The popular culture depictions of childbirth, whether it be natural childbirth or hospital c-section, generally paints baby delivery in the kindest, most sterilized light. Sure, there are the “honest” depictions of birth with moms who sweat and yell, while dads look on, mouth agape. But these “edgy” depictions of birth are often played for comedy, notable as much for what they keep in as what they leave out.
The problem is that unless parents seek out education about childbirth, they will largely be unprepared for the experience. That’s particularly true for expectant fathers who likely haven’t had close female friends or sisters who are happy to be more than frank about the realities of delivery. That means many fathers are unaware of some of the harsh truth of childbirth. In order to pack their mental go-bag, they need to be ready for the fact that baby delivery might not be what they are expecting.
Harsh Truth #1: You May Need to Abandon the Birth Plan
Many expectant parents have spent months creating a detailed birth plan. It’s essentially a set of guidelines for the staff at the hospital or birthing center detailing how the mom and dad to be would like the experience to go down. This might include requests for silence or plans for drug intervention and even birth method. Essentially, birth plans are a way expectant parents can advocate for the care they desire during childbirth. But there’s also a chance that these desires may need to be disregarded.
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The fact is that not every childbirth will go as planned. And while parents should absolutely advocate for themselves, they should also remain flexible. Birth is a dynamic process. Things can change quickly. And it’s possible that a mother may need to abandon her natural hypnobirthing, for example, in favor of robust medical interventions necessary to keep her baby healthy.
Being flexible is particularly important for fathers who are often tasked with keeping staff aware of the birth plan. Sometimes, feelings of helplessness can cause a dad to argue too passionately for the birth plan and complicate matters in cases where the plan might need to change for the best outcomes for both mother and child. It’s better, sometimes, to take a deep breath and listen to the pros. That said, if they attempt to turn off your partner’s CD of meditative Buddhist monk chants for no good reason, it’s time to step up.
Harsh Truth #2: Your Partner Will Probably Poop During Childbirth
Consider birth for a moment. There is a lot moving around in a very limited space in your partner’s body. Also, she’s pushing like crazy and that pushing is kind of globalized around her abdomen and her pelvic floor. So, sometimes, what she pushes out is not what she wanted to push out.
Yep. She may very well poop during childbirth. Be prepared to see that. But don’t ever mention it. Ever.
Harsh Truth #3: Your Partner Will Probably Snap at You During Labor
There’s a common trope in films and television comedies where the woman giving birth will turn to her husband and scream something like, “You did this to me!” It’s the kind of line that never fails to get a chuckle. That’s because these moments fall into the “funny ‘cause it true” category. However, while adrenalin, stress, and pain, may cause an emotional outburst, it’s more likely that your partner will get snippy over seemingly innocuous occurrences.
For instance, she might get angry at you for chewing too loud, or breathing too heavy. You may get scowls and a sharp remark for drifting off to sleep during labor. And here’s the thing: While a partner swearing as a baby crowns is one of those behaviors expectant dads can feel magnanimous about, getting snapped at for breathing too loud when she’s in labor can feel a bit more mean and personal. Expect it to happen and don’t sweat it.
Harsh Truth #4: Natural Childbirth isn’t “Better”
There is nothing that says having a water birth, or a home birth, or a birth without drugs is somehow better in the long run than any other more institutionalized medical method. So if you are planning on a c-section, or your partner is dead set on taking drugs, don’t feel guilty about it. More importantly, don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty about it.
Harsh Truth #5: Childbirth is More Visceral Than You’re Expecting
If you’ve never seen childbirth, you will not be prepared for what it actually looks like. You may think you know. You may have even watched a video of childbirth, but being there in person is a completely different experience. Neither the camera or the imagination can really capture the amount of glistening fluids and blood. It can’t capture the weirdness of seeing the top of a baby’s fuzzy head crowning into the world, the strange rubbery texture of an umbilical cord or the horror show of the placenta plopped into a steel surgical pan.
If any of this makes you feel queasy, you may want to spend some time preparing for the worst. Research indicates that some fathers are traumatized by watching their wives give birth. It’s not the worst idea to calibrate your expectations in advance of the baby’s arrival in order to avoid this possibility (especially if you don’t do well with blood).
Harsh Truth #6: At Some Point During Childbirth You will Feel Powerless
The fact of the matter is, you can’t birth the kid for her. And watching a partner struggle through the process of labor can give fathers a sharp feeling of helplessness. As much as you’d love to jump in and fix things, baby delivery is a process that simply has to run its course.
If you want to feel less powerless, then help your partner time her contractions. Listen to her. Get her all the ice chips she asks for. And if you’re feeling really brave, catch your kid when they arrive and cut the umbilical cord. But while all of that will mitigate the feelings of helplessness, it will not extinguish them.
Harsh Truth #6: Labor Can Be Incredibly Tedious … For Dads
After your partner begins labor, the initial rush of grabbing the go bag and getting to the hospital will make you feel like Liam Neeson on a mission to rescue his daughter. The trip to the hospital is incredibly exciting, and even as your partner is set up in a birthing room, the adrenalin will likely still be flowing. But labor can be a long process. And frankly, after a few hours, the process can get pretty tedious.
The trick, as your partner suffers through contractions, is to not show that labor is feeling tedious. Always have something to do. Give yourself tasks and little missions. Because the second it’s apparent that you’re getting bored or tired, your partner will pounce. And honestly, she has every right to do so.
Harsh Truth #7: There Will Either Be Too Many People or Not Enough
There’s a certain pacing to childbirth. There are peaks and valleys. It begins with the bustle of activity during check in as dilation is checked and monitors are attached and tubes are placed. But eventually, as labor moves on, dependent on your partner’s cervix, the activity will slow to a trickle. It can often feel like you and your partner have been abandoned.
Then as go-time arrives, the room will suddenly feel way more full as midwives, doctors, and nurses arrive to do their part. The sudden chaos can be jarring. But the best thing to do is to roll with the flow. Cherish the alone time. It will not last.
Harsh Truth #8: Childbirth Might Make You Cry. That’s Okay
In the end, there is nothing more astounding than being there when a child comes into the world. It’s a profound, life-affirming moment. It’s an emotional moment. So don’t get freaked out if you tear up. This is one of those moments when tears are completely acceptable and even expected. Let ‘er rip.