It's my daughter's third birthday today. It's also the 21st anniversary of my meeting my husband (at the Trades in Hebden...classy...). Needless to say we no longer drink more than a glass of any alcoholic beverage as we've been sleep-trained out of it. She was born just an hour and a half into our 18th anniversary- in case you can't count. And, big confession here, it took exactly three years to ask him what was his experience of the birth.
We were reminiscing whilst looking at the clock.
HIM: I was filling the birth pool now
ME: I have absolutely no idea what I was doing now.
It started with a question: what were you doing whilst I was lost in my birth bubble? Did you make cups of tea? And what he said completely took me aback. Yes, he made tea, yes, he held my hand (I remember that bit). But he then started talking about the thoughts that were going through his head. And even worse, how those same thoughts had been going through his head since the five month marker:
What if my wife dies and I'm left with a baby?
What if she is as badly hurt by this birth as my mother was by me?
What if the baby drowns in the pool?
I was just so horrified at myself (the therapist, the hypnobirther, the birth partner champion) that it had never occurred to me to ask what his part had been in the birth and such sadness that he felt he couldn't talk to me about this stuff. I've been banging on about birth partners and their effect on the birth for ages now, but I just assumed that I knew what had been going on with my own birth partner.
I've stopped beating myself up and actually looked at why it took me three years to ask a few simple questions about the birth. Birth is full of assumptions. Phrases like 'You don't know what you don't know' sum up the strange complicit silence that surrounds our birth environments- even for those of us who are pretty self-aware (OK, I was terrified and I made sure I was hypersensitive to every nuance of feeling and emotion).
Procedures are carried out as routine or even as a tradition without good reasons why.
There is also the complicit view that men have no place in the birth environment and if they are there then they should shut up and put up. Line this up with the equal pressure men are under to be at their children's births and that leads to a pretty disempowering position for new fathers and doesn't tally with how modern relationships really are.
I wish I knew then what I know now: that your birth partner feeling happy and relaxed in the birth space is paramount. That it's not impossible to achieve this with a bit of honest discussion. And that him and his feelings DO matter in the birth environment. If men are choosing to play a part in birth, it's essential that they're supported to do so; for their emotional health and their future autonomy as parents. I speak from experience.
I'm developing a new birth planning process that uses your partner's strengths and characteristics to create a really supportive birth environment, giving you the best chance of an empowering and comfortable birth. My next group hypnobirthing course runs on 14th April and 21st April