Something I've been thinking about a lot lately: what is the innate/intuitive role of the father in birth?
Our culture has become saturated with images of men holding their partner's hand while managing to say the exact right thing and then leaping up to help the attendant catch the baby and finally to snip the cord in the right place, leaving a perfect little belly button. In fact, any dad who doesn't aspire to this scenario, is viewed as a "cad" and a "bad mate".
There are those (a plenty) who buck many notions and images which dominate our birth culture. They reject that birth is horrifically painful and necessitates a screaming woman who needs to be guided and calmed by her man (and her birth attendants). They reject birthing docilely in a lithotomy position with a doppler belt strapped to one's belly. They reject birth as a dangerous and scary undertaking which requires myriad "emergency" technology and devices lying in wait (just in case). And I applaud this rejection....BUT:
Why is it that we don't seem to even ask the questions; What is the role or even the purpose of a father during a birth? Is he there to *help* with the process? Can he even *really* understand the process? Is his coaching and aid really such a great benefit to his partner, to any other attending personnel, or ultimately to himself?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that men aren't valuable and cannot have a legitimate, if not critical role in birth. But is it what we think it is? We need to be asking a lot more questions to find out what that role is.
Birth is such a unique experience. Each birth is different. A mother's needs and birth process differ from birth to birth. Yet, we continuously try to fit birth into a cookie cutter mold. Every birth attendant (including fathers in childbirth classes) must learn the 3 stages of labor, the levels of effacement, dilation station and so on. We work so hard to be properly educated and prepared for an event that will require all of these skills and education. But that's not how it is really. In fact, it is a circular argument for itself. (You need to know these things so you can recognize these things so you will know what we have told you that you really need to do...oh don't argue...it will give men *something to do*) The need to know birth and recognize and identify each stage and step along the way has been very damaging to the process itself. This need to know and thereby control the process of birth is why we have a c-section rate in the 25% range in the US and why obstetrical malpractice insurance is killing the very practice of obstetrics today. (Talk about circular logic! How's it working out for Americans? Not so great.)
A woman's body has never taken a class on childbirth. It just knows what to do. It does not only knows what to do under normal/ideal circumstances. It knows what to do in the event of complication or variant outside of the textbook process. Just as your body knows how to poop (whether that particular poop be perfectly formed, hardened, runny or what have you) through all of life's differing circumstances, so does it know how to birth a child. There is not a single act of "aid" in the birth process that the body does not have some natural mechanism for aiding better. The body knows what each variant means, and will respond accordingly every single time (assuming that there is no subluxation and no gross limitation of matter) while any outside attendant can only make an educated guess.
So, this brings me back to the father. He is ultimately, a poseur in today's world of birthing. He can be excited with the idea of "delivering" his own child and his critical role in helping his partner, but he is doing so at the expense of his partner (who will actually deliver the baby and should get full credit for doing soo. Jeesh!) and her actual needs. Does this role best serve his innate strengths and purpose in birth?
Pregnancy and childbirth are part of a vital journey into becoming a parent. We have a tendency to become far to focused on the goal: a healthy baby and ultimately lose sight of the journey itself. The mother is going through an intense spiritual journey which involves letting go of control and listening to her own deep and powerful innate intelligence, which is always, always right. She must actually learn to reject educated intelligence (birthing classes, doctors, midwives and friends) when that inferior knowledge runs counter to the still small voice inside of her. This ability, to know what is innately right for you and your child and to be willing to stand up to outsiders who think otherwise, is an important step in the ongoing journey into parenthood. The work of pregnancy and childbirth is in honing that ability to know your deepest innate needs and abilities and to respect that knowledge above all others. This is what the pregnancy education and workshops should teach.
So, how does the father contribute to this model, of an deeply empowered, innately driven birth? How does the father both help the mother find her strongest and most centered seat of power? Does coaching her help her to find her own inner strength on an intuitive level? Does he really know her better than she knows herself? He is infinitely closer to the mother (on a deeply spiritual and innate level) than the other birth attendants and may be able to intuit some of her needs but he is still not *within her* in this process.
He also needs to be aware that he is on his own journey. This idea is completely overlooked in our culture. Men become fathers through their own unique and powerful journey. The father and mother need to use this process to better understand and respect each other in order to grow as parents and partners. Fir the father, birth is a learning and bonding opportunity as well. He is must also learn to give up control and accept the process that is occurring in its own unique way. He must also learn to reject the "educated" wisdom all around him and connect to his wife and child on a deeply intuitive and spiritual level. He should not thinking of how to better direct his partner in her journey but how to better connect and support her without undermining her critical act of climbing to the pinnacle of her feminine power.
What is the father's innate role in birth? How can we support men in preparing for this journey without undermining the critical power of their partners? How can men learn and grow through the act of just being there as physical and spiritual birth partners? Do men really just have to *do something* in order to feel okay? Is that enough justification for the roles we give men in birth today?