The one item I forgot to put in my recently written — ‘Survival tips for new or expecting dads‘ and it wasn’t until after I published it that I realized I had forgotten to include this important tip. Though optional, probably the most important of them all regarding the actual delivery of the baby.
While my previous post focused on some pre-arrival education and gadgets that could be used once the baby is home, this post will focus on those intense hours of labor and the ONE THING a dad can do to make it a much better experience for everyone involved.
Get a #$@% Doula!
Disclaimer: Nothing to do with affiliate links in this post. This disclaimer is purely to document the presence and awareness of my ignorance as a man. The details of this post are accounted for through my own experience and I recognized no two experiences would be even remotely similar.
Let’s start with a parable
Have you ever heard of the boyfriend that takes his girlfriend snowboarding for the first time? She’s never been. It’s something he enjoys. So he decides he’s going to take her out and train her himself. They rent all her gear. Struggle on the bunny hill for an hour or so and then ‘mutually’ decided to head up the lift. A few hours pass and the girlfriend finally returns to the lodge without her boyfriend…
That’s why you’ve never heard the parable. He never lived to tell about it. She likely pushed him off the backside of the mountain because she couldn’t handle it anymore.
While this is a joke (I hope), this is a common situation. It ports well into many different experiences. The gun range, hunting, cleaning the garage, yard work, and the like. I’m sure many couples have found themselves in this situation one time or another.
Moral of the story — get a coach
I’ll focus on this more a little later but just look at it this way. No wise man ever tried to teach his spouse anything. That is a recipe for an argument and hurt feelings. He hires a neutral third-party (a ski instructor) to do all the work and then reap the benefits. Lesson numero uno.
Sure, society has dictated that dad is supposed to be the coach during birth but from personal experience, this is one situation where no man should be solely relied upon to know anything. At all. Or be expected to make sincere attempts to help.
When the contractions start
Being a technologist, the accuracy of the due-date shouldn’t surprise me. Modern science and technology are insanely accurate. Yet with something as natural as childbirth I’m somehow fascinated by this accuracy.
Case in point
Your wife is bound to have a pretty good idea of when conception took place, last cycle, etc. This gives a good guestimate of the date the baby is scheduled to arrive pending a healthy textbook pregnancy. If you are lucky enough to be able to have the first-trimester ultrasound this could lead to an adjustment of a few days to a week. In the case of all 3 of our children, an adjustment was made, and for our daughter, the adjustment was spot on. She arrived promptly on her due date. The other two within a day or two.
What I’m getting at is there comes a time when you both think you are mentally prepared for ‘the big show’. If this is your first child the anticipation in that last week could be pretty intense. ‘Go time’ could be at any moment. Especially for your wife as she’s probably been completely over the pregnancy for pretty much the last month. If this is your second or third, don’t you dare expect this time to be anything like either of the previous two.
As the husband, don’t delay having your bag packed and your gameplan hashed out. Know where everything you need to take is at. That means all 4 to 6 bags your wife has ready to go:
Sandwich board for the cute birth announcement
Have the car seat and base installed and ready to roll.
Don’t wait until the night before the due date to have any of this taken care of. Science is great but not that great. Unexpected things can and will happen. Don’t get caught off-guard.
Did I say that already? This time it’s mentally prepared. You think by now you’ve seen every side your wife has, you’re in for a surprise my friend. You will have no idea what the hormones and emotions are going to do to that beautiful and kind bride of yours and because of this, there could be noticeable differences for each birth. This is not the time to make any assumptions, corrections, or comments. It’s just time to listen and probably keep a little distance.
I don’t mean to make this sound negative or that any experience is unacceptable. As I stated earlier every situation for everyone is going to be radically different. I want all men out there to check all pride at the door when things start to go down. However, you thought this might go up to this point was a waste of headspace. Fortunately, I feel like I adapted pretty well considering my personality. Still, no time was the same.
Take nothing personal
Remember that contraction timer I mentioned in the previous post? Yeah. There is a good chance that if you are participating in that process at any point during this experience it isn’t going to last. It was a good effort. Though everything may appear calm, rather it is the timer or seemingly thoughtful questions, your wife at this point may not want any additional external stimulus.
I remember the night of our first child. I’m a pretty typical offensive driver. Sometimes that requires a little extra pressure on the accelerator. But for some reason when we were on the way to the hospital that night I decided to drive very conservatively. Not a good idea. A little more urgency would have been appreciated. It was the middle of the night. There was no one else around on the road. I thought taking it easy was the right thing to do.
You will have no idea what is going on from the pain and emotional standpoint. I can’t recommend you ask questions and try to assist in any way. I can’t recommend that you don’t. All I can say is to be agile and willing to adapt at all times. You may think you are doing the right thing at the right time but unless you are Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1994 (2 out of 5-star) movie ‘Junior’ also starring Danny Devito, you have no freaking clue what she is going through.
Bring in the professionals
Rather this is your first child or fifth, nothing goes as planned starting with your birth plan. If the former is the case, expect chaos but maintain composure at all times. If the latter is true, then I don’t need to remind you and you probably didn’t need to read anything I wrote up to this point.
This is where the Doula comes into play. If you’ve used a Doula in the past, thanks for hanging on this long. If you used one before but not for a subsequent birth, what the hell were you thinking? Hopefully, the rest of this post will convince you to not make that mistake again.
What’s a Doula?
Honestly, I can’t tell you that much about them. See prior ignorance disclaimer. In short, they are a labor coach. I know this because I found this article doing a quick Google search. I recommend you read that for a more literal understanding of how they can help you.
How I interpret a doula now is basically like a life insurance policy. You don’t want to have to use it but it is a really good idea to have one.
Until we used one, I just thought they were for women interested in natural births. This is not necessarily true. Although I don’t know how anyone could do a natural birth without a doula, it continues to happen and has been done for ages. I’m no expert but I have seen an episode or two of “Call The Midwife” on Netflix.
Props to any woman giving birth through any means. I once heard this quote: ‘There is no trophy’ regarding how a woman chooses to give birth. That’s very true regardless of the decision. For context, I’m certain I’d be a pretty big wuss through it all. Just watch this video for a nice laugh at men getting about as close as they can to the whole experience. The whole video is ‘shockingly’ accurate.
Why we got a Doula
Had I known what I know now, I would have advocated for a doula for the birth of our firstborn. Like any typical male, aside from any education gained from pregnancy and birthing classes, I assumed things would go similar to how they do on the TV and in the movies.
This is not the case.
Another disclaimer: I need to be clear none of these pregnancies were my pregnancies. ‘WE’ were not pregnant. I was not pregnant. I did not experience anything in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes it’s just easier to say one thing and have it mean another.
Without going into too many details, the birth of our firstborn was pretty traumatic for my wife. That’s not all that uncommon. To start, the epidural stopped working right around when you’d like it to be working. Beyond that, it was clear our firstborn was going to be quite the stinker before he even took his first breath. When all was said and done, the event resulted in me being left alone, scared, with our newborn for over an hour and needed to stay an extra day/night stay in the hospital. There were many points in that whole night where having a doula present would have been quite beneficial. Specifically for the failed epidural.
As a result of this experience, somewhere late in the pregnancy of our second child, my wife discussed with me the possibility of getting one. Knowing very little, I still did not hesitate and I couldn’t have been more satisfied. We’ve had one for our last two children and will for future pregnancies if we decide to have more children.
What a Doula can do for you
Rather your wife has opted to go the true natural birth route or some other combination, a doula will act as that coach I spoke of earlier. Not to mention a neutral third party. As a man, would you rather have your wife upset at you throughout the whole process, or working closely with someone who quite possibly has been through hundreds of pregnancies before and knows exactly what to do when?
Before the due date, our Doulas came to the house and sat down with both of us to discuss birth plans, expectations, and desires. Believe it or not, there is and can be a lot that goes into the birth process. Bath or no bath. Music or no music. Natural or use of an epidural. So much more I won’t even get into. That is what the Doula is for.
This is the key factor. Sure having someone in the room that your wife likely won’t get frustrated with the same way she would her husband is a huge advantage, but beyond that is their level of training and experience. Why is this important?
Spoiler alert – there is still pain. Even with an Epidural
Unlike in the movies, depending on when you arrive at the hospital and when/if they decided to admit you right away, your beautiful bride could be experiencing some pretty intense labor pains. That epidural could be 1 to 4 hours away. Maybe more. There are blood tests that need to be run, fluid to take intravenously, and a plethora of other things going on.
A Doula knows how, where, and when to apply pressure to help relieve or alleviate some of that pain. They know different positions to help adjust the baby from causing some of this pain. They are also there for much needed additional support. Hospital staff is somewhat helpful but they are only there to do their job. In many cases, further, annoying your wife in the middle of contractions.
Why is this important?
As the husband, you likely won’t do the right thing at the right time. The reality is your wife may not even want to be touched by you specifically but at the same time need this type of support to get through the contractions.
Beyond that, there is the very real possibility that, like in our case, the epidural may fail. There is also the possibility that the body may not respond to the epidural as expected. An epidural won’t prevent all feelings of pressure or pain even when it works. When this happens, or in the case of things moving along rapidly, it might be realistic that your wife will not get an epidural at all when she had expected to get one the whole pregnancy. Something very close to this happened for our second child. Had our Doula not been present, I would not have been able to provide the support my wife needed to get through everything as well as she did.
Like fricking Mary Poppins
If there is something required or desired during pregnancy, your Doula will likely have it. In both cases where we had a Doula, they had with them a bag that had anything and everything they have seen requested or used in previous births. This is where that experience kicks in. Things like:
Essential oils/scents – assist with nausea or headache
They are there to do anything and everything to help your wife through this process. Everything you go over in your birth plan with them, they do everything in their power to be prepared for. If everyone is overwhelmed by what is going on, they may ask for status or question about things you know nothing about. If this is your first go at the baby thing, they can be there to make sure you don’t forget to ask or follow up on important items. This was a key failure in our first go and would have been very helpful though that entire situation.
So what’s the husband do?
Mostly act as a runner I guess. Get water, ice chips, hot or cold rags. Whatever you can do to assist the doula.
This is the good part and the bad part. With a Doula present, I felt pretty worthless. In all honesty, I didn’t do a whole lot. To some husbands, this may sound pretty great but in reality, in your wife’s most vulnerable and painful moments, you might be pretty helpless and that’s a pretty hard pill to swallow. It was for me at least. Pretty much just sitting there while the hospital staff looks at you being worthless. As I stated earlier, check all pride at the door and take nothing personally. This time isn’t really about you and your feelings as a man. You will know when and how you should participate based on your unique situation.
If you and your wife are expecting, I highly encourage you to research getting a Doula. Don’t push it if it’s not her thing. Maybe share this post or research it together. It may seem like an added expense to an already pretty expensive experience but I assure you, in the big picture it’s worth every penny. We don’t have many pictures from our first birth as a result of everything that happened. Having a Doula present to capture those moments in the chaos — that alone is an amazing benefit.