Michel Odent has long been an obstetrician who I admired for his desire to resist the medicalisation of childbirth where not necessary but today I read an article where he speaks out against Fathers being present at the birth of their child. I have to admit that when I read the introduction I was horrified, I needed my husband during my labours, or did I? I started musing. What did he do? Well, he irritated me by coming out with little platitudes and attempting to massage my rigid abdomen but when he retreated to a chair and began to read a magazine I was hurt and so accused him of not wanting the baby and told him to go, he didn’t. He was handy though for a hand to squeeze during contractions and someone to keep my flannel cool and damp and place on my forehead and, most importantly, he was my advocate. He was there to deflect the offers of an epidural which, if he hadn’t been reminding me of my insistence that I didn’t want one, I would have accepted during two of the births. The midwives were well-meaning, they could tell from baby’s position and the slow progress of labour that these were not going to be easy labours and births, but had I not had Hubby there to remind me of my reason for resisting epidurals I’m certain that one birth would definitely have been a forceps and the other a caesarian birth. Did this need to be Hubby though? If I had a midwife throughout pregnancy and birth who knew me I’m sure that she would have been as effective an advocate and probably less likely to iritate me! Monsieur Odent talks about the adverse effects partners may have on a labour –
“First, a labouring woman needs to be protected against any stimulation of the thinking part of her brain – the neocortex – for labour to proceed with any degree of ease.
This part of the brain needs to take a back seat and allow the primal “unthinking” part of the brain connected to basic vital functions to take over.
A woman in labour needs to be in a private world where she doesn’t have to think or talk.”
I agree with this sentiment. At a home birth most community midwives will take a back-seat until they are required. We will sit there, quietly, reassuring and supporting when necessary but generally allowing the woman to concentrate on her labour. In an environment where the woman is able to follow her instincts she will try to avoid prying eyes, even if it is just by retreating behind a sofa, or shutting herself in the bathroom, or like me in a hugely medicalised scenario, by putting a flannel over her face to disassociate herself from any distractions. We are after all, basically animals. Anyone who has ever been privy to a cat having her kittens will know that she has prepared herself a safe, warm, dark place to give birth. No being the centre of attention in the middle of an unfamiliar room, surrounded by chattering people, especially strangers, with all the lights on, but that is what we expect the majority of women to do and then we wonder why so many labours require assistance from synthetic, hormonal augmentation to progress.
Odent then continues with the effect that witnessing their partner give birth can have on men –
“Over the years, I have seen something akin to post-natal depression in many men who have been present at the birth.
In its mild form, men often take to their bed in the week following the birth, complaining of everything from a stomach ache or migraine to a 24-hour bug”.
I hadn’t made the connection, but he could be on to something here. Thinking about many of the families I have cared for following the birth it does seem that quite a high number of the fathers do develop illnesses in the first few days at home with baby. The mean side of me had always put it down to them feeling put-out about the lack of attention from their partners, is it possible that it could be an expression of depression, a post-traumatic stress reaction? No answers at the moment but I shall start paying attention to how many of the men who found the birth traumatic then come down with ‘man-flu’, or something similar.
He discusses another adverse result of the partner being present at the birth, marital breakdown. I have only ever known one example of a partner being affected in that way by witnessing his child being born, that was a friend of ours. His wife had experienced a long labour, which culminated in a failed ventouse, forceps birth and a third degree tear. For some unknown reason the obstetrician had felt it wise to show him the extent of the damage before it was repaired and as a result he was unable to make love to his wife for nearly a year following the birth. I can understand this, before a tear, and especially an episiotomy has been sutured it does all look pretty horrific, the first time I saw a perineum prior to stitching I likened it to a mass of steak and kidney. It is not necessary though for the partner to see this, at this time there is plenty more going on, they have just had a new baby for heavens sake.
I decided to consult Hubby on the whole issue of Dads being there for childbirth. He is pleased that he was there, ‘wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I got you in that state, I should be there to help you through it.’ He obviously hasn’t suffered any ill effects from either witnessing me in pain, or the physical and verbal abuse that I put him through during the labours. He is very down to earth though. He knew that no amount of chanting nursery rhymes or deep breathing was going to stop this being extremely painful experience. He understood that when I told the staff to ‘put me down. You wouldn’t let an animal suffer like this’ I was not really dying, that this is not abnormal behaviour during labour. He was not traumatised, he was elated at seeing his children being born. Me? Well I knew that he appreciated what I had endured to produce our family. That he knew when he was ‘wetting the baby’s head’ that I had not just been languishing comfortably in serene surroundings. That when I came home and found sitting down super uncomfortable that I was not playing for sympathy. That, for something that large to exit, and then to require quite that long to put everything back together I definitely would be experiencing more than passing discomfort! So, if I could turn back the clock would I want him there? Yes.