Joseph Perrotta of Wesley Chapel, Fla., remembers the birth of his daughter, Arianna Gia, now 3. He put on gloves and caught his daughter as the couple’s doula and midwife stood in the background. Perrotta followed a birth plan so he could be a guardian of the couple’s birth memories.
He prepared ahead of time for the birth of his second child by making relaxation and meditation tapes for Michelle. He brought massage instruments, a birthing ball and created a home atmosphere in the birthing suite.
Men who attend the birth are more likely to bond with the infant.
“We had a birth plan so that we were prepared,” he says. “If I had any questions, the doulas and midwife were both very helpful. Nowadays, it’s not where you drop your wife off at the front door, park the car, and she calls you when the baby is there. Men can start playing a more active role in the birth plan.”
Considering a Doula
In preparing for the big day, consider hiring a doula to help provide both you and your partner support. Birth doulas don’t take the place of the father in the delivery room or at home but can take the edge off so a father can follow through on the birth plan even when his partner is ready to throw in the towel.
According to Jennifer Nunn, of Owensboro, Ky., the president of DONA (Doulas of North America), doulas can also help relieve fathers of many of the responsibilities of having to remember everything. “For some dads that gets very stressful,” she says. “The doula is there to help him remember how he can help her. It’s very hard sometimes to watch the person you love in pain.”
Perrotta says the birth of his first child, Joseph, 4, who was delivered by Cesarean section without the support of a doula was a very different experience than his second child with a doula. He says he felt stressed, his mind often racing with questions.
He also has trouble remembering much about the days and weeks following that first birth. “I remember we lived in a four-story house, and my wife was in the bedroom,” he says. “I remember running up and down those stairs every five minutes. I remember being nervous about the car seat and things like that.” His wife, Michelle, went on to become a birth doula herself so she could offer new moms and dads assistance.
Not only do doulas help during the birth, but they can also help after delivery. Postpartum doulas can help Mom and Dad make a smoother transition into parenthood.
Dad’s Birth Plan-Plan Ahead for a Less Stressful Birth Nunn, who has been assisting women in the birthing process since 1989, says DONA just started certification last year for postpartum doulas. Through research, they found postpartum doulas ease postpartum depression in women, help get breastfeeding off to a better start and facilitate bonding. She says postpartum doulas, which are different than birth doulas, often help with light house cleaning or preparing meals. “They are not there to be nannies or baby nurses,” Nunn says. “Their role, just like a birth doula, is to empower the couple in their role as parents. Her ultimate goal is to work herself out of a job. She is helping them feel more comfortable in their roles.”
According to Nunn, the long-term memories of mothers giving birth are there for her entire lifetime. Since it is such a life-changing and powerful event, the memories are very vivid for birth.
Nunn recommends the father practice visualization techniques, so he can help his wife when she is in the midst of a hard contraction by describing a pleasant place or scene. She recalls the interesting picture one man painted for his wife. The woman was approaching the late active stage of labor and needed emotional support to work through the intense contractions. “I said to the dad, ‘Why don’t you do a visualization with her?'” Nunn says. “‘Think of someplace that is special to the two of you, maybe when you watched a waterfall or heard birds singing.’ When this dad started saying, ‘Last fall when we went squirrel hunting…’ I about died. He started to described how they went out in the woods, and the leaves were crisp, and the sun was shining through the trees.”
Nunn says although she would not have wanted a squirrel-hunting trip described to her during labor, the visualization was almost poetic and was a good memory for the woman. “At the end, the wife started laughing,” Nunn says. “She said, ‘I was the only one who got a squirrel that day.'”
As a doula and a mother, Michelle Perrotta has witnessed and experienced the many ways a couple’s birth plan falls apart.
A woman might check off a birth plan list – she wants music, the lights dimmed, no sedatives but yes to acupuncture and massage, etc. – but Perrotta believes it is important for fathers to have their own birth plan. “Get all the little things done you don’t want to worry about: oil changes, taking the dog to the vet,” she says. “Keep up on the yard so you aren’t doing yard work that could have been done earlier. Stock up on plastic utensils, paper plates, so you don’t have to worry about doing dishes.”
She also suggests buying frozen meals, preparing meals ahead of time or at least gathering phone numbers of local restaurants that deliver. Also, develop a list of phone numbers of friends or relatives who can be contacted after returning back to work so the mom has someone she can call. And make sure to ask for time off of work or arrange the work schedule to accommodate the new changes at home.
The Main Event
During the labor, men have to be willing to give up their illusion that they can fix every problem, Perrotta says. “Men are fixers,” she says. “Birth sometimes hurts. It’s not a situation that can be fixed. Just by understanding and being there, holding her hand even though you know she is in pain, is enough.
Offer her fluids, so she does not become dehydrated, but remember to encourage her to use the bathroom every hour. Buy magazines and newspapers the day the baby was born, take photographs and keep a journal of the day’s events. Don’t plan on sleeping unless she is sleeping, Perrotta says.
As far as what not to do, Perrotta discourages talking on the phone, watching the game or chatting with people in the room. “The mom should have the undivided attention,” she says. “They should eat, but they should not eat in front of Mom. They need something to keep them energized. Moms have hormones and endorphins to keep them going – dads don’t.”
While it is permissible to slip out for a sandwich in the early stages of labor, the dad should not leave the room for any reason once the woman hits the last stage of labor: transition.
Jerrold Lee Shapiro, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of counseling at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., and author of When Men Are Pregnant: Needs and Concerns of Expectant Fathers (Delta, 1993) and Becoming a Father (Springer Publishing Co., 1995), says men have to be fairly insistent about getting into the middle of the birth. “It’s so much better than it was,” he says. “I don’t want to complain, because, in the mid-’60s, 15 percent of all men expected to be present at the birth of their children. Today 85 percent do. That’s a revolution.” Shapiro says men who attend the birth are more likely to bond with the infant.
After Mom and Baby arrive home, Shapiro says men can, of course, bring breakfast in bed or flowers to the woman. However, while gifts are a nice gesture, he says the most important thing is for parents to bond with the baby. Since women are largely in control of the man’s access to the baby, men need to exert a bit of their own dominance gently, he says. “He needs to take care of the child his own way,” Shapiro says. “I think that’s incredibly important.”
Shapiro says to pay attention when the woman is getting tired and take over by holding the baby or playing with the baby. “If she is nursing, that kind of bonding – the baby’s feeding – is what she has to do, but that does not mean he can’t be with the baby for other things such as changing diapers,” he says. “What she needs to do is let them (be together), and some men have to be assertive about it.”
Becoming a parent is not an intuitive process for most men. Therefore, dads need time to bond and develop the paternal feeling. During the labor and delivery, dads do all they can to keep the birth plan on track and guard the woman’s birth memories. But after the baby is born, the focus should shift to both Mother and Father designing a life together with their child – and good memories are sure to follow.