What do fathers think about homebirth? What is the man's role at a home birth?
If I had to generalise, I'd say that many fathers are sceptical about homebirth before the event, but become evangelical afterwards when they see how much sense it all makes; birth at home just works better, and once you have seen a woman labouring well, undisturbed, you can understand how disruptive it is to a woman's labour if she has to travel to hospital.
The father at a home birth has more choice about how he can support the mother. Just as in hospital, the woman may want him to provide physical and emotional support in labour. However, some men find that they feel useless in this situation, stuck in an unfamiliar room or pacing corridors, in strange territory, with nothing to do except worry.
The father does not need to ask permission to go to get a cup of tea, or to use the loo, in his own home; if he is finding the labour an intense experience, and if his partner can manage without him for a little while, it's easier for him to find some space to get some time out.A wonderful article about home birth from the father's viewpoint, '7 Secrets of Being a A Home Birth Dad', has been written by Ven Batista. Ven writes that he was sceptical about home birth at first, but after the event he concludes that:
"As a dad there is really no comparison to be made. You are a key part of a home birth. The mother needs you and is relying on you."
Ven compares this to being made to leave his wife and first-born daughter in hospital:
"the most unnatural thing in the world for me to do was leave my daughter, drive home and lay on my couch for eight hours and wait for the sun to rise. To make me do that was probably the cruelest thing that has ever been done to me. "
Glenn has written his viewpoint of his baby's homebirth, in which he writes:
" I suddenly started to enjoy the experience and the freedom of a home birth. Instead of just being a onlooker I could do whatever I liked, and more importantly so could Pam."
At home there may be more practical ways for the father to help in addition to his support role. For instance, he will know where the plug sockets are for the resuscitation equipment that the midwife has ready in case of emergency, where to find any extra bits and pieces she needs, and so on. If there is a birth pool, the father is often in charge of getting it ready and keeping the water at a comfortable temperature; a modern equivalent of boiling water!
Ian C knew that homebirth would be more father-friendly than being in hospital:
"Personally, I don't like hospitals that much; I particularly don't like maternity units. I know all the midwives mean well, but they have an amazing habit of making a man feel like a third-rate citizen. You have to buzz to get into the door, buzz to get back out to buy something to eat, you get told you are in the way if you get too involved, if you have to get a midwife's attention for some reason you get made to feel that you are asking too much. Once the baby has been born you get told when you can visit and for how long; I distinctly remember getting a thorough telling off after Samuel and also when Harriet was born for staying in the ward 'too late', god forbid. The worst part of it all is the fact that your wife will be in need of your help at some point in the hospital visit, even if she is just hungry, thirsty or more likely in pain. It is at this point that a man (being a problem solver) wants to fix the problem for her, but being is hospital makes that nearly impossible. If you can get someone to assist you, chances are they won't or can't get you what your wife needs."
Some men are worried about seeing their partner in pain, or about witnessing the birth itself. Being at home allows them to be suppotive at arm's length, if you like; there if they are needed, there to see the baby as soon as it's born, but they don't have to actually be in the same room. As Rachel puts it:
"Being at home meant that my husband could be there without being 'at the business end'"
The father may have a vital role as the mother's advocate, taking pressure off her if there are any disagreements about the best course of action. Haydon's wife, Wendy, was under pressure to accept induction when her waters had been broken for 24 hours. As there was no sign of infection in her or the baby, Wendy chose to remain at home, but Haydon had to field difficult phone calls from hospital staff, protecting her from the stress of dealing with this while in early labour:
"I felt proud that I had been able to be instrumental in making sure that Wendy's wishes were carried out. I honestly believe that if Wendy had been on her own, she would have given in at that point, leading to a birth experience that she would have hated."
Hypnotherapy can really help to make labour more manageable, and in some approaches, like HypnoBirthing, the father has a very specific job to help the mother focus on her visualisations in labour. Emma writes of Gordon's support during a long labour:
"Each time I had a contraction I would concentrate and squeeze his hand and he would say 'in with the endorphins, out with the stress' and then snore!! "
What if the father is worried about home birth? This is a subject that I will expand upon in future, but briefly, I would encourage you to go to a home birth group and talk to other parents who have planned home births. Sometimes it's most informative to hear not just the stories where everything went well, but those where there was a complication - to find out how problems can be dealt with at home. You'll find quite a few birth stories where complications have occurred on the page 'But what if...? '. It can also be helpful to talk to the midwives, if you are able to attend an antenatal appointment together. Steve found this helpful:
When Katie originally said she fancied a home birth I was very sceptical about the whole thing, I had all the normal scary visions and thoughts. I was present when Katie had her first appointment with Jacquie, her midwife, and she told Jacquie about wanting the home birth.
I must say that after that meeting, most, (not all) of my fears went. Jacquie explained exactly what would happen and when and that we could still get to hospital very quickly if needs be.
In 'Homebirth - a nervous father's story', the father knew that his wife was well-informed because she was an NCT antenatal teacher. However, he was still worried:
What unnerved me, however, was the idea that we should attempt to have our fourth chld outside the "safety" of hospital. All the "what ifs" ran around my head. How would we cope without the machine-that-goes-ping? Jenny tried to reassure me that she knew enough to be certain that this was a sensible choice. A safe choice. The right choice. I could tell that she was a little nervous about the idea, however, and it took a lot of courage and conviction for us both to decide that this was how we were going to do it. I'm so glad we did.
Sometimes the father ends up being rather more involved than he'd expected, if the labour progresses rapidly... Amélie says:
..my baby just slid out into her daddy's arms. She started crying right away, screaming really. It was 7:45...I turned around and took her in my arms, sitting in the pool; husband and I were overwhelmed. He called the midwife's pager again, and took a photo.
Finally, what better start to family life can there be, than for father, mother and baby to stay together, at home? Midwife Gillian Knight puts it beautifully :
As we let ourselves out of the front door I could still picture Alice, John and Michael curled up on the family bed cuddling their new baby. They had been the main characters in this event; we played only minor roles. It felt so right that it was us, not the father who left after the birth. This alone must be one of the best reasons for choosing a homebirth.
From 'A Student's Impression of Homebirth' by Gillian Knight
NB: 'DH' in a birth story means 'Dear Husband', although it's frequently used by people who aren't married; some people use 'DP' for 'Dear Partner'
Here are some birth stories which illustrate how vital the father's support can be at a home birth, and some with comments from men.
Ian C wrote about his daughter Martha's birth, and seems a remarkably even-tempered person as he stayed calm even when his labouring wife dropped his iPod in the bath! Ian notes that the father can sometimes be treated as a third-rate citizen during labour, and that homebirth reduces the chances of this happening.
Kelso is a proud father. Very proud, of his beautiful daughter and his strong wife. He has written a wonderful story about the birth, in a wooden house by the sea in Iceland. As Herdis Hekla was born 16 days after her due date, the story has quite a lot on ways that the expectant father can help to bring labour on!
LW's husband has added his perspective on homebirth.
'7 Secrets of Being a A Home Birth Dad', by Ven Batista
Emma Daniels comments that the home birth of her third baby was better for her partner than her previous hospital births: "Steven felt relaxed and the midwives were our guests rather than the other way around. He climbed all over the bed with me rubbing my back and didn't feel the self-consciousness he would have felt during a hospital labour and birth. "
Charlie Paris's partner, Jeroen, was clearly more on the ball about the progress of her labour than Charlie was, as he suspected things were progressing faster than she realised. When the baby was born before the midwife, with the membranes intact, Jeroen broke the membranes so that the baby could breathe.
Rebecca N's partner intervened when her labour was not progressing in second stage, and helped her to re-focus and get her labour back on track.
Rebekah and Roger both wrote their perspectives on their first baby's birth. Rebekah commented: "Roger was much more involved and he was able to be with me the entire time, whereas many friends only had their husbands with them in hospital for the final stages."
Rachel Vincent writes: "Being at home meant that my husband could be there without being "at the business end". He has been in the delivery room with me previously and felt useless and out of place. This meant he could be there when our son was born but not have the experience marred by a miserable few hours beforehand. I was happy because I knew he was there if I needed him, and felt confident that I could communicate what I wanted.
Haydon Bambury, a dear friend of mine, wrote his first baby's birth story. He had to field difficult phone calls from the hospital when a member of staff wanted Wendy to go in to be induced, but she had made an informed decision to await spontaneous labour.
Anna and Nathan Grube attended Bradley childbirth classes, in which the birth partner and mother work as a team to help her manage labour. It's clear from their story that Nathan's support was invaluable to Anna. "Nathan and I found, too, that having a home birth really helped prepare us to work as a team in caring for our baby girl and made our adjustment to being new parents really very smooth."
Joanne and Paul had attended a Hypnobirthing course, and again, it's clear that Paul had a vital role to play.
Athena's dad was asleep when she was born. Don't worry - he won't ever be allowed to forget it!
Emma and Gordon used HypnoBirthing during the birth of their first baby, after a long labour. "Each time I had a contraction I would concentrate and squeeze his hand and he would say 'in with the endorphins, out with the stress'and then snore!! "
Pam and Glenn both wrote their stories of Kira's birth. Glenn writes: "When Pam told me it was going to be a home birth I naturally had reservations about mother and child's health, and about what sort of state the house was going to be in. I had only just fitted a new carpet so I wasn't overjoyed at the thought of her water breaking all over the light cream carpet and blood in the bed." !!
Steve and Katie planned a homebirth, but transferred to hospital because of complications. Steve's story.
Richard and Rachelle Strauss both write about the birth of their first baby, Verona, at home. The couple used hypnotherapy to help Rachelle manage her labour
Amélie's baby was caught by dad when she arrived too quickly for the midwives.
Kelly G makes it clear just how important her partner's support was during the home birth of her first baby.
Home Birth - a nervous father's story
Homebirth over Hospital - a father's perspective
Papatoto: Homebirth from a Father's Perspective
by Michael Welch
Dads allowed from BBC London
With all the recent media talk of fatherhood, fathers at home and homebirth, our very own midwifery expert Kurt Barling reflects on his experience of his partner's labour and his, to date, fourteen challenging years as a parent.
(archived page here, in case link fails)
Home Birth from a Father's Perspective, by Mark Banta
'Home Birth Favours Fathers' by Dr Matthew Dyer - letter in the Independent newspaper (archived page here, in case link fails)
Is the father's participation at birth dangerous? by Michel Odent - obstetrician and natural birth supporter.
In this article, first published in Midwifery Today, Vol 51, 1999, Michel Odent looks at the issue of the participation of the baby's father at birth.
(archived version of Odent article)
A Note To Fathers: It's You She Wants
by Lois Wilson, 1999 Midwifery Today, Inc. (archived version of Wilson article)
Husbands and Homebirth, by Leah Hazard (SCROLL DOWN the page to find it!)
Men are frequently the naysayers when it comes to homebirth. The author shares some of her experiences and concludes that one important birth change that needs to occur is to bring husbands on board as homebirth supporters. (archived copy of Hazard article)
Home Birth Reference Page