Husbands and Home Birth

“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).

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12 Responses to Husbands and Home Birth

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  2. Lisa says:

    Over the years my husband has become an advocate for breastfeeding, babywearing and cloth diapering and doesn’t hesitate to talk it all up to his coworkers (though I secretly think he enjoys watching them react). This summer we added homebirthing. He did have to be convinced, but like with your husband, the midwife was great at setting him at ease. And with the FD a block away and the hospital 5 minutes away, he had no valid safety arguments.

    I definitely think having men talking about birth is a great start. As with everything non-mainstream, once men spend some time around alternative families they see it’s not so out there & start to open their minds to the possibility.

    I know my boys will grow up thinking homebirth is normal- with one born at home, and his brothers old enough to remember.

  3. atarap. says:

    When i found out i was pregnant the first time we talked about a birthing center. when we found no birthing centers in hawaii i got on the ball looking for a midwife. My husband caught our first child and cut the cord he was awesome! i love that he was so proud of the experience that he would show my son’s placenta to people who came to see the baby (not that they all wanted to see it). With my second my midwife was going to be out of town around my due date. At first i interviewed the only other midwife in town that i hadn’t interviewed the first time but it just didn’t seem like the right fit. The whole time my husband told me “i don’t think this baby needs a midwife” i was worried. I even thought about hiring a midwife to fly from the mainland to do the birth. finally with my midwife’s coaching and a partial student assigned to help i realized that an “unassisted” birth was exactly what my baby was calling for.

    I understand women who have a hard time convincing their partners about a homebirth. In the end it’s important that both people involved feel safe because the woman needs support and the man needs to feel safe to be supportive. A friend of mine’s husband was completely against the home birth option. I suggested she show him the documentary “the busyness of being born”. After he watched he he turned to her and said “I guess I’m scrubbing out the tub” simple as that. Not every husband/partner is going to be that easily convinced but i think that making it a discussion is important, brining facts, information, as well as emotional preferences all to the table helps it become not something that one forces the other into but something that a couple decides on together. I believe that talking it through with your partner giving each side a chance to voice their concerns and opinions can not only change a situation but bring a couple closer together.

  4. mamapoekie says:

    Great article… I never looked at it from their point of view, but you are right, it must be very scary for them indeed
    I had some work to do to convince my husband. I did it by givinghim the time he needed. ocassionally dropping an article in his lap, and talking to him regularly.
    Putting this in Sunday Surf

  5. mamamimi says:

    My husband was actually born at home, along with two of his siblings. His mom was a rogue midwife for a period of time too, so he was quite familiar with home birth. I didn’t have to convince him, he just wanted to be reassured by the midwife that she was experienced. I think that made all the difference. Had he not been comfortable with our midwife it might have been different!

  6. David Halas says:

    My wife and I had our first two children at the hospital. As a man, I had to be convinced to do a home birth. My reason was “why do we need to do this hippie/ empowered woman thing when we have a perfectly good hospital only a half mile away. I didn’t understand, but agreed to talk to the midwife. After talking to her, I was okay with whatever my wife wanted to do.

    At the time the birth, the midwife was awesome. (Although when the water had been broken more than 24 hrs and dilation stalled out at 8 cm for an extended period, she said she did not know what we should do because that had never happened to her before.) Eventually, the baby was born at home, and even though we had a good outcome, I was not sure I wanted another home birth just because of how hard the first 48 hours were. I was exhausted (as was my wife) and I had two kids to care for in addition to her and the baby. I kept thinking about how the nurses just took care of everything when we had been the hospital and I did not even have to think about meals, dishes, or laundry.

    I also noticed that there is a different set of expectations when you have a homebirth. Family and friends who are used to hospital birth and would normally wait a few days, until you are home and settled, to drop by, think nothing of coming over the same or next day since you are already at home. My wife also had to adjust her ideas about what she would be up for in the days after birth and she had a tendency to over do it after that birth.

    We had another beautiful homebirth two years later and then last week we had an outdoor nighttime waterbirth at home for our fifth child. It was really amazing and I was able to catch / deliver the baby with the midwife standing by, just in case we needed her.

    To get to the root of why husbands are not all about homebirth; in addition to the social indoctrination mentioned, for me, it was also fear of the added responsibility. Both a feeling that if something went wrong and my wife or child’s safety were compromised, it would be my fault and also the necessity of my being solely responsible for their care afterwards. But, in the end, after much learning by osmosis (through my wife) and watching movies like The Business of Being Born, I came to the conclusion, that homebirth is actually safer for them and it would be wrong of me to endanger them by pushing for a hospital birth out of fear. Now I talk to men and women, whenever I get a chance, (I work in a pharmacy, so I have lots of opportunities) about the benefits of homebirth and I consider myself an advocate.

  7. Kelly says:

    I like this article and agree with many points. I agree that at least in the US many – even women – are deeply ingrained to trust the medical model and often find out only later (if they discover it at all) how many ways birth culture in this country is letting down families. And yes: birth is scary, and i’m sure many men feel uncertain and just want things to “go well” (and don’t want to have to do something outside the mainstream), but unfortunately this means many of them absent themselves from the conversations and don’t support their partners when she really needs it.

    However… at what point does the birth of, care for, and feeding of their own infants stop being a “woman’s issue” and become a human rights one?

    I wish we had more men involved in assisting us (in almost every birth and breastfeeding blog I read 99% of comments are from females). I admire the men who venture into this territory and do their own research – which includes *listening* to women and midwives first and foremost – especially those who become powerful supporters of homebirth (and breastfeeding and other pro-child pro-family health and well-being) issues. I know many men are intimidated but I think many others don’t believe this stuff is important and aren’t doing enough critical thinking on the issue.

    There are exceptions to this and those men I feel deeply grateful for and glad to know.

    My own husband was a full participant in all our decisions. I liked your story because it reminded me very much of my first hospital birth (except my labor was much, much longer) and my second, far better, homebirth. I’m glad I took the lead on this and I don’t feel “lucky” my husband supported me and educated myself; I feel fortunate, but then again I did *choose* him. :-)

    I love reading the accounts of supportive husbands and partners; yay!

  8. Bob Collier says:

    When my wife first became pregnant way back in 1985 and said she wanted to have a “natural birth” I had no idea what that even meant. I’d thought all births were “natural”, even if they occurred in a hospital. Not so of course. My wife had done plenty of reading up on the subject anyway and I trusted her and our daughter was ultimately born as nature intended in a birth centre in Sydney, Australia. I was there, my wife’s mother was there and there was a midwife and that was it, in a room designed to look like a normal family bedroom. It was an amazing experience. I witnessed something I didn’t even know was possible.

    Ten years later, my son was born at home in London. Not only was I there to see it so was his sister who’d taken the day off school. The relaxed atmosphere was incredible. I was actually reading the newspaper when my wife decided it was time and we all went to the bedroom and ten minutes later my son was born. Half an hour after the birth, the midwife and her assistant had gone and my wife and I and our daughter were happily chatting about the experience over dinner with the new baby sleeping peacefully nearby.

    I’m always more than happy to enthuse about those two wonderful events given the chance! :-)

  9. David says:

    Good insights into the male experience of childbirth. The lack of communication between men on birthing options is definitely a factor. For our first child, I was educated from my wife’s ‘persuasive and informative’ chats over breakfast – her knowledge on what was happening and developing, gained from books and friends. She signed us up for classes on parenting and gentlebirth (hypnobirthing) and handed me ‘interesting’ articles and emails. I was a bit shocked by how many options and consequences there were to consider!
    I was never a fan of hospitals and was open to a home birth, just needed the comfort of meeting the midwife and seeing her approach to it all.
    Baby number one started at home – great experience for first timers – but had to transfer to hospital after 36 hours labour [I knew my wife had the record for bad time keeping! ;) ]. All was good in the end! Baby number two was born at home in three hours – we didn’t even get the birthpool filled in time for that pleasure to bestowed on my wife! It was an amazing experience with my wife, daughter, mother-in-law, friends (doulas) and the midwife. It’s definitely the option I promote to friends and colleagues – especially the men!!

  10. Cassi says:

    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?

    I wanted a home birth with our first child- but had a very hard time finding a midwife. We were new to Massachusetts from New Mexico (where a home birth with a midwife would have been much easier), and after finding one home birth midwife who I didn’t want to work with, went with a birth center across the street from the hospital. It was the most comfortable place for both of us- but we ended up with an intervention filled hospital birth anyways and 2 weeks of living in the hospital post-birth. My husband never really got involved with pregnancy, and in labor and delivery was pushed to the side to watch a panic-filled nightmare ending with a long stay at Boston Children’s (and a midnight taking of our child from us at 24 hours old to get him to Boston Children’s while I was left behind 45 minutes away because that’s how medicine works).

    • Cassi says:

      oops- didn’t finish-

      after that, we went with the birth center for our second child, while both agreeing to dream of a home birth.

      when I became pregnant with my 3rd, after my first test-ridden, worry inducing visit to the midwives, I called him stressed and in tears, and my husband said “We’re doing a home birth this time, find a midwife.”

      I found a midwife who understood our diet, our family, our spirituality, our life, and though my labor was long and certainly not pain-free, it was panic free. My husband was my chief support- holding me, listening to me, loving me, relaxing me, because after 9 years of marriage, who else can do that? Evangeline Jane was born at home at 43 weeks gestation (44 medically), 12 hours of labor, 8lbs 8oz, LONG. Strong, beautiful, stress-free labor and quick pushing.

      We’re expecting another home birth this may. After watching the medical environment push his wife and baby around, and panic, and worry over everything, and his laboring wife trying to soothe nurses, midwives, mothers, etc, while also trying to have a baby- it set the stage for him to realize that a supportive, trust-worthy, focused person at home would be far more beneficial for the entire family than a hospital full of equipment.

  11. Pingback: teaching men about birth or how it all began. « bitty bird.

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