I was fortunate to have a midwifery teacher, right at the beginning of my career, who inspired me to make fathers a key focus of my work. She shared a story with the students about a father that she encountered in her work with poor home birth couples in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.A. The man was a hopeless alcoholic. The couple had little money and, whatever came in, he would mostly drink away. The midwife was used to working for barter and, even though she was a single mother of five, she would not turn anyone away for lack of payment. When the woman began her birth process, the midwife went over and, predictably, found the father to be roaring drunk. When the midwife would bend over to take the baby’s heart rate or check on the mother, he would be pinching her bum, making suggestive remarks, and being generally obnoxious. It was hard for the midwife to take.
When the midwife was totally fed up with him, she would go in the bathroom, close the door, look at herself in the mirror and say over and over again “This baby chose this father, this baby chose this father, this baby chose this father. . . . “ until she would balance out again and she knew she could be at the birth in acceptance.
Soon, the father passed out on the couch and the woman continued in her birth. When the baby’s head began to crown, the midwife went and roused up the father. He was still pretty drunk. She hauled him to the bathroom and made him wash his hands. She said “I need your help.” He wasn’t sure what was going on but he allowed her to steer him to the bed where the baby was coming. The midwife stepped aside and the father received the baby into his hands. He started sobbing, overcome by the miracle. That man got his sobriety after that and turned out to be a pretty good partner and parent. That story had a huge impact on me and has influenced me to “get over myself” when working for men who are annoying or aggravating to me.
I know that some will read this story and object to the idea that a midwife would have to include “drunk and disorderly conduct” in the work that they do. What I took away from the story is that things aren’t always as they seem. Birth is an opportunity to make a profound difference in the life of another. Whether or not one recognizes and takes that opportunity is a choice.
I find it interesting and informative to ask the father long before the birth day, “What do YOU want for this baby’s birth?” I’ve asked this question of more than 1000 men and the answer is always the same (not always the same exact words, but the same sentiment) “Look, Gloria, if I have a happy wife and a happy baby at the end of this, I’ll be a happy man.” Some of them add on “Oh, and if you could bring me a beer at the end of it all, that would be perfect!” What are they saying? “Don’t worry about me. . . I love my family and would do anything to make sure that birth is a happy memory for us.” All of them tell me “YOU are the only person who has ever asked ME what I wanted. Thank you for that.”
I think this is an area in which modern midwives could really excel . We know that fathers are perfectly capable of catching their own babies. We know that men operate best when they are rested and well fed. We know that letting them know what’s going well would lessen their concerns e.g. “You must remember, Bob, that the baby is full term and the membranes are still intact. Both those things are highly reassuring that this baby is strong and will do well”. It takes so little to make the man’s “birth into fatherhood” a truly peak experience. We can do much better for the men at the crossroads in their lives where they meet their children for the very first time.
I would love to hear stories or comments from my readers about birth into fatherhood.