Birth to Postpartum, from Dad’s Point of View
Dads, we love ‘em. From the birthing space to the months between July and May, very little is publicly whispered about fathers after Father’s Day. It’s no surprise that far less is mentioned about fathers of newborns. The spotlight of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum so brightly shines on Mom; and often we fail to realize, Dads have their own labor and postpartum experiences too. Experiences we rarely ask them about. Experiences they never share and experiences that can subconsciously weigh heavily on the family’s relationship long after baby has arrived. What races through the minds of men witnessing the birth of their child? What happens after the first few days and months following childbirth, when the excitement has settled and the relatives have returned to their lives? We asked three fathers to share some insight on their childbirth and post birth experiences; how they view their roles as fathers and some tips for other Dads to get involved in the birthing and postpartum process:
Roy, 57 years old, father of two daughters (and a new granddaughter)
John, 43 years old, father of four (2 girls/2 boys)
Preston, 33 years old father of one daughter
Aside from the obvious male contribution, childbirth has singularly been a female focused event. Women have been giving birth since the beginning of mankind yet men weren’t allowed in the birthing rooms of modern medicine until the 1970’s and 1980’s. It’s no wonder that the stigma of the congratulatory cigar rooms were the norm and despite societal changes, some men still feel that stigma today.
Did you have a home or hospital birth? What was the labor experience like for you?
Roy – We had a hospital birth with a Midwife. I was happy we did, because I felt more included in the process. Of course I was worried about what would happen during birth. You feel a loss of power as a protector. There’s nothing you can do if something goes wrong. But because we had a midwife, I felt we had a little more control over the situation versus relying on a doctor, or more accurately, versus relying on a “system”.
John – I witnessed all four of my children’s births and I thank God I have that claim. My first three children were born at a hospital. The fourth, was a home water birth which I might add, that as far as births go, was far more superior. Hands down the best experience a father and husband can have as far as birthing participation goes. No packed bags or hurrying out the door, no late nights at hospitals, no let’s wait for more dilation before we admit. Just the comfort of our home and my wife’s hard work. Mentally, however, had our son been breached, the situation would have gone sideways. I kept that thought in the back of my mind and prayed that he was coming out head first. It was fairly graphic watching, but it didn’t bother me seeing all the mess that comes with childbirth. The home birth, of course was the best, due to, I just pulled the plug on the bathtub drain and the mess disappeared.
Preston – We had our daughter in a hospital. I felt apprehensive. Not sure exactly what to do or what was going on. Everyone’s doing their thing (doctors and nurses). I just knew I wanted to help and I wanted to make sure everything was going to be alright. I felt like my role was mainly financial (make sure the hospital bill will be paid) and emotional (be strong and comforting).
Aside from financially, what did you do to prepare for your child’s birth? (emotionally, mentally, spiritually etc.)
Roy, 57 – We took a 12 week series on childbirth together. I got called on a lot. I like it so much I trained to help teach a different 12 week childbirth series. All of that learning and teaching helped quite a bit but once I was in the delivery room, I still felt a little shell shocked.
John, 43- I was not ready to have a child in the first place. I could have read a dozen books and nothing would have prepared me for a baby. I don’t remember mentally or emotionally preparing but we prayed for the health of each of our children. When we found out the second was a girl, emotionally I had already helped raise a girl thus far, so two should be the same, (I thought). But my second daughter had a witching hour that lasted at least two hours so I had to mentally prepare for that with our last two. For the third child I had to mentally prepare for a boy. Since I was outnumbered by the girls, I was excited for a boy and was curious to see how a boy would add to the family dynamic. I thought, three children was enough, considering I felt all three hated me when they were babies. I could not give any one of them a bath without them screaming.
Preston, 33 – I just said to myself, “That woman (my daughter-on-the-way) is gonna represent you, so raise her right”. I prayed…a lot!
What were your initial thoughts and feelings when you held your newborn for the first time?
Roy: When I held her I was so proud. I fell in love instantly. It’s a different kind of love I’ve never felt. It’s…It’s hard to describe. Then fear sort of creeps in like a freight train, you feel this overwhelming sense of love and a ton of responsibility hit you all at once. How is this little kid going to turn out? Am I going to be a good Dad? Will I be able to handle it? Oh my g-d can I afford this? And the biggest one I told myself, was that it was time to grow up.
John: My first daughter, I thought to myself, look at all that hair…is her toe going to stay like that? Our second daughter came out looked virtually identical to our first. It was a little different with my son. He was my first little slugger, so it was a special moment for me. Since I was used to raising girls, I did not know what to expect with a boy. I did imagine taking my son (now two sons) to a batting cage.
Preston: Pure joy and love. I never felt something so beautiful. I did have some fears. Her health and whether she would have daddy issues. I felt this huge 100% responsibility for another human being. I got a strong sense of finally being a Daddy when we brought her home but I just kept thinking that everything I do will affect her.
How do you feel society views Fathers in general?What are your thoughts on being a father?
Roy: Dads love just as much as Moms do but Dads are an after-thought compared to Moms. There’s still that false stigma of Father’s in waiting rooms with cigars. I think fathers teach their children how to navigate the world and provide for them.
John: In today’s society, fathers have turned into a different animal than they used to be. They can either be there or they can be absent. Society is used to men not being there for the children as they grow up. Some children are better for it and some it takes a real toll on their adult life. I feel the girls it takes a toll on the most. Boys, it depends on the friends they hang out with and how the parent deals with the problems that arise.Interacting with my oldest daughter after the first year of her life, I personally wanted to be the man to teach her to do the dangerous things in life that fathers are accustomed to. Such as swinging on high up monkey bars, climbing trees, teaching them to ride a bike, in which I claim to.
Preston: Fathers get the (explicit) end of the stick on Father’s Day. Moms are placed on pedestals and no matter how great of a Dad you are, in society it seems like we always play second to Mothers. When it comes to giving birth it’s all about the Mom, and should be but Dads gets pushed to the side. It helps if Dad has a big family or a lot of friends then you get a lot of congratulations too, and that make a difference on how important you feel. Some people think men can’t love their kids as much as woman can because they gave birth. I believe Daddies can love their children sometimes more than Moms. I think we have no problem dealing with children 24-7 because we have a higher threshold for patience. We can take a simple, logical and less emotional approach to taking care of children.
What advice do you have for expectant Fathers to get involved in the birthing and postpartum process?
Roy: Men need to step up too. It’s natural to be apprehensive, but talk about it. Talk about your fears of being a Dad. You can’t think the woman’s going to do it all. Most importantly, is to change your attitude from “me” to “us”. Commit to be in this parenting thing together. Definitely be in the room for the birth. For the guys that get sick by seeing the birth of their baby, I’d remind them that you were there when you made the baby, you were holding her leg up then no problem, so you can do it when she’s having your baby too. As far as afterwards, be supportive because postpartum is real. It can be scary. Get some support if you can but definitely take an encouraging role. Give her a break from time to time; clean the house, just do anything you can to make life easier for her.
John: For the birthing, the man is only supposed to be the breathing coach. You can try encouragement but it might not go over well. For post-birth, that will be tougher.You will have to take over watching the baby while mom gets rest or gets out of the house. You remember reading earlier when I told you my second daughter had a two-hour, witching hour? That was no joke!
Preston: Support, support, support. If you don’t know what she wants or needs you to do – ask her. I think men feel love, bond and compassion for woman after she’s had their baby- show her that. Help her with stuff around the house, rub her feet and take her out to dinner or bring her food.
Childbirth and postpartum is a life changing event for both mother and father. How can be help new father’s feel more involved, appreciated and heard? First, is to ask. Roy, John and Preston shared this interview as one of the first times that they openly expressed some thoughts of the birth of their child(ren), why? Because rarely men are asked what they think or feel when it comes to a newborn baby. Each parent captures moments unique to them; and it’s part of the fabric of their life story, your family’s story, and the unique bond between parent and child. If you are a father or you know a father, have them share their experiences in detail. Ask them to write it out. Someday that story will become a page in your child’s legacy: a Tale of Birth and Postpartum, from Dad’s point of view.
*While this feature highlights the role of father’s specifically, many or similar thoughts and tips shared may also relate to partners, significant others and co-parents.