What is the role of the father during childbirth? Back in the Mad Men-era, it was guys sitting around the hospital lobby thinking, “Someone will get me when it’s over. Hmm, better have my cigars handy. Ooh, Sonny Liston is fighting Cassius Clay!” Of course, now men are fully present in the delivery room, but there are other big birthing battles raging that you, as a person without a womb, may not be privy to.
From C-sections to natural childbirth, also called NCB (which is usually done at home, without drugs, and with a lot of moaning), to the painkillers that the hospital is giving your wife, it’s all scary and confusing. It’s also something that people have stronger opinions about than Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.
One of the voices trying to cut through all the noise is Dr. Amy Tuteur, OB/GYN, who wrote Push Back: Guilt In The Age Of Natural Parenting. She has her fair share of detractors about the whole natural vs. hospital birth thing, but she also has 4 kids, so she knows a thing or 2 about how to push them out of another human.
Here’s what all this mama drama is about:
Where You, The Man, Fit In
The first thing you have to know: Don’t use this information to mansplain to your wife about how the birth is going to go down. Dr. Tuteur says that a lot of fathers feel marginalized by the process, but they’re integral. (Who else is going to get ice chips?) You’re the emotional support, an advocate while she’s preoccupied creating life, and a rational voice when things get a little hormonal.
“I have a lot of private correspondence from women who feel like failures [for not choosing natural childbirth] and are looking for reassurance,” says Dr. Tuteur. “I tell them it’s not the important part of parenting. Very often, they write back they feel so much better. That’s just what my husband told me, but I ignored it.’’ See, you helped.
Natural Childbirth Vs. Hospital Births
As the title of her book suggests, there’s a lot of guilty women who feel they’re not doing the best thing for their baby. Natural birth advocates have their opinions about doctors and drugs, but Dr. Teuter says that most of what’s being touted as “natural” is more about lifestyle choices around the experience of birth, but it doesn’t always mean a safer birth.
“[Natural childbirth] seems safe to people, but it’s not inherently safe. Modern obstetrics has made it safe,” she says, while pointing out that there can be weird social status issues wrapped up in what are very personal decisions. “You don’t see men do that. Men don’t start conversations about extended breastfeeding. I think it’s good that’s fathering doesn’t work that way, because none of these things benefit the child.” You hear that? Your nipples are useless to a hungry kid.
Fighting About the Epidural
“Never make a pact that the father is not going to let the mother get an epidural,” says Dr. Tuteur. “I’ve seen what happens, and it’s not pretty. Most hospitals let parents decide about pain medication plans and use the husband as the gatekeeper. Then the mother feel the pain and have a completely different perspective. I’ve seen times when the anesthesiologist wants to come in, and the husband is barring the door while the woman is screaming, ‘Kill him!’ When the doctor finally comes in, the wife is mad at her husband.” It’s what’s known in childbirth as a Kobayashi Maru.
Nobody Wants More C-Sections
If you’re caught in the situation when your wife had a birth plan, but now needs a c-section for a healthy baby, you may have to go with Plan C. “People should be open to the possibility,” says Dr. Tuteur. “They’re told OBs are doing them for no reason except to get to their golf game. They’re told they’re completely unnecessary. None of those things are true.”
She also agrees that c-section rates are too high, but the limitations of the technology (science can listen to the baby’s heart, but can’t yet measure the oxygen concentration) mean doctors act with an abundance of caution.
“Most want to do whatever it takes to make sure the baby is healthy,” she says. “If you let nature decide, it isn’t about the survival of everyone; it’s survival of the fittest. Do we use c-sections too much — yes we do. But what would you do if you were in the doctor’s place?”
All You Really Need To Know
Dr. Tuteur says the big takeaway for new fathers is a) You’re not just the sperm donor, so your opinion counts, b) Don’t criticize your partner unless they’re putting the baby in danger. And c) What matters most is that you have a relationship from birth onward. Everything else you’re doing is probably not making things worse. “The baby doesn’t care if its clothes are on backward,” she says. Although your wife might.