All posts for the month March, 2014

This one’s for the moms-to-be out there.  Men, you’re welcome to read it.  (If you do, read it to see how that lines up with your reasons, not because you’re looking for excuses!)

You may have noticed that there are a lot of baby and pregnancy books out there.  You probably own some of them.  Your hospital or birth center may have handed you a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  Your family and friends may have given you some for a baby shower.  You might have bought a few yourself.

First-time mothers, especially, are curious about everything that’s going on.  Your body is changing and there’s a tiny little person growing inside you.  That does all kinds of weird things to your body and brain.  It’s comforting to know that there’s a reason your hip hurts, or that you’re not alone in craving unusually large amounts of guacamole, or that your sudden urge to “nest” is normal.  Odd, but normal.

With these books being so useful, comforting, and informative, you naturally expect your man to read one or all of them as well.  For some reason, he doesn’t seem excited about the idea.  And he just hasn’t quite gotten around to reading the book yet.

Why is that?

Frankly, part of the reason is that the books aren’t intended for him.  They’re written for you, the mother-to-be.  It’s not that he can’t or won’t read a book that he’s not the intended audience for, it’s that it’s much harder work to stay engaged with the book.  If he’s being “asked” to read it in the first place and is already feeling a bit reluctant, the audience mismatch can be enough that he’ll give up by page ten.  And before you protest that the books are equally applicable to anyone, look at the cover (yes, judge the book by its cover!):  a color scheme tested by the publisher’s team to appeal to women; words about “you” having a baby; a picture of a smiling gal with a bulging belly?  Yep, that tells him that it’s aimed at you, not him.

Another reason that doesn’t apply to every book you ask him to read is that, to be honest, some of them seem just plain weird.  Because everyone has a different definition of “weird”, I won’t assume that what I find weird is also weird to your man.  And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t assume that just because you think “12 Chainsaw Juggling Techniques for a Healthy Baby” was awesome and he should read it, that he won’t end up thinking it’s weird and not wanting to read it.  (By the way, I don’t think that book exists, but it sounds awesome and I would read it.)

Another part of the reason he might not read that book is that it’s just plain long.  What to Expect When You’re Expecting is over 600 pages.  Over six hundred pages of stuff that might not interest him and might get weird?  “No thanks!” he thinks.  It might be chock-full of good information, but his this-is-more-work-than-it’s-worth alarm is going crazy.

The final major reason he might not want to read that book is that he doubts there is anything in it that’s actionable.  It’s nice to know that at 10 weeks, baby is the size of a kumquat.  But that’s just information.  And it’s information that you’ll give him anyway, or that he could look up if he wanted to know.  He’s concerned–and probably right–that he’ll spend time reading the book, and come away with almost nothing that he can do or know that will help him or you.  He’s got other things on his mind–like what it’ll be like to be a daddy, and whether the crib manufacturer put all the correct hardware in the box.

You may not agree with these reasons, and that’s okay.  Not every guy feels the same way, and not every guy can articulate his reasons.  In short, the most common set of reasons a guy doesn’t want to read that book is because it’s a non-actionable, long, potentially weird book that’s intended for you and not him.  If you can look at the book through that lens, you might understand why he just hasn’t gotten around to picking it up (even if you don’t agree with him).

Want a book that is actionable, short, and intended for him?  The Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner is written for your guy, to equip him to love and support you through the birth process.

Yeah, so I’ve read about what a birth partner is, and why I need to be involved, and all that stuff.  And you say that a guy needs to be tough to be a birth partner.  I’m just not that kind of guy though.  I’m not good at being gentle, and I I know I’m going to say the wrong thing if I try.

– Some Guy

Some guys feel like they’re too tough to be a birth partner.  Some guys realize their limitations–they’re not good at coming up with the right words at the right time, or they’re clumsy, or they’re manual laborers with big rough hands.

Knowing your limitations is a good thing.

Letting your limitations loom too large in your mind is a bad thing.  Doing that can focus you on your limitations instead of your capabilities.

To be perfectly blunt about this, you (assuming you’re the father of this particular baby) somehow were capable enough that the lovely woman about to become the mother of your baby chose you.  Start with that.

Being a birth partner can be hard work.  Maybe it’d be easier if you were better with words, or could easily memorize a whole bunch of comfort techniques, or had a medical degree.  But those really aren’t the important things.

The important thing in being a birth partner is to love and support the mother in labor.  That can be as simple as paying attention to her, holding her hand, and telling her “I love you, you can do this.”  If you’re not good with words, figure out what you can do without words–gentle touches, comfort techniques, or smiles might be good options.  If you’re worried about being clumsy, figure out what you can do–smiles and reassuring words while remembering to be a bit extra-careful.

Don’t count yourself out just because you’re not perfect.  You can still help that special woman through labor.  Focus on the things you can do, not the things you can’t.  She’ll be glad you did!

One of your roles as a birth partner is to act as an “advocate”.  That’s not a common word these days, so it’s natural to have questions about what an advocate should do.

An advocate is a person that promotes the best interests of another.  Simply put, as an advocate, you promote someone else’s best interests and do what you can to help them through their situation.

That’s pretty abstract, so let’s get a bit more specific.  In the birthing room, there’s a woman busy trying to have a baby.  That’s generally considered a difficult task that can take some effort.  So she would benefit from not having to deal with extra details.

Think of it like she’s a professional athlete, and you’re her agent.  Her job is to play her sport.  She doesn’t need to worry about the details of negotiating a new contract, or calling UnderArmour back about that endorsement deal, or arranging plane tickets to get to that charity event.  That’s your job.  You take care of those details so she can do her job better.

And now, back to the birthing room.  You can be a good advocate or a bad advocate.  I’m going to suggest being a good advocate.  That means understanding what she needs (asking can be helpful), making things that you can make happen happen (say, getting her a drink of water), and making sure her concerns and needs are addressed by the medical staff (“excuse me, nurse, she says something doesn’t feel right”).

Remember that your interactions with the medical staff can have a big impact on the tone in the birthing room.  Be assertive.  That means making sure your (her) concerns are heard and understood, without being aggressive or a jerk.

You’re looking out for her best interests.  That means making sure she’s taken care of, and it also means that her entire support team (you, the medical staff, anyone else in the birthing room with you, people texting or Facebooking) is doing their best to make sure her needs are met and to act supportively.

[There is more about being an advocate, including scripts for being a good (or bad) advocate through requesting a replacement nurse, in the Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner.]

Some men think their role during birth is to be a “coach”.  In fact, there’s an entire childbirth method that is described as “father-coached childbirth“.

Unfortunately, the idea most guys have of a coach is different than what is needed during childbirth.  Many of us have had coaches in our lives that have pushed us to be stronger and better.  We’ve seen them in movies, pushing their teams beyond what they thought was possible (the coach from Miracle, yelling “Again!” as he pushes his team to the point of collapse, comes to mind).

Coaching has its place, but that place is not in a birthing room.  The “father-coached childbirth” method calls for “a loving and supportive coach” who goes through 12 weeks of training with the mother-to-be–which is definitely not the kind of thing that most men think of when they think about what “coaching” is.

During labor, a woman doesn’t need a coach calling out “come on now, we practiced this, power through and get it done!”  She needs a safe voice that she can trust.  She doesn’t need a coach focused on winning the game.  She needs a partner that will love and support her through the process.  (Besides, guys, let’s be real here:  coaches need to know the game, and you’re almost certainly no expert on labor and birth.)

If you must think of yourself as a coach, think of yourself as the best kind of coach for a youth sports team.  The outcome of the game doesn’t matter; what matters is that the players learn the game, have fun, trust the coach, and can’t wait to come back for the next practice or game.  The title is coach, but the role is a supporter, encourager, advocate, and cheerleader.

And if you really must think of yourself as a coach, you owe it to yourself and her to be as prepared as you can be.  The Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner is a great place to start.