there the WHOLE time and even when my mom got there she basically stood in the corner just offering words of support when I needed. I loved that she was there and she will be invited to this birth, as well as a friend who had all of her babies at home. But the main person I want there is DH. But like I said it all depends on the woman and the support that they get from their spouse. If DH wasn't supportive I would find someone else.

Joined: 11/29/06
Posts: 1316

Different people offer different support. I can't compare the support my husband offered me with the support my mom offered me. It was so different.
I know my labour would have been drastically different (not in a good way) if my mom and husband weren't with me while labouring.
I would have loved to have my sisters with me too, but that didn't happen. Next time I hope to have them there as well!

"Potter75" wrote:

I think that the most important thing is the dynamic and the faith in birth itself which creates a good birthing support team. Male or female, as long as the people supporting you love you, and trust birth, you are generally in great hands, IMO.

This!

Lots-o-Tots's picture
Joined: 01/29/06
Posts: 574

I don't think there's any right or wrong here, as far as who belongs at a birth and who doesn't. It's a very personal thing, and every birthing mother and her partner need to decide together. I think the most important thing is what the birthing mother needs/wants (honestly, I don't think the father should really get to have a lot of say in HOW the mother chooses to give birth - I know that's probably not PC to say, but I really think the woman who is going to give birth should have the final say as far as how and even where she will give birth). Most women seem to want their male partners there, and hopefully he can be there in the capacity in which she needs him to be there. If he can't handle it, or doesn't think he can, or if he can't be supportive, then his presence is probably not going to be a positive one.

It's true that historically, it was women supporting and assisting women in birth, and men waiting on the fringes. And while I think it's great that many men now want to be a part of it, and their female birthing partners want them to be, there is still something very valuable about having other females present. I've had my husband(s) present at all of my births, but also a female - either my MIL, a doula, or mw, and those female presences were invaluable to me.

jolly11sd's picture
Joined: 02/02/05
Posts: 3327

I really felt that the type of help and support that my husband offered during my 2nd birth was totally what I needed. There are very few other women in my life that I feel able to totally let loose around so know having him as one of my support people was key. However, I can totally see how his support and way he helped during birth was vastly different than the supoort my MW(s) provided. The MWs were the ones that knew how to look deep into my eyes and help me understand that it was all ok and not to be afraid. They also knew just how to approach and touch me without having to really ask. DH was also key in those roles but a little more unsure and had to ask more often if what he was doing was right or helpful. Not that I minded, but my female support people acted on instinct where DH tried but didn't always feel confident that he was doing excatly what I wanted. Certain things, like pushing, he was my strength and physical muscle that really helped me to channel the engergy I needed. Together they really made a good balance bringing their own gifts to the table when I needed them. I do wish that I had a bigger team of female support people (family & friends) that I felt comfortable around though. I always hear such beatiful stories of others surrounded by their group of support women and totally envy that.

During my first birth it was just DH & I. He was more nervous than I was and no support at all just because of his lack of knowledge and fear of hospitals & doctors. Poor DH felt so bad after it all. If I had had a team of women with me for that birth I bet things would have been very different. They could have supported us both.

cactuswren's picture
Joined: 10/19/09
Posts: 4658

I understand your general point, but I think it depends 100% on the actual person. For me, there is no way on this earth I would have made it through my NCB without DH. He was my ROCK, and he didn't question it for one single moment. He read up, went to classes with me, even did the Hypnobirthing visualizations himself. I can't stress enough how much I wanted and needed him to be there, and ONLY him (besides the midwife and nurses, of course)

On the other hand, had my mother been there, I would have been one big pissed off ball of stress and probably would have ended up in the hospital because my body would have locked right up. Had a stranger (doula, etc.) been there...well, I can't really say for sure, but I think emotionally I would have had a really hard time. My labor was VERY long and exhausting, and by the end the only thing keeping me together at all was my DH.

So I guess that like with most things, I don't agree that gender has much to do with it. Individual people and personalities are everything. And while it's probably true that a greater percentage of women than men are likely to be supportive of NCB, I think it's not really helpful to generalize.

mandi04's picture
Joined: 08/10/03
Posts: 2272

I wanted my husband there, I just think witnessing your child's first breath/cry/moments in this world is miraculous....but he was definitely not my #1 support. He's very much like your husband in that he wants to fix the situation and with labor, he can't. Even with #4, he wasn't much help. My midwife on the other hand knew just what to say to help calm me during labor, I wish I had someone like her around for all of my births!
That said, I would have NEVER wanted my mom or dh's mom around for my births. My mom would have not been able to handle it, she started crying in the hallway during my first daughter's birth because she could hear me screaming. I don't think dh's mom would calm me either. So it would just depend on which woman for me, though I can't say I can think of any man that would be helpful to me during labor. Though I will say my dad wanted to be in the room for each of my children's births. He wasn't, but I actually don't think he would have been all that bad if he were in the room. I just knew I wouldn't feel comfortable naked in front of my dad Lol and I was completely nude when I delivered DS2

mandi04's picture
Joined: 08/10/03
Posts: 2272

and I will say that though my dh wasn't really helpful in any way during my births having him there made me feel 'safe'.

lexirunner's picture
Joined: 05/10/06
Posts: 460

With DS2 we had a natural hospital birth and it was just DH and me in the room (with the exception of the nurse once in a while). I loved the experience and can't wait to do it again with this baby. I'm not the type of person to open up to people until I'm REALLY comfortable with them. I feel like if I had more than DH in the room, I'd get super distracted and self conscious and would cave to the pain meds so I wouldn't have to deal with all the people AND the pain. I also didn't need a ton of support during my labor, so while DH was there to support me, all I needed was for him to be quiet and let me do my thing. When it was time for baby to be born and 5 people rushed into the room to deliver DS, I loved that I had DH to focus on and get me through all the commotion during that moment, as it was super distracting and annoying (that is the main reason why I'm considering a home birth this time). Anyways, it worked well for us.

kaype's picture
Joined: 02/08/07
Posts: 219

i've thought a lot about your question because in some ways it's really applicable to me right now.

for DS, only hubs, my sister (our only relative in town) and our mw/assistant were present. though my sis had never been pregnant and wasn't prepared at all for NCB, she was helpful, especially to my hubs and mw, but i wouldn't say that i "needed" her there -- and wasn't even sure i WANTED her there until the moment. she and i are very close, but DH was the one i needed. and, he was fabulous! i also felt extremely safe with our mw/assistant. they are wonderful, caring women and i trusted them.

with DD, we labored at home too long (~2.5 hours) and she was born on the porch of the BC as the mw arrived (it was 5:30am). i learned with her birth that i NEED to have other women around. hubs just didn't always know how to help me. when it was just the two of us, i felt alone A LOT. had we left for the BC immediately, i think it would have been entirely different, emotionally.

for this third baby, we're in a new city and have a new AWESOME mw/hospital nursing staff. i've also invited both of our moms to be present. it was a really tough decision for me because i don't know that i feel entirely "vulnerable" with both of them, but i'm confident it's the right thing to do -- and they might not make it, living 500 miles away Smile

as i've thought about all this, i think the desire of many women to labor/birth with only their husbands present is perhaps due to the fact that as pregnancy & birth have become more medicalized, it's also become much more private. even 50 years ago, a woman learned about pregnancy and birth from her circle of female relatives/friends. now, i learn from a book/my mw or ob/the internet. it's not something that's discussed among women in a "passing the baton" sort of way, so when it's time to invite other women to be part of the actual birth, it's almost weird because they haven't been invited into the entire conversation about pregnancy, etc. i don't think either way is "wrong." whatever works for each woman. but, i think the way we get our information has, for many women, changed the dynamics of the way we give birth.

Illiana's picture
Joined: 09/29/05
Posts: 338

It totally depends on the person.. I loved having the group (DH, and two female friends and one brief visitor) at DD's birth. It worked great with them. For DS's birth I loved having just the two of us (DH but different one from DD). It was completely different and crazy but worked so well.. In all honesty if I were surrounded by different women (i moved states between births) I probably would have wanted them there. I wanted my mom there for DD's birth but that didn't happen and she was too far away for DS. I think DS's birth totally brought us together as a couple. He trusted me to do what I needed and to tell him what to do.. He still likes to tell people about different aspects of it. Smile

Marite13's picture
Joined: 08/07/09
Posts: 3368

"kaype" wrote:

as i've thought about all this, i think the desire of many women to labor/birth with only their husbands present is perhaps due to the fact that as pregnancy & birth have become more medicalized, it's also become much more private. even 50 years ago, a woman learned about pregnancy and birth from her circle of female relatives/friends. now, i learn from a book/my mw or ob/the internet. it's not something that's discussed among women in a "passing the baton" sort of way, so when it's time to invite other women to be part of the actual birth, it's almost weird because they haven't been invited into the entire conversation about pregnancy, etc. i don't think either way is "wrong." whatever works for each woman. but, i think the way we get our information has, for many women, changed the dynamics of the way we give birth.

Since reading these responses this sort of thought is what has come up for me a lot too... the nature of our communities, and even our relationships (dare I say marriage) has changed a lot over the years.

Thanks everyone for your responses. It has been lovely to read your thoughts! Smile

Jenn0113's picture
Joined: 03/09/07
Posts: 5335

Bumping this to say that while my OB told me yesterday that doulas were great - he followed it up with saying that he has seen that the better support person for a woman in labor is an involved and supportive DH. I thought it was interesting to get an OB's opinion - especially since I didn't ask for it.

On the other hand when I told my friend he said that (she had a VBAC this year) she said it was a lie and only women can help women, LOL.

Joined: 11/29/06
Posts: 1316

... that or the OB doesn't want a doula getting in the way and calling the shots instead of him LOL!
I've heard of OB's not letting Doula's in the room and labouring women lying saying the doula is her sister/cousin/best friend (anything but "doula").

Starryblue702's picture
Joined: 04/06/11
Posts: 5454

My DH was exactly the same way when I told him I wanted a natural birth this time around. He flipped out and told me how ridiculous that was, to have the drugs available and not to take them just to say I didn't. But in the end he admitted that he just didn't want to see me in pain, as I'm sure it does put more pressure on them and makes them feel more helpless lol... so I know where you're coming from. As far as having people in the room, I didn't want anyone but DH in there. I even put in my birth plan that I didn't want any interns or anyone that wasn't supposed to be in my room even walking through the door, let alone watching! I've just always been that way. I don't even like visitors at the hospital, because those first few precious hours I want alone with just me, DH, and our new baby. The only people I let come are my parents and my other children. Anyone else can wait until I get home... that's just me.