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When Christina Carey, 40, imagined her baby’s birth, she pictured her husband by her side, lovingly supporting her throughout labor and delivery. But when showtime arrived, she was surprised to see an entirely different side of him.
Although Carey, who lives in Hoboken, N.J., had planned on having a vaginal birth, complications necessitated a Cesarean section. “I was fine with the unplanned surgery, but my husband was a wreck,” she recalls. “He got lost on his way to the operating room and arrived late for the surgery. Once he got there, he was so nervous he couldn’t talk. I was hoping that my husband would distract me, but the exact opposite happened,” Carey adds. “I didn’t plan on having to calm him down.”
“It’s very important to have someone there to help you through labor,” says Michael Abrahams, M.D., an OB-GYN at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. But as Carey learned, being a birth partner doesn’t come naturally to every father-to-be. Fortunately, childbirth experts say that with some planning and preparation, most men can grow into the role. Here’s how you can help.
Make sure he’s educated
“The more partners are aware of the decisions that may have to be made, the more helpful and supportive they can be,” Abrahams says. Childbirth classes, books and videos give helpful information about the stages of labor, pain-relief options and possible complications of medical interventions. Education has its limits, however, and acknowledging that is another important step for your partner. “Despite birth courses, nothing really prepares him for that moment,” Abrahams says.
Discuss your intentions
Talk with each other about any expectations you both might have regarding laboring preferences, pain relief and medical interventions. Don’t do this while you’re driving to the hospital, but during the weeks and months before your due date. “One of the key expectations that should be shared is feelings about the use of pain medications during labor,” says Penny Simkin, a Seattle doula and author of The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions (Harvard Common Press). “If you want natural childbirth and he thinks that’s stupid, you have a problem. You’ve got to get on the same page.
“You both also need to understand that the birth plan must be flexible enough to incorporate necessary changes if unplanned interventions become needed or if labor is so fast that there’s no time to get an epidural you may have planned,” Simkin says.