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October 01, 2015
It’s strange isn’t it, that as birthing mammals, many of us humans seem to find comfort in others when we give birth? Other mammal species go off to find a quiet space to birth privately and in isolation, whereas we have come to expect and perhaps prefer, to go on the childbirth journey with companions. Although it is well-documented that our natural birthing state is one of undisturbed privacy, perhaps there are reasons other than biology that many women prefer to give birth with a partner present. Cultural expectations say that giving birth, becoming a family, is a shared event and it is most likely, in our society, that when a woman gives birth that she will have someone with her, whether that be her life-partner or another family member. But it can be really hard for a partner to know what exactly is expected of them, especially as so much of what happens at a birth is unpredictable and can’t be planned for.
My husband describes his experience of the birth of our first child as one of pure impotence. He says he never felt so helpless and useless in his life and instead stayed glued to the chair by my side, just watching to see what would happen next. There is a photo of him in the minutes before our son was born and he is pale, terrified-looking and appears much younger than his 31 years. In contrast, a friend says that when her wife gave birth to their daughter she found herself a job and got on with it. She took photos, a lot of photos, really beautiful, raw photos. Yes, she says, she was also terrified, but she had a focus and that meant she had little time to dwell on her feelings and instead could lose herself in the process, in a similar way to her wife was.
However busying yourself needs to be with something useful or something that your partner has asked you to do. Another friend asked me, in all innocent seriousness and good faith, if he should just take his laptop along to the birth, because he had heard they may be there some time. And what of British singer Robbie Williams who was attacked from all sides as he filmed himself singing and dancing around his wife as she worked through her contractions, filming himself and publishing the footage in almost live time. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq3LrE9zTLk)
So, each to their own and every birth is different, but I think all birth partners could take something from our suggestions.
Victoria Machin - UK