Happy Father’s Day, friends! In celebration of this special holiday, we want to show a little love to all of the dads, soon-to-be dads, and future dads out there. While all of you may not witness the labor and delivery process (we see you, adoptive dads), those of you who will or have already may be...well...terrified of the whole thing. After all, the word “delivery” is a bit misleading. As a former labor and delivery nurse, it’s not quite as seamless as take-out.
Though the spotlight is mostly placed on the birthing mama (as it should be — more on this in a bit) in the hospital delivery room, we haven’t forgotten about all of the papas and birth partners out there. Out of curiosity, I asked my own dad (shout out to Bill!) to see what he remembers about me being born. His response? “I was so clueless.” To shed some light on the mystery of childbirth, I’ve come up with some delivery room advice for dads and partners, based on my experiences. But don’t just take it from me: I talked with some real life dads who have been through it before to get their advice, too.
Go with the flow
Babies follow their own schedule, not ours. Things may not always go according to the plan we have in our heads. Sometimes the vision of a quick vaginal delivery turns into a lengthy labor ending with a Cesarean section (c-section), and that’s OK. Be prepared to have plans change to accommodate safety. A former labor and delivery coworker and current family nurse practitioner, Kelly Pierannunzi, adds, “Nothing else matters in how the baby ends up being delivered as long as baby and mom are both healthy.” Amen! There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to give birth, as long as the path leads to this.
Be prepared and know your limits
Some partners want to be as involved as possible during delivery, and some know they can’t handle the sight of blood. I’m here to tell you (if you didn’t already know): There are a lot of bodily fluids involved in birth — it’s a messy business. If you know you faint at the sight of blood, stay at the head of the bed and keep a chair nearby. The last thing the hospital staff wants is two patients (you become number two if you faint). On the other end of the spectrum, if you don’t have a squeamish bone in your body and want help, let the nurses know. We want you to be as involved as you want to be. Speak up for what you want — this is your experience, too. Hold a leg, clamp the cord, or cheer your partner on.
But listen to what she wants and put her needs above yours
While you should voice what you want, if the birthing person wants something different, try your best to listen and follow. (Hey, after all, they’re the one in labor.) If they want a back rub? Get on it. If they want you to eat outside of the room because they’re not allowed to eat, don’t bring food in the room (and maybe don’t turn on the Food Network, either). Be their number one supporter, whatever that means for them. Kelly adds that making sure things are taken care of at home, whether it be doing laundry, arranging care for other kids, or feeding pets, are important and helpful duties that you can tackle. Talk with your partner to learn how they envision your role and how you can be most useful.
Be her advocate
Talk about what kind of experience you both want ahead of time by creating a birth plan. While it’s important to go with the flow (see above), you can advocate for the type of experience you want, assuming it’s not an emergency situation and safety isn’t compromised. Keep in mind, it’s not always easy to talk — or even really think straight — when you’re experiencing contractions. So, be your partner’s voice. If they want delayed cord clamping, dim lights, ice chips, immediate skin-to-skin contact, or a certain medication (or lack thereof), speak up for their desires. The birth plan should be as much yours as it is theirs. Make sure you participate in creating it and understand it backwards and forwards.
Be present in the moment (even if the moment lasts two days)
The labor and delivery process isn’t always fast, but it’s important to be present. Sleep when they sleep. Be awake when they’re awake. Experience it with them. It can be an exhausting process, but it’s one of the coolest things life has to offer. Fully show up for it! This means packing a bag for you, too. Bring spare clothes, toiletries, books, snacks, music, and change for vending machines and hospital cafeterias. Prepare to be there for it all — whether it be a few hours or a few days. You won’t want to miss a thing. (Cue Aerosmith.)
Befriend the nurses (I’m not just saying this because I was one)
The nurses are there to be advocates for you and your partner — we’re on your team. We’re trained to be liaisons between the doctors or midwives and you and your baby mama. We understand the process and often know more than you may think. Trust us, be appreciative of our work (saying please and thank you goes a really long way), and respectful of our time (you’re often not our only patient) and we will love taking care of you and do everything in our power to ensure you have the most positive experience possible.
Real life dads recently in the delivery room
While my perspective is (hopefully) valuable, who better to give advice than some new dads? I asked a few to share their own tips:
Don’t sit on the sideline!
“This is your baby momma, your child, and do not start fatherhood by being passive. Men have an amazing ability to sit back, and I would say that every man who does that is deeply missing out on one of the biggest places where he should be involved in his child’s and the mother of his kid’s lives. Read the books, make the plans, and realize that you can be much more involved than the Hollywood version of the scared and aloof dad in the corner. Jump in!”
Marshall, from Nashville and father of two. His wife had both children vaginally and naturally (with no pain medication or medical interventions). He adds that being involved in the entire process was “a huge connection moment” for him and his wife.
Go with the flow and help to be a buffer to friends and family
“I have to share a story: I don’t know anyone who was as interested in the pregnant, human, female anatomy than I was for the seven months of my wife’s pregnancy. I asked tons of questions, and after our sixth or seventh ultrasound, I felt like I was starting to understand things (I didn’t). At one of the last appointments, the ultrasound tech said, ‘Oh, and here are your ovaries,’ to which I replied with a certain authority, ‘Um, she’s not supposed to have ovaries, she’s pregnant.’ I quickly learned this was not the case, and that whatever I thought I learned in sixth grade about periods had been incorrect. I had never seen a more confused look on my wife’s face. So that’s a long way of explaining my advice: Don’t be overconfident, the doctors have this under control. Go with the flow and just be there for her, especially on the day of. Also, it helps to be a buffer between her and your family. No matter how much her mom or sister wants to be there with her, you’re responsible for being the bouncer and only allowing her see exactly the people she wants when she’s ready.”
Thomas, from Birmingham and father of two twin girls. Thomas’ girls were born 7.5 weeks early and were delivered via C-section.
Whew — that was a lot of advice. Hate to break it to you, but you will still probably feel pretty clueless going into birth, whenever your time comes. And that’s totally OK. At the end of the day, birth is life’s ultimate miracle. Stay present and enjoy the ride, dad.