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.

15 thoughts on “FATHERS

  1. Gloria I remember you sharing this story in my kitchen with my hub listening in. I have never forgotten this story and have often thought of how the miracle of birth, and the power of forgiveness/acceptance can perform transformative miracles in the lives of ordinary people, people like all of us.

  2. +,
    first of all, i thanking you deeply for giving the chance to write the story about birth into fatherhood.

    this is the 2nd time i write a post to your blog. last time was in 2010 for the topic of giving birth with placenta praevia marginal, after i had the one and only scan on a shadow care for my planned 2nd ubac at home.

    back to the topic, birth into fatherhood,
    my best friend family doctor apologized to me after my ubac, she said it was her worrying text/sms that made my husband’s flu symptoms even worse after he escort caught our ubac baby. in her opinion, my husband’s had experienced a shock after witnessing the ubac. that my ubac weakened my husband immune system.

    i fwd that statement to my husband and he totally disagreed with it and reminded me of his having flu symptoms since the day i broke my water.

    pppheww! what a relief!

    after my ubacs, especially my 2nd ubac and it is almost 1 and a half years now, i can see him feel and act as if he deserves to love our ubac baby way more than if he didn’t catch her. every time he is with our ubac baby, Madeleine Sophie Blandine. 🙂

    after our ubacs,
    he was very confident to encourage his friends (men and women) at work to have unassisted home birth. and of course as well as sharing all the education aspects we got from our 2 ubac’s plans.

    we are happy to share our 2 ubac stories with others especially the daddy’s part. In our country, Indonesia, it is still a strange thing to do. men made babies but women are the ones who catch them.

    our 2nd ubac happened on our 14th wedding anniversary, so it gave even more complete effects, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, etc to my husband’s being as a father.
    he said that it was very impressive for him to witness his baby daughter born with her hands in crossing position on her chest. also the rotation of the birth, “it’s simply amazing” he said.
    “you look peaceful very much when gave birth at home” he added.

    our ubacs made me feel complete as a woman. it now gave the same feeling to my husband as well. not to mention all the goodness it has brought into our family.

    i thought, for my husband as a man, birth it would be just a birth. well it was until our ubacs. now i believe if we shared all the education materials we have prenatally, those 40 weeks are really quite sufficient long time for our husbands to understand the truth about birth, to get over the myths, the fears as well as the benefits of preventing the unnecessary medical interventions.

    after all, we agreed that if it’s possible. we want to have our childbirth at home, the same place of our baby making’s place.

    that is all for now,

    thank you, once again.
    dc gloria+

    still in the spirit of ‘the other side of the glass” http://thepeacefulbirthproject.org/2011/10/dadspartners-and-birth-trauma/

  3. My husband was amazing before, during and ever since the birth of our son. I had a home birth with a wonderful team of 2 midwifes and 2 doulas but he was the key point of my experience. He was there for me, supportive, taking charge when I was about to drift in pain, always present. He birthed our baby too. Without him, it would not have been the same.
    I’m a doula and I always make sure to include the dad, his thoughts, his questions and his wishes when I work with a pregnant couple. I believed in dads before we had our own baby; I believe in them even more since then.

  4. My hubby helped catch our baby and it brought him to tears, a special moment he will NEVER forget. We birthed in water and he held her head until she turned and her body slid out with the next pressure wave and we brought her up into our arms. I’m SO happy that we caught baby together and wish more couples could experience it!

  5. Dear earth Mother Gloria,
    When Bronwyn was born, you may remember that I caught her and immediatley jumped in the tub with Wendy!
    That is the most memorable day in my life and it was completely ‘natural’ to me. My Paternal instict shone through,without questioning my competence, and I am totally changed to this day!!
    I have to add that since the first meeting with you, I felt to be a true part of the birthing crew. I know that you are a true Angel, and I thank you for your clarity and dedication.
    I received a Fathers day msg. from Bea yesterday, she told me that she loves me, unconditionally, and that she is glad that I am part of her life. I am so proud of her!!
    Men are strong and beautiful, just like the many women you assist through the miracle birth process!
    Keep up the great work that you do Glo.
    I love you long time,

    • Thanks for all the good memories I have of sharing life with your family, Paul. I love you and am so proud of all the good that you do in the world.

  6. What a beautiful pearl of wisdom to learn, thank you for sharing!
    I see myself as the Midwife that rarely “receives” because I am too busy making sure everyone who is willing and able get to before me. I mean, it’s their family and their birth – it should be a given that they “catch” their child. <3

    Thanks so much for this, I'm going to ponder on the message long. We all should.

  7. Gloria,

    This is a tremendous story! What an opportunity the midwife teacher had to influence a man in a profoundly deep way. Thank you for your invitation for us to tell a story.

    Father Story: the father I am thinking about was supportive of his wife’s decisions to have a midwife and homebirth, yet there was sincere resistance in him to read the homebirth books or take the homebirth classes. He seemed to think that being receptive to his wife’s prompts about birth would mean that he didn’t know what he was doing, that he was incompetent, and that his wife wouldn’t respect him. The irony is that the wife was overjoyed to be able to share the new information she was learning and that to her it meant they were closer when he would listen. Therefore, she got annoyed whenever the dad would respond with, “Yeah, I know,” or “I don’t need to go to that class.” The small issue developed into a bigger one when the baby was actually born and the dad would, at times, be offended when the mom demonstrated ways to care for baby. It wasn’t until the dad started talking with other dads about birth and baby care that it all clicked: she wants me to know about her experience, what she is learning and to be receptive, because it means to her that I love her.

    That dad was me.

    My wife and I love your idea for supporting a family who has just had a kid: putting the casserole on the front porch and backing away slowly. What a great idea! That’s exactly the thing that a young family needs…any family who has just had a kid. That lying in time is so precious and so vulnerable. A silent casserole is just the ticket, too.

    Much love,

    Joe Valley

  8. This is such an important subject; after my delivery in hospital (my baby boy was born perfectly healthy and I was so thankful for that but the labour itself was not exactly what I’ve had planned or expected, actually it was devastating thanks to episiotomy that got infected OR my body just got so upset and refused the stitches, my doctor never really specified and he has never seen such reaction after the cut, as he told me… but beginning from that I shouldn’t have allowed for my delivery to be postponed with medication, I shouldn’t have been inducted and allow epidural, which was the reason why I didn’t feel my urges to push, which ended up with episiotomy, ugh!) my husband has showed all the symptoms of postpartum depression- I deeply believe it was because he just felt so left out throughout the whole process, felt absolutely vulnerable and useless, watching me suffering and not being able to help me, take part in the most miraculous event of our life. He was so scared of himself when realizing he was actually feeling rejection towards our boy, which he couldn’t even explain, thinking of himself a monster… I truly believe that for a father, fully participating in labour and catching the baby can have healing results and we plan to do it with our second baby.

  9. My wife was squatting on the floor beside our bed and I was lying flat on my back to get under her, holding my hands out to receive our daughter. Our midwife, Gloria, stood off to the side, camera in hand, her voice as calm as the moon, reminding me to support the perineum, (no water birth in those days) shortly after, reminding me to check the cord around the baby’s neck. This was my second birth, the first had been in a hospital, which was more like a sparring contest between me and the med staff than a birth. They meant well, but had a whole ‘nother take on my job at the birth; even a mother’s job at birth is a topic of debate in the medical model.

    At the home birth, I saw my daughter’s head crowning, the first words out of my mouth, as if I just discovered the meaning of life, was: “I see the chin!” and before I could take a breath, she plopped into my hands. We looked at each other in amazement like long lost friends who had just bumped into each other, and then I faintly heard Gloria repeating, ever calmly, trying to get through my ecstatic state: “the umblilical cord, unwrap the umbilical cord.”

    It’s thirty years later now, and that newborn just made me a grandfather, however that look we had between us the moment after her birth, and the experience of being there both for her and her mother (who did the REAL work) has remained as vivid in my mind as in my heart, ever since, and in fact, has set a tone of context and commitment in our relationships, which has been an invaluable resource, especially during challenging times. All credit to “real” midwives, who are tuned into EVERYTHING that serves baby and birthing woman.

    • Thanks for writing, Philip. What a beautiful arrival for your daughter. . .a room filled with love. I’m so glad that you and I started kidding around at the park that day, that our kids became playmates, that we’ve always felt so comfortable with each other over the past 35 or so years since we met. It’s a special thing to have a guy friend and I’m glad your wife is my friend, too. Our families are intertwined in so many ways and I’m grateful for all of it. I love you, Gloria

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *