Sunday, July 19, 2009

Birth: Solo or Team Sport?

Oh dear, it's been quite the week for British men in the business of delivering babies.

First, as reported by The Daily Telegraph, midwife Denis Walsh tells women that that they're taking the easy way out by choosing epidurals and pain relieving drugs during labour. Now, it's obstetrician Michel Odent's turn to spark controversy.

According to, Dr Odent argues that men shouldn't be present when their partner gives birth.

"..a labouring woman needs to be protected against any stimulation of the thinking part of her brain, the neocortex, for labour to proceed with any ease...Yet, motivated by a desire to "share the experience'', the man asks questions and offers words of reassurance and advice. In doing so, he denies his partner the quiet mind she needs.

The second reason is that the father's release of the stress hormone adrenalin as he watches his partner labour causes her anxiety and prevents her relaxing...With a man present, a woman cannot be as relaxed as she needs to be during labour. Hence, the process becomes more difficult."

He also questions whether men are able to "easily cope with the strong emotional reaction they have when they participate in the birth", claiming he has seen "something akin to post-natal depression in men present at birth."

And finally, Dr Odent worries what the effect of a man's attendance at birth will have on the sexual attraction he feels towards his partner.

"When men began standing at their partner's side in labour, I remember my mother's generation saying that the couple's intimate life would be ruined. And, given that the key to eroticism is a degree of mystery, I'm left believing they had a point."

Look, I'm not going to get on my soapbox here and yell about what an idiot this guy is. I dare say there'll be a looooooong queue of woman waiting to do just that. What I will do is offer my own experience of birth.

For me, labour was an out-of-body experience. For most of the 14 hours I was in labour with Olivia, I existed in a hazy world of pain and wasn't aware of much else. Occasionally, I remember Drew would tell me to breathe and I would get pissed off at him and say "No!" but, for most of the time, it was just me and my contractions.

When things turned bad and an emergency caesar became the only option, THAT is when I really needed him. Because you don't want to face something like that alone...and I wouldn't even think of trying to.

Yes, I'm sure he found it traumatic. I know I did...but mothers don't really have the option to not be present at the birth.

And I'm sure he looked at me differently afterwards...but in a positive way. I was the woman who had endured intense pain for hours and undergone surgery to give him his first beautiful girl. There was admiration, awe and gratitude. Our relationship evolved.

To say that men don't belong in the delivery room is, I think, an insult to them. Yes, the woman carries the child. Yes, she is the one who ultimately has to give birth. But bringing a child into the world involves two parties - not just at the moment they take their first breath, but for the rest of their life. Shouldn't we start the way we mean to finish?

So, now it's over to you...should birth be a solo or team sport?


Jaime said...

Again, there's no blanket response for everyone. It's whatever works for you. I couldn't imagine the delivery of my children without my husband.

He held my hand and distracted me through my mild freakout when our son was born. I could not and would not have wanted to do it without him.
But, everyone's experience is different.

Doctors surely should realise this. You know I'm sure this is just another example of comments being taken out of context.

Anonymous said...

I've had three children. Two of those were with my husband present at the birth ( he was my only family member there) and yes, it definitely brought us closer together. The first baby we had in particular was very moving for him, and he still had the tshirt he wore that day (with my blood all over it - ew), and we're divorced and everything now!
But my husband had NO idea what he was doing in that room and we both found the birth terrifying and traumatic. I was often really upset watching him get upset and when I made a mess on all the bedsheets, I was mortified that he saw it all.

But when I had my third child, my husband and I had separated, so I asked a close friend to be my birthing buddy. In the hospital room were two female midwives and my friend who'd had three of her own children
I had the most spiritual, beautiful, wonderful labour and birth - there was just something really grounding about having only women in the room. I found it freeing.

SO - while I don't think it's up to anybody to say who should or shouldnt' be present at a birth, I see merit in this doctor's statement..I see where he is coming from.

Amanda said...

Sparsely Kate, I know what you're saying...we had a WONDERFUL midwife at Olivia's birth (Sophia was emergency caesar all the way) and I have vivid recollections of clutching her hand in the end stages of labour and being so comforted that she was there...

Barb Fisher said...

I would have been chopped liver if my hub wasn't there for the birth of my little one. I had a very quick labour (less than 3 hours) and my obstetrician was busy doing an emergency caesar plus an induction. The midwives were pretty busy with these other two ladies as well, so it was just my husband talking me through it. The midwives came in basically just in time to seal the deal at the very end, and my obstetrician later on to sort out the damage from such a quick entry to the world.

Long afterwards, he told me that he was absolutely panicked about the whole thing and was wishing he could knock me off the gas and suck some back himself. But he never let me know that, and it means the world to me that he kept me calm and made me feel safe and secure and in control. I could never have done it without him.

M said...

I have to say birth was almost enjoyable once I succumbed to the epidural and would've been most boring if hubby hadn't been there to chat to. I made sure he was there for every minute - to see how much pain I was in, until the epidural. To see just how gross an epidural is. To laugh at the anaesthetist turning up in his tennis gear. And to look in horror as (both kids) came out with the cord wrapped around their neck, twice.

Gosh, what's not to share?

And as for the intimate stuff. Being ripped to shreds has more to do with that changing than whether or not hubby was there to watch.

Iris said...

Having my man with me when I was in labour and giving birth was probably what made it bearable. I was exhausted, dry-mouthed and probably incoherent by the end, and he deciphered my babbling and got me what I needed.

Not to mention he got to catch our little one and cut the cord when she popped out :-) We both still get a bit teary when we think about it.

That said, I can think of several former boyfriends I would have banished from the room, had I been in the same situation with them..!

Anonymous said...

It depends on the partner.

For me, if Z hadn't been there, who would have brought me the ice? And held my hand that hard. And distracted me with inane conversations about who's going to win the next federal election. Oh, and cut the cord. Sure, the midwives were great, but I wouldn't have had Z miss that for the world.

Bethwyn said...

My view on things I guess is a bit different, as I have never been through labor and have had scheduled csecs for both my deliveries, one with an epi/spinal and conscious, one under general (if I have another baby that too will be under general). I could not have done the first without my fiance being there. No way. I was petrified and it was not a great experience for me. Admittedly a csec is incredibly tame compared to a vag birth, he didn't see anything more than the sheet hanging up, but he was still there for me, and was still what I needed to stop me from completely freaking out. During my second when I decided to have a general (have spinal issues, couldn't place the epi/spinal that time) I was very very upset that fiance couldn't come in with me, to be there with me. And then because our son ended up in special care nursery for hours afterwards I didn't get to see either of them until much later that day, and it was horrible. I cried a lot and just wanted them to be there with me.

I think these Dr's need to learn that women are capable of making these choices for THEMSELVES. I'm sure some women do feel better giving birth without their husbands present, and that's their choice to make, just like it's other women's choice to have their hubby's there. Every woman is different and needs/wants different things, and I think these Dr's and midwives are being FAR too general about these situations and taking away the option to chose with their statements, and that's unfair.

Amanda said...

Bethwyn, I've experienced 'normal' labour (everything except for the pushing) and two emergency caesars...and I have to say that, although they were less painful - putting aside the post-op pain - I think Drew and I found them far more terrifying than actual labour. There's something completely freaky about having people tugging away at your insides while you're conscious. I would have completely lost it if he hadn't been there..

Amy Sheaves said...

I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I told my husband he wasn’t allowed to talk during my labour. Yes, I'm a control freak, tyrant. I told him the only time he was able to talk was in response to a question directed to him by either me or the hospital staff. It was the best labour of the 3. It was quiet and calm as much as a delivery can be. #2 was different because I was up for a chat and a laugh between contractions thanks to the gas – beautiful gas! But there is no doubt in my mind...I simply could not of done it without Luke by my side.

Now, #3 was born in the UK and I have to say it was THE worst labour of the 3. The midwives were CRAP and a law unto themselves. I can see where this guy gets off spouting such rubbish. A bitch slap is well and truly in order.