If there is one trope I am tired of seeing in TV and movies it is the clueless dad in the delivery room. We’ve all seen that one right? The dad to be is pushing his wife in a wheelchair through the hospital hallways. She’s screaming, he’s panicking, he probably bumps into a few things as he rushes towards the medical professionals. His whole body language seems to say “I may love this person and spend most of my day with her, but I have no idea how to physically and emotionally support and comfort her. I really only understand human anatomy enough to impregnate someone. Where is the baby going to come out of? How much blood will there be? Is she going to poop? Quick, someone take her away before I mess something else up!” They wheel the woman away. She screams “YOU DID THIS TO ME!”, baby comes out, and the dad faints right after he cuts the cord.
I don’t have the time or page space to go into all the reasons this trope bugs me so I’ll boil it down to 2 points. This story says:
1) when it comes to comforting a woman, men are incompetent and
2) birth is a scary process that women must go through alone
How sad is that? Here is this special moment, some might even call it a sacred moment, where we take 1+1 and somehow make it equal 3 and we have this stereotype telling us that one of these people has to do it all on their own because the other person just is simply too absent to help her. I’m not saying dads can’t be nervous, excited, and even a little scared but those aren’t the only things that dads can be at a birth. Dads can also be knowledgeable, supportive, attentive, and loving.
So how do you keep yourselves from falling into the “clueless dad” trap? How do you change the picture in your head from “guy passed out on hospital floor” to “husband holding and supporting his wife as she brings new life into the world”? How do you go from thinking of your partner as a punch line to knowing they will be the one having your back (and rubbing your back) in labor? First things first, BOTH of you get educated. Learn about nutrition and exercise during pregnancy. Learn about tests that may be performed during pregnancy and what they might mean. Learn what tests and procedures might be done in the hospital during labor. After you’re done learning about these things, talk about them with your partner! Talk about how you feel about having an episiotomy, epidural, or possible c-section. What do both of you think about water birth and placenta encapsulation? (side note, these things are totally covered in my ten week birth class...just saying ;-)) Most importantly, learn about each other and how you can offer support during labor. Does she like her hair brushed? Is there a certain smell she can’t stand? Where does she carry tension? What does she look like when she is relaxed?
The second thing you can do is realize you don’t have to do this big thing all on your own. Yes, she is definitely the star of the show, and yes, he is the person who can best support and comfort her, but there are people who are more than willing to help you. There are midwives, doctors, and nurses to handle the medical aspects of birth. There are also doulas to offer physical and emotional support throughout labor. If you and your partner are comfortable with the idea you can also have trusted friends or family at the birth to offer assistance. There are people who are willing, able, and would be honored to be a part of the birth team, they just need to be asked.
I think what might bug me the most about “clueless dad in the delivery room” is that it paints this picture of birth that makes both partners seem so powerless and alone, and that is absolutely not how it has to be. Even if nothing in the birth goes according to plan knowledge IS power, and if Mom and Dad both know and understand what is happening then they aren’t powerless! They have the power of choice. And if both of them are united by knowledge and surrounded by people who love and support them then they are not alone. They have each other. They are both participating in that weird, magical, impossible math. They are both making 1+1=3.