It wasn't that long ago birth was a family affair. Before the 1940s most people were born at home. Women got pregnant as they do today and men stood by their side throughout the labor and delivery, usually catching the child. Around the turn of the century a new profession came about called the obstetrician. This new experimental form of medicine saw an opportunity that was too good to be true. If they could get every woman to give birth in the hospital then they would have a busy, profitable business forever. After all, people enjoy having sex more than most other things.
I can't say for sure when husbands were removed from the process of birth but I would imagine it happened sometime early in the transfer of home births to hospital birth. When you see movies from the 1950's and 1960's you always see the husband waiting in the Labor and Delivery waiting room, much like Steve Martin in "Father of the Bride 2," waiting in the hallway while they C-Section his wife. I can't imagine not being there to hold her hand and let her know I love her.
I wonder why us guys were removed. Do we have no importance in the process? Do we serve no purpose?
In home birth husbands can make or break the experience. I very much believe that although women can certainly have a baby without a man present, we have the ability to make the birth experience better and calmer. My wife needed someone to hold onto through her labor. She is a very strong woman who doesn't trust very many people. She said that having me there made her feel like everything was going to be OK. She was beside the man she trusted more than anyone else, and she knew I was there for her. That quiet support system is what I believe women need more than anything during Labor.
Part of the problem with hospitals is the lack of support. I don't mean to imply that there are not really encouraging doctors and nurses who say wonderful things and encourage women to try their best. However when they are tied to a bed, attached to IVs, monitors, machines that go beep, and have vaginal exams every hour, questions about medications and epidurals, and tons of interruptions... I think that somewhere in that it becomes very difficult to focus and relax. Women get this false sense of doubt: "Maybe I can't push out this baby? The doctor said two hours have passed and nothing is happening, maybe my baby's too big? Maybe it is time for the drugs or the C-Section?"
I had a thought while my wife was pregnant. Either way my wife was having this baby, either she was going to tell her friends I was a load, or she was going to tell them I was amazing. I wanted to take ownership and be there for her in every way possible. As men we need to step up and take as active a roll as we can. That means not just going to the birth class we dread, but scheduling it. We need to make sure we get there on time and have the birth ball, yoga pad and homework completed. As men we need to be as excited about the new addition as our lovely wife is. We should remember that as much as we might hate going to class and chatting with other pregnant families, we have the easy job. We get to have sex and sit back and watch everything happen. Our wives are the ones who are getting large, nauseous, go through all the invasive doctor appointments, and then get to look forward to the actual birth. The least we can do as men is be there, on time, with a smile on our face. We can learn how to coach our wife's labor. Learn how to make sure she is comfortable and hydrated. Learn about the birth process so that if something comes up like "transition" we know where she is and can tell her everything is going perfect.
I am going to write a few more blogs on reclaiming birth for families. Home birth is clearly the ultimate in reclaiming birth for a family. However, it's not for everyone, so I will try to give some ideas for those who are heading toward a hospital birth. I am going to be rather hard on the guys, because I am one, and sometimes the best way to get a guy's attention is to punch him in the face.
To be continued...
Photo by Fotolia/Melissa Schalke