We see a great deal of news about celebrities who during host shows talk about their children, but rarely their experiences of childbirth. Two particular favorites of mine are Antonio Banderas and Brad Pitt. This leads me to believe that such discussions are considered ‘taboo’ or ‘not cool’, along with pictures and discussions of women in labour and breastfeeding. However, almost all people will produce offspring.
For midwives, attending to the father must be considered part of providing family care. Delivering quality support to families embraces the 6 C’s advocated by the Department of Health (2012), which includes compassion, courage, competency, commitment, care and good communication. These integrally include family members.
In the West there is a contemporary expectation that ‘fathers’ should be present at the birth, with many unclear of their job description. In addition to painting the spare room he is also expected to provide his partner with support during her birth experience. A former RCM survey established that 98% of UK fathers want to participate at the birth, with the majority holding positive attitudes towards the impending event. Some fathers judged themselves as being on the periphery of events during labour and were unsure of their role. It would seem quite natural for a father to be nervous about his role, especially if it is his first time. He may lose sleep worrying over whether or not he will cope, in accord with the axiom ‘I have many worries and most of them never happen’.
The question I am asking is whether midwives do enough to allay fathers’ anxiety and to prepare him for his impending role. It is usual for a childbearing woman to discuss her ‘birth plan’ with her midwife, partner and friends and expectantly conversations should incorporate preparing the father for his impending role.
It is important for all parties to acknowledge each others wants and attitudes towards this life altering experience. If the quoted 98% of fathers want to be present at the birth, the remaining 2-3% don’t. What happens when this is voiced? How do we respond?
There is a dearth of evidence about the expressed requirements and fears of men in relation to birth, although research has shown that men’s fears are comparable to women’s. For example, risk of their partner or baby suffering and/or losing control. Advantages and disadvantages of the father being present at the birth is an under researched area. For example, one stated benefit is the potential for enhanced bonding with both mother and baby and the potential for developing sexual difficulties post birth, both of which are under researched areas.
What can midwives do to help?
In 2008, I developed a tool called the Birth Participation Scale (BPS), which midwives can use to prepare fathers for the birth. If you want to utilize this instrument then please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org). The BPS ascertains whether the father genuinely wants to attend the birth and if so gives the midwife indicators of how to help him plan his journey.