In honor of Father’s Day, let’s celebrate the role of fathers at birth

As the author of Father‘s at Birth, one of my missions is to prepare and support men for labor and birth. To that end, I work with couples and offer clear practices and guidelines that work in the heat of labor. However, in honor of Father’s Day, I would like to honor men by sharing some experiences that men have shared with me.

Let’s celebrate the importance of the father’s experience. And let’s communicate to him that he has to find his own path through too and there’s room for him to be human and no one does it flawlessly. We don’t often hear from men and sometimes we don’t understand how meaningful the birth of their child is for them.

When a man becomes a father, who he knows himself to be is permanently altered. Here are some revealing quotes from new fathers:

  • “Nothing prepared me for how I felt when I saw my baby. I am so thankful I was there. I wouldn’t have missed it, and I feel sorry for men who do miss it. Nothing a man can ever do quite equals this experience.”
  • “To me, birth was like a grand initiation. It was like waking up to a whole new aspect of life I had never seen before and I didn’t know existed.”
  • “Being there to greet my son at the precise moment he was born was an indescribable privilege. I was swept into this high, but I was really clear. It was like opening a door and meeting myself and my son at the same time.”

Even though labor is not going on in his body, a man is still going through a form of labor—a major transformation.

  • “When I saw my baby’s face, I started tearing up because I knew we had done it. We had figured it out together. And there was room for me to be human because I realized I hadn’t been there in every single moment, but I had faith in my wife and it was all coming together. I knew I had helped my wife to get where she needed to be.”

Here’s a quote from a man who caught his baby. ”I reached down and touched his head. That made it real in a way it had not been. Then he came into the world as I cradled him, and I put him on his mother’s belly. I haven’t ever experienced anything so powerful.”

  • And this quote is from a man who was not prepared, but in spite of his lack of preparation, he clearly shares how valuable the experience of being present at the birth of his baby was to him. “I barely supported myself through labor. You’d expect a grown man to know there would be blood and body secretions, but it was way more graphic, gritty, and even more aggressive than I thought it would be. But no matter what, I wouldn’t have missed the birth. I held my baby right after she was born and that was all it took. I fell madly in love with her. She was so beautiful and so perfect, and my wife and I were so thankful we both cried.”

These quotes from men express the transformational, deep emotional and even spiritual experiences men can have at labor and birth. We can also see deep bonding occurring between the father and his baby. Imagine the impact that this immediate bonding has on the long-term relationship with his child. And imagine how it contributes to making the family stronger and more resilient.

I don’t think many of us realize the weight many men shoulder during labor and birth. Here’s a quote.

  • “My sole focus as a partner had been to help my wife get the labor and delivery experience she wanted and to bring a healthy child into the world. Once it was all over, it was like this veil of concern and apprehension just exploded into particles and disappeared. The weight lifted and I realized how much gravity the situation had held until I was sure my wife and baby were both okay.”

No one, except the mother, is more personally and profoundly affected by the baby’s birth than the father. What happens to his baby and partner, in effect, happens to him. Deep inside men know this. He is connected to them like no other.  He has the power to provide a sense of well-being and safety for the mother like no one else. No one can take his role.

Since men are not the ones doing the actual labor and birth, we often overlook, diminish, and don’t even acknowledge the work they are doing. Here’s one man’s perspective:

  • “If you compare the amount of effort, obviously the nod goes to the woman. But I don’t think anyone has any idea of the amount of effort it takes to be in a physically supportive role where you have to take action, yet be in a witness role where you have to be truly present. And the whole time I was concerned that both my baby and my wife would be all right.”

This quote gives us some insight into a man’s capacity to selflessly serve his partner. We want to wake up to the incredible offering men make. And, we want our men to wake-up to the value of what they offer. As the mother’s lover and the baby’s father, the man is the most important person in attendance at birth. Since a man knows his partner intimately and is connected to her and the baby like no other, the unique contribution that only he can make during labor and birth cannot be overlooked.

As women, mothers, and birth workers, we want to offer men our compassion and respect. Clearly, we don’t want to patronize men or minimize or diminish their role or their committed offering. They are a major contributor! We want to get serious about acknowledging the incredible offering they make. And we want to make sure that we offer men the knowledge, tools, and skills they need to succeed at birth, which helps women succeed.

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