Love. Peace. Gratitude. Joy! These are just a few of the feelings that come to my mind as I seek to find the words to describe what I experienced yesterday. I’m writing this on Jan. 6th 2015, not even 24 hours after the birth of my 5th child, and no more than 40 feet from where he was born. Here I sit surrounded by the clutter of my kids’ toys and story books, while my wife rests with our new baby boy in our bedroom. As I reflect on the miracle of the birth of my children into this world and connect it to this wonderful place where my family lives and loves one another each day, I think to myself, “There’s no place like home!”
My wife Camille went into early labor yesterday morning while I was at work. She called me and our midwife close to noon and suggested I come home because we were going to have a baby! Contractions were easy but productive. The midwife relayed to us that my wife was dilated and effaced. The baby was ready to come as soon as her body was ready to get him here. So we waited together. We talked during and between contractions. She walked and moved around the house as she pleased. We laughed during and between contractions. As the contractions became more intense, I sat calmly near her with a hand on her back, simply to let her know I was there. She breathed and I breathed with her. She directed each step of the birth. She dictated where and how she would labor. Even in the final hour of the birth, when the contractions became most severe, she managed the pain of each contraction with incredible grace. Her breaths became more audible and her demeanor more concentrated, but she retained a peace that washed over all of us and made the setting almost serene. It was quiet. There was no one buzzing about. There were no beeps or alarms. In the last moments before the baby was born, I saw, as I have with the birth of each of my children, the absolutely awe inspiring strength of a mother’s body, mind, soul and will. And then, at 5:21 PM my son was born and the world seemed to stop. Euphoria! Words can’t express the feelings of the moment because, in that moment, we touched heaven!
After having an experience like this, it’s hard to accept the fear that grips so many when it comes to childbirth. It’s hard to believe that I once shared that same trepidation. Both mothers and fathers have feelings of apprehension regarding birth because society exaggerates, amplifies, and even exploits the fears of birth. However, I learned years ago that worry and fear do not need to be the center of the birth experience for the mother or the father. When the worry and fear are removed, the whole experience becomes less painful and more wonderful for everyone involved. When the fear and worry are eradicated, peace, and love are what remain.
Where I came from
With all of that said, I used to be one of those fathers that were terrified of birth. When my wife suggested doing a home birth with our first son, I thought she was crazy.
I recently participated in a Facebook discussion that started with a statement that I’m sure I would have made 10 years ago. The post said…
“My wife just threw a bomb at me… She wants to try home birth!”
The conversation that ensued was a smattering of everything from, “That’s crazy! Does she have a death wish?” to comments of congratulations and glowing reports about other fathers’ experiences with home birth.
The sad thing to me was the magnitude of fear and panic that surrounded the topic of childbirth for dads. As I sat and thought about my own experience, I realized that I felt the same way once upon a time.
It was almost 10 years ago when we got the happy news that we would be having a baby and my wife told me that she wanted to have our baby at home with a midwife that her sister had used. My response was actually quite similar to the father on Facebook that referred to this announcement as a “bomb.” I love my wife dearly and consider myself pretty open minded, but on this, I wasn’t quite so open minded! I wanted to respect her request and was willing to study it out, but I hadn’t had any experience with anyone close to me having a home birth and was surrounded by people who thought it was crazy. I had bought into the notion that child birth was a dangerous procedure that was supposed to be done in a hospital rather than a home. After some time and in spite of my fears and reluctance, I told my wife I would be open to it, but I felt like we should meet with the midwife and ask some “serious questions.”
My wife set an appointment with the midwife just a few weeks later. We walked into the midwife’s home and talked with her for over an hour. After half-listening to her talk about all of the wonders of bringing a new child into the world as well as a few technicalities regarding how her services worked, she asked if we had any questions or concerns. To the dismay of my wife, I voiced my fears to the midwife and did not mince words. I said, “I just want to be sure everything is going to be okay. I want you to know that if anything happened to my wife or baby, I would probably blame you.” Who would take that patient?! I felt awful saying that to her because I knew how much my wife wanted this. I knew also, after I had impulsively said it, that the midwife probably would not take someone on that did not trust or support her. I was right. The midwife refused to take us on. She said, “Maybe this isn’t right for you at this time,” which was her nice way of saying, “Your husband is not ready.” Then she told me something else that had a serious impact on me. She said…
“Birth is a serious situation, but it is also a beautiful and joyful situation. You’ve been duped into believing that you need to fear it. You don’t. I can’t guarantee anything. There are complications that arise sometimes, but I’ve never had complications arise that we could not handle. Most complications we can prevent and predict ahead of time. Regardless of where you have your child, I hope you will read and learn. I hope you will pray and listen to the whisperings of God about this. I hope you will be filled with the faith and hope of new life and birth rather than being filled with fear.”
WOW! That gave me some serious stuff to think about!
My wife was upset and through ongoing discussions over the following weeks, gently told me that she needed my support both in her pregnancy and in the birth. She gave me material about pregnancy and childbirth and insisted that I read and study. So I did. I did what the midwife and my wife asked. I read about pregnancy and birth. I studied about home birth and husband assisted birth. I prayed for faith and the knowledge I needed to calm my fears, and it came. The faith, the knowledge and the comfort came and the fear left.
A month later, I swallowed my pride and called the midwife and told her all I had learned and about my change of mind and heart. She was touched and agreed to take my wife and first child’s birth. Our experience since then has been wonderful. We have now had 5 children at home with a midwife with nothing but marvelous experiences.
The Fears and Myths
It was true. I was afraid of a lot of things. My mind had been filled with movie scenes of mothers screaming and saying things like, “I hate you! You did this to me!” I worried about my wife’s safety. I worried about the safety of my child. I had heard stories of emergency c-sections and inducing labor because the baby was too big or too small. In all of that I had never questioned my society-induced general perception that birth was a “medical procedure” rather than a natural process that a woman’s body was miraculously designed to complete. I was afraid of all the things that lots of moms and dads deal with including…
· Not making it to the hospital
· What if… (Would she need medical interventions and if she did, would they be helpful and effective?)
· Life threatening complications (Ironically, I didn’t even know what those were, just that I was afraid of them)
· My wife’s pain (Her not being able to handle it and my not being able to do anything about it.)
· Labor that is too long
· Fear of the unknown (Anything could happen. I was so ignorant and was expecting the professional to take on all the responsibility for the unknown instead of learning for myself)
The Truth and Reality
This Huffington Post article quoted the CDC saying that in 2008-2009 an estimated 1.29% of hospital pregnancies/childbirths experience severe complications and require serious interventions. It is also important to note that the rate of serious complication is considerably lower in home births, probably because they are generally “low-risk” births and due to the lack of unnecessary alarm and interventions. To give a little perspective, the odds of getting in a car accident are approximately 1 in 16 or 6.25% chance. The odds of dying in a car accident are more than 1 in 100, and yet we get in our cars every day without giving it a thought. In the article above, Dr. William Callahan of the CDC said, “Not all complications can be avoided, of course, but the best outcomes happen when a woman is as healthy as possible going into pregnancy… Most women do fine, and even most women with significant disease before pregnancy do fine.” High risk pregnancy and birth can generally be predicted and precautions taken if necessary ahead of time. Many suggest that although not all complications can be avoided, many can be avoided through wise preventative care.
Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”
I found that as I did the research and learned about childbirth, the more I understood. Then I was able to focus my thoughts and energy on helping my wife have the healthiest pregnancy and birth possible. I was able to make proactive choices with my wife rather than simply being reactive. The books that were most profound in helping to calm my fears were “Childbirth Without Fear” by Grantley Dick-Read, M.D. and “Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” by Susan McCutcheon.
Dr. Grantley Dick-Read said, “It’s not only that we want to bring about an easy labor, without risking injury to the mother or the child; we must go further. We must understand that childbirth is fundamentally a spiritual, as well as a physical, achievement. The birth of a child is the ultimate perfection of human love.”
The fear is gone
When my wife was first pregnant with my first son, I was scared! Now when I think of child birth, I am aware of the pain and struggle associated with it, but that is not my focus. My mind now focuses on the miracle of the birth of a new little baby and the joy of the slight parting of the veil of heaven that accompanies it. As we go through it I feel like it is a privilege to support and sustain my wife as she labors to make it happen. Do we take precautions and preventative measures before and during the birth? Of course! We must take responsibility for our part. But my fear is gone. My wife’s fear is gone, and as a result, her births have been wonderful. Not painless, but wonderful.
Ten years after my visit with our first midwife, I am so grateful for her guidance to learn all I could and to pray and replace my fear with knowledge, faith and peace. I wish and hope the same for every mother and father who is planning for the birth of their child.
My objective in writing this blog post is not to persuade moms or dads to try home birth or to make any claims about its being the only, or even the best, way to bring a baby into the world. My objective is to hopefully dispel some of the myths and fears that surround childbirth. If that is accomplished, it will prepare you to make the best and most positive decisions for the mother and child. It will also aid dads in ridding themselves of the panic and dread that accompany childbirth so that they can be the helpful support their wives need. I believe the best birth option is the one in which the mother is most comfortable and in which the parents can be free of fear. Then they are prepared to experience the joys of bringing a new child into the world.
Takeaway tips for calming fears of childbirth:
1. Educate yourself and make wise, proactive and preventative choices.
2. Pray and connect with the creator. Seek out peace and faith.
3. Decide to have your baby with someone you trust, in the place the mother feels most comfortable.
4. Moms, learn to relax, and Dads, learn to help her relax (this includes your being relaxed and calm).
Credit: Andy Smithson LMSW