2023 – What a wonderful time to be a birth partner. Birth partners can now play an active role in the birth space, a massive leap forward from 70 years ago when partners were given whisky and cigars and placed in waiting rooms until their little bundle came out clean and wrapped with the birthing mother oh so grateful for her husband taking the time to visit.
Fast-forward, and we have partners catching babies, cutting cords, offering light touch massage, and attending antenatal appointments. Yet, there is still a level of disinterest in the journey from many partners – and you might be reading this nodding your head; yes, that is my partner.
What degree of involvement is enough?
Well, this is to be decided between the birthing mother & partner as every couple will feel comfortable with varying levels of engagement. However, WHO tells us, many partners still feel there is a lack of inclusivity and integration in the birth process right from the get-go. So, in a two pronged approach, we are going to unearth why partners who want to be involved aren’t feeling the inclusivity and why some partners are just generally uninterested and perhaps how to shift that mentality.
In any dynamic in terms of involvement, the key to inclusivity is finding the right care provider. Many partners feel all lines of questioning and decision making are directed at the birthing mother. Yes, it is their body, but if she wants an active support partner in her birth space, it is important to treat them as a team. The end goal is that the birth partner has the confidence to advocate for the birthing mother and know what their preferences are, particularly in labour.
Take your time when pursuing a care provider, take note how they make you feel. How do they engage your partner? Because I can guarantee you, if you and your partner aren’t feeling heard or respected in your initial meetings – this will be the tone of your engagement throughout your entire birthing journey.
Two UK studies in 1990 [Oakley A, Rajan L: Social class and social support. Sociology. 1991] examined the correlation between socioeconomic status and degree of partner support. They found ‘working class men’ were unlikely to take time off to attend antenatal appointments be present in labour or take time off postnatally. While this study is 30 odd years ago, I think we can safely say there is still a similar mentality kicking about in the birth space today. Raised by baby boomers, many partners perhaps have been conditioned to the traditional roles in the household.
However, as time moves us on, partners are beginning to explore what their contribution in the birth space could look like and I think with the right care provider and inclusivity from the beginning of the journey – partners can enter birth with a more grounded level of confidence.
Knowledge is power, and I encourage all birthing couples to really educate themselves around the birth process and what that looks like in their chosen setting i.e home birth, hospital etc.
Let’s take a quick look at a few options around birth education and care:
Hypnobirthing / Positive Birth Classes
A fantastic tool. These classes educate you from the ground up on all aspects of birth, relinquishing the ‘scare factor’ and empower you to make informed choices as your labour progresses and changes. This course has a heavy emphasis on partner involvement and equipping them with tools to feel involved and needed in the birth space.
Midwifery Led Program
Continuity of care is arguably a primary foundation in establishing confidence in both the birthing mother and partner. The ability to spend your antenatal journey building trust and mutual understandings with your care provider is the brickwork for a positive birth outcome. Unfortunately, due to geographical factors, birth rates and resources available, not everybody has access to a midwifery led program, which is where my next and final point comes into play.
Doula: A trained companion who is not a healthcare professional who supports an individual(s) through a significant health-related experience. Doulas can be a great way to include and support the birth partner. A disinterested birth partner may feel less intimidated by a doula and comforted by their holistic approach. Doulas aren’t about preaching a certain path, simply to provide all the evidence based information in a context that resonates with you, enabling you and working with you to establish the path that is right for you. Whether you are intending to birth in a hospital under Obstetric care, through midwifery led care, homebirth or free birth; I implore you to embark on the journey together from the beginning.
My name is Kirsty Peckham and I am based in Darwin, Northern Territory. I am a doula who is undertaking comprehensive training at the Doula Training Academy with Vicki Hobbs. If you would like to talk more about your birthing options, please contact me.
0416 569 215
All images by Birthright Collective