“You call her [the midwife] right now. I’ve done a lot of crazy [insert expletive] in my life but I am NOT delivering a baby.”
Guest Post by Alyssa Chirco
This was my husband’s response when I realized that the irregular contractions that I had been experiencing all day were getting stronger and coming routinely every four minutes. He had agreed to the home birth of our second child, but he was adamant that he would not be the one doing any sort of catching or delivering. It was obvious that the whole thing still sort of freaked him out.
What is it about husbands and home birth? Most of the women I know have had to either talk their husbands into home birth, or have compromised their own desires and been talked out of home birth by their skeptical partners. Why are men so afraid of home birth? And how do we convince them that, for many families, it can be a safe and viable alternative to birth in a hospital?
My own husband’s journey began with my first pregnancy, when I was planning a hospital birth with an obstetrician, but was also intending to have an unmedicated birth. I hired a doula, and signed us up for Bradley childbirth education classes. Most of the information in the classes was not new to me, as my sisters had been born at home and I had already read a lot, but the classes were incredibly eye-opening for my husband. He learned about how birth really works, and realized why so many hospital policies and procedures are often unnecessary and even detrimental to the birth process.
My first birth experience was not ideal, but as a young, first-time mom giving birth in a hospital, I fared pretty well. I refused an IV, was allowed to walk and use the shower, and received electronic fetal monitoring only twice during the few hours I labored at the hospital. Thanks to my doula, I was never offered an epidural, and didn’t have any episiotomy. And because my entire labor lasted less than eight hours, the obstetrician only made in time to catch a healthy baby girl.
This easy delivery (and lack of hospital interventions) made it a lot easier when it came time to casually mention to my husband that I wanted to have baby #2 at home. As supportive as he was of my desire for natural childbirth, and as much as he understood the difficulties that come with trying to have a natural birth in a hospital, he wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of having a baby at home. But I was able to point out to him that the doctors and the nurses at the hospital never really did anything at my first birth. I never utilized any of the interventions that you need to be in the hospital to get; my body did it all on its own.
My husband agreed to a home birth the second time around because had witnessed a safe, natural birth first-hand and because, ultimately, he trusted that I had done my research and knew what was best for our baby (and, yes, I consider myself extraordinarily lucky that he has this much faith in me). He also felt more comfortable after meeting with our midwife and hearing first-hand about her experience and how she handles emergency situations. And when I finally got my hands in a copy of The Business of Being Born and he was able to see the safe and peaceful home births of so many babies for himself, he was more fully convinced that we were doing the right thing.
He still didn’t want to be the one who had to deliver the baby though, and he still had his doubts. He worried that it would be messy, he worried that something would go wrong, and he worried about what the neighbors would think . . .
My second birth experience was far better than my first. I labored at home. I was allowed to eat and drink. I didn’t have to fight to avoid interventions because my midwife didn’t believe in them in the first place. When my son’s head emerged but his body didn’t follow, my midwife knew exactly what to do, and within a few minutes she had dislodged what she termed “sticky shoulders” and he slid easily into the world. From my perspective, it was a great birth.
Overall, my husband found the home birth experience to be a positive one as well. He particularly enjoyed the fact that he got to sleep in his own bed and not on a hospital couch. But I also learned afterward that, at one point, he had been afraid that my son and I were going die right there in our bathtub (which was never even close to happening). If we have another baby, I know that he will support my desire for another home birth. But I also know that, on some level, he would still feel more comfortable if I chose to go back to the hospital.
As birth activists, it can be hard to see women who have given up on their hopes for a home birth because they can’t convince their husbands. It’s easy to judge men who are hesitant about home birth, and criticize them for being unsupportive. But, in fact, I think we are the ones who need to be more supportive and understanding. Most men aren’t being trying to be difficult, or actively deny their wives and babies a safe and positive birth experience.
They just don’t know any better because no one has told them any better.
We talk a lot about how women in our culture know so little about birth and are rarely exposed to it before they have a baby themselves. If American women know so little, doesn’t it stand to reason that American men know even less?
The notion of medical superiority is deeply rooted in American culture. We tend to believe that doctors, hospitals, and procedures can make everything better, and this thinking is applied to birth as well. Most Americans assume that interventions always help the birth process, and aren’t familiar with the idea that interventions can actually be harmful. In many cases, pregnant women don’t even know that they have options and choices when it comes to birth.
Women come to home birth in a variety of ways – disappointment with a prior birth experience, reading books, participating in online forms, talking with other women at mom’s groups or playgroups, just to name a few. But husbands don’t often share these experiences. Men don’t have to heal from cesarean scars. Men rarely participate in chat groups or attend support groups about pregnancy and birth. Men don’t share intimate details of their birth stories with other women, and don’t hear about the experiences of others.
Instead, men mostly hear the messages from the mainstream media that home birth is dangerous. Chances are they have never met or even heard of anyone who has had one. So when husbands hear their wives start to mention the idea of having a baby at home, it’s no wonder that they’re skeptical. Given what they know, concern and opposition actually seem like perfectly logical responses.
I don’t believe that husbands oppose home birth because they want to be difficult. In most cases, it’s because they love their wives and they’re unborn children. It’s because they have only been exposed to the mainstream media message that home birth is dangerous and hospital birth is always a safer alternative. It’s because they haven’t read the studies and met the women and heard the empowering stories of birth at home.
As birth activists and home birth advocates, we need to change this.
My question to you is how.
If you had a home birth, did you have to convince your husband? If so, how did you do it? Or, did you want a home birth but agree to give birth in a hospital or birth center because you couldn’t convince your husband/partner? How do we help men to be more comfortable with the idea of home birth?
Alyssa Chirco is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer who lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband and two children. She is active in both birth and breastfeeding education and advocacy, and combines her love of writing with her love of everything parenting-related in her blog St. Louis Smart Mama (www.stlouissmartmama.blogspot.com).