There are almost infinite variables in childbirth. Pelvises have different shapes. Babies take odd positions. A mother’s health history varies, as do her preconceptions of birth, fears, expectations, and social supports. Despite all the unpredictability, it’s possible to plan ahead. And while the pain of childbirth can’t be equally divided between couples, responsibility for planning what happens in the delivery can be shared. Obviously, the moms are the stars. But fathers are valuable supporting players.
And there’s always a varying amount of what support to provide. Sure, there are certain things you need to do, but there are moments that come up that can only be explained via experience. So, we spoke with nine moms about what their husbands did right and wrong during their births. Each mom’s experience differed wildly, with labor stories ranging from funny to harrowing. But each offers valuable lessons about what partners should and shouldn’t do while the person they love most in the world is trying to get a baby out of her body.
For all its stress, childbirth sure can involve a lot of waiting. Hospitals don’t want you to wait until the last minute — for good reason. The mom might go into labor immediately or need to be treated for complications. Or, you may spend long hours waiting for things to get started. You can either spend that time bored and anxious or try to relax as much as possible with shows, card games, or music.
“[My husband] put together a bunch of playlists and had movies and TV shows he knew I liked loaded onto an iPad,” Katie, a Connecticut mother of two, said. “It was really nice to have things to occupy my time and my mind while I waited for things to get going. It shows how well he knows me, I guess. We ended up being at the hospital for a week so I was really thankful for the entertainment.”
“If you’re going to eat while the mom is allowed only ice chips, do it far away, wash your hands, and brush your teeth before you come back,”
Stay Off Your Phone
When your wife’s in labor, keep your phone in your pocket. Facebook can wait. Your wife is living some of the most anxious hours of her life — seeing you staring at an iPhone, even during downtime, is understandably infuriating. Kristen, a mother of two from South Carolina said she lost it when her husband pulled out his phone while her epidural didn’t take.
“[My husband] couldn’t do anything to help me, but at the very least I wanted someone paying attention to me,” she said. “So when he pulled his phone out, I hissed at him. He claims he was just trying to text my sister. But given that checking Twitter is his default activity, I am suspect. And yes, this is an ongoing argument.”
Do. Not. Eat. Near. Your. Wife.
When an expectant mom has been eating for two for nine months, going food-free immediately before labor can basically be torture. But because nausea and vomiting are a natural part of labor, along with that increased risk for a C-section, food isn’t an option for women giving birth. Dads can still eat, of course. But it’s a real good idea to keep your food intake as much on the down low as possible, lest you risk the wrath of a pregnant woman.
“If you’re going to eat while the mom is allowed only ice chips, do it far away, wash your hands, and brush your teeth before you come back,” Elizabeth, a mother of two living in Germany, said. “I think [my husband] was eating a burger from Five Guys, maybe, but it doesn’t matter; it was real food and I was ravenous. I wasn’t allowed to eat for nearly two days so even a granola bar would have felt like a personal assault.”
“[My husband] eventually realized he could insist on more privacy for us and enforced it rigorously. That was great.”
Don’t Botch The Shot
When the kid finally makes an appearance, the pressure is on for dad to be an expert photographer. If you’re a first-time dad, it’s an odd moment. You’re overwhelmed by the fact that you all of a sudden have a kid and want to document the moment. Try to plan how to frame the shot as much as possible ahead of time. There’s a lot of stuff you want to keep out of the way. Be mindful of that. Ellen, a mom from New Jersey, said she has a wonderful shot of her daughter moments after her birth that unfortunately also has her nipples on full display in the background.
Know Your Rights And Advocate For Your Partner
Doctors and nurses have a great advantage over expecting couples. Couples are only going to be in a delivery room a handful of times. Medical professionals are in there every day. They have a state of comfort with the environment you’ll never have, so it’s easy to feel like you have limited control. But you do have rights and can, to a degree, take charge.
For example, if you feel like the delivery room is too crowded, stress that your partner needs space. “I had a very rare pregnancy complication so I was something of medical interest to the students,” Anne, a mother of two from Missouri, said. “It sucked. [My husband] eventually realized he could insist on more privacy for us and enforced it rigorously. That was great.”
Don’t Be a Comedian
Sorry, dad. Nobody in the delivery room cares about your brilliant observations or ability to riff. You have the rest of your life to tell dad jokes. Part of your job during childbirth is being on your best behavior, so hold the hilarity until later. Hope, a mother of two from Massachusetts, said that while her husband’s behavior during her difficult first birth was overall exemplary, he face planted when nurses showed him how to pour bath water on her belly to soothe labor pain. “I didn’t appreciate his joke that it reminded him of basting a turkey,” she said.
“Husbands should be aware that sometimes they need to reassure the mom she doesn’t have to go through with any plan she made for herself.”
If You Think Something’s Wrong, Let Someone Know
This isn’t a day to be shy. Doctors and nurses expect some anxiety from parents-to-be. Under optimal circumstances, medical professionals are ready to patiently calm your fears. In emergencies, you might see something someone else missed and it could be the difference between life and death.
“I stopped breathing due to the fentanyl and [my husband] alerted the nurses,” Lauren, a mom from Colorado, said. “Things are a little hazy about why they gave me fentanyl before the epidural. But anyway I was drugged out of my gourd and exhausted. I dropped off to sleep and awoke to my husband, who is a respiratory therapist, having a category five freak out because I had stopped breathing. He could see it on the monitor. I’m not sure what would have happened if he didn’t know how to read the monitor.”
Study Up On That Birth Plan
It’s easy to dismiss birth plans. Birth is inherently unpredictable — planning seems like a fool’s errand. But Dawn, a mother from Vermont, said those who scoff at birth plans don’t understand them. They’re not scripts, she says, they’re general guidelines that help both parents be prepared for a variety of outcomes.
“Writing a birth plan gave me an opportunity to have conversations with my partner about what I wanted and what my limits were,” Dawn said. “Basically, it just gave me a conversation starter about my opinions, and how quickly I might want to push or deal with interventions and stuff. I ended up not needing any interventions but I was able to make that decision completely on my own.”
But … Be Ready to Ditch the Birth Plan
Stacy, a mom of two from Connecticut, said that it’s sometimes up to the husband to call an audible in the delivery room — and that’s OK. Moms-to-be can be extremely stressed out and might find adapting to changing situations difficult. “Husbands should be aware that sometimes they need to reassure the mom she doesn’t have to go through with any plan she made for herself,” she said. “Sometimes when you’re in that much pain and that tired, you need someone there to be able to say it’s time to ditch the birth plan and get the epidural.”
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