Home Birth and the Alpha Male
October 12, 2012
Although I vividly remember giving birth, I sometimes ask Aaron about his experience of the day Kaspar was born, two and a half years ago. He remembers a lot of waiting, then some throwing up (that was me), then some yelling (me again, and the doctor , "1…2…3.. PUSSHHH!") and his first glimpse of Kaspar's head (OH MY GOD A BABY). He remembers feeling a whole lot of adrenaline pumping through his veins. He remembers that I gasped when Kaspar was placed on my chest. I don't remember gasping. (But I'm pretty sure I was thinking OH MY GOD A BABY.) I like to ask about his experience because so much of the universal childbirth experience -- and its telling -- is women's territory. Which is fair, since, hey, we do the hard part. But pregnancy and parenting are really shared experiences; although men and women often experience parenting stuff very differently, sometimes it's helpful to hear from the other side and remember how much we also have in common, and how we can often serve as each others' best allies and supporters, especially in these most major of life-changing moments when our children are born.
I was, therefore, intrigued when a midwife friend of mine sent me this great piece by Ven Batista, a self-described "home birth dad," offering a glimpse into a dude's take on birth at home, versus in a hospital setting. I've written quite a bit about midwife-assisted home birth, and the reasons people choose to go that route. More and more families are every year, often -- as with Batista's family -- after having already given birth in a hospital once or twice, and often in pursuit of a better birth experience overall. Some women feel strongly that a home birth with a qualified midwife is, in the absence of pre-existing complications, safer than birth in a hospital; of course, many naysayers strongly support the opposite view. Recent studies have shown that planned, midwife-assisted home birth and hospital births weigh in about equally on the safety scale -- though if you get down to details, home birth actually won out by a small margin -- bringing the birth experience (rather than safety questions) back into the conversation. For most home birth moms, it's always been a major part of it, anyway. Moms who give birth at home tend to talk about their more empowered roles in the process, the intimacy and comforts of a home setting, and the many benefits of being at home, already, when a new baby arrives. Although I've read and heard male partners articulate support of home birth, it's usually presented in support of a mama-to-be's decision to have one. Batista's story begins that way, but he also -- having experienced a home birth in his own family -- now advocates for home birth for the empowerment, confidence, comforts and benefits it affords to dads, as well. Interestingly, although his perspective is definitely very male, his home birth takeaways align remarkably closely with the positive points moms usually bring up on this subject.
For one thing, Batista appreciates the more empowered and active role a dad is afforded during a home birth. Instead of feeling in the way of his wife and her doctors during the labor and delivery process, as he did during his wife's previous hospital birth, he discovered that he had crucial jobs to attend to during her second birth, at home. He was in charge of the birth tub, and of supplying food and beverages (tea, cuz they're British) for the midwives. He felt useful. Men like that. (Don't we all?) As it happens, it's also been shown that active partner participation can help make birth a better, less painful process for laboring mamas. So any birth environment that supports that --which, according to Batista, a home environment inherently does -- is good for everyone. (It should be mentioned that hospital births can also feature participatory dads; my OB definitely gave Aaron jobs to do.) Batista also mentions that, during a home birth, a dad will often catch the baby, which makes for some pretty awesome memories, and cements the experience as one involving both parents' active participation, not to mention the father-baby bond. Once the baby arrives, too, rather than being whisked away to a nursery, it remains with the parents, in their home, initiating the family bonding experience from the beginning. Batista writes, toward the end of his piece, "If you only remember one of these secrets, make sure it's this one. At the end of a home birth, *the midwives leave. Not you.* This is the way it should be. In a hospital, you will be torn away from you newborn child and your exhausted wife at the very peak of your emotional vulnerability."
When Kaspar was born, we had about an hour to hang in the delivery room before Kas was whisked to a nursery, I was whisked to a shared hospital room for two nights, and informed that Aaron would not be able to stay with me -- which became 'us', once I requested Kaspar be brought back to me after he'd been cleaned off and such by who-knows-who -- there, but could return the next morning at ten o' clock. I hadn't thought of what this all must have felt like from Aaron's side. I was psyched, but also looked (and felt) as if I'd been run over by a truck, and he had no option but to leave me in the care of a (not very nice) nurse. And, of course, Kaspar was brand, brand new. I'm sure Aaron felt pretty weird taking the subway back to Brooklyn while his newborn remained in a hospital across from Central Park. Batista really brings the first-person voice to what this feels like for a father. And he attests to home birth's making a meaningful difference for him in this respect.
Batista also points out that home birth is less stressful than hospital birth, for dads, from the get-go. While moms may be thinking in advance of the big day about the main event (babies exiting our bodies), dads are thinking about all of the steps in between point A and point B, and how they'd better not mess up. The car has to start, who knows what traffic will be like, and what if they get lost? This is some high-stress labor day action! In a home birth, men are on their own turf… in their own castles, so to speak. Instead of focusing on figuring out where to park, they can actually turn their attention to the birth at hand. The results? Less stress. And greater participation on their part.
"Your home is your place," Batista writes. "You pay for it. The midwives and guests are the fish out of water. If they want something, tea, coffee, whatever, they ask you. There's a funny thing about evolution, it has created the subconscious trait that whoever gives out the food and drink is the dominant player in any situation. That's why in a home birth you will find it feels a lot more natural to ask more questions about what's going on, to make sure that the birth plan is stuck to and to generally be more involved and have more say over the whole thing." Hello, rock star dads advocating for their wives' birth plans! It's so interesting to me that this is born of a fulfilled alpha male instinct. But I've no doubt Batista speaks the truth. In a hospital setting, a doctor is the boss. They claim the most authority in the birth situation. Some doctors are wonderfully on-board with birth plans and truly seek to help moms have the birth experiences they desire, and that's fantastic. But lots and lots of women end up having interventions they never intended on, and many other couples never really come up with a plan because they figure doc knows best and will take care of it. A home birth situation, as Batista's experience demonstrates, engenders a higher level of education between parents about their options and, essentially, what's going on in a birth. Because it takes place in the birthing couple's home, the family doesn't feel stripped of their authority or their agency in the face of a hospital's bright lights, beeping sounds, weird smells and general unfamiliarity. (As much as Aaron participated in Kaspar's birth, I am sure he did not feel exactly empowered at the time. Hospitals are freaky places.) And if all of this adds up to happy, helpful dads, you can bet the moms are happier, too.
Batista agrees that home birth does make for happier mommies. "With a home birth her labor is undisturbed. She does not have to be picked up halfway through and rushed to the hospital. I cannot state enough how much a difference this makes." He adds, later, "After experiencing both hospital and home birth, my wife and I wouldn't even consider going to a hospital again unless there was a very compelling medical reason why we should do so."
And there we have it. Straight from the alpha male's mouth. One alpha male's mouth, anyway; I've read some other men's confessions that they found childbirth gory and disgusting. Everyone's different (although, in my opinion, those other men are wimps). Home birth is not, as I think we can all agree upon, for everyone. But I think Batista's account shows that it can be a great experience for dads, as well as moms, and for more directly positive reasons than "She wants it and I support her." Home birth can also uniquely support him. Since birth is a family event, I think this is worth including in the conversation, too. Aaron and I are currently discussing a baby Newman #2, and while adoption is a definite contender, we haven't ruled out another pregnancy. I have mentioned home birth, and although Aaron gets a little pale when I do, I'm guessing Batista's "7 Secrets" will broaden his perspective. Our hospital birth was pretty fun, all told, but definitely had its down sides. I have a hunch that home birth would go a long way to address those if we give it another go. ANYway... For now, we're just talking. I'll of course keep all y'all posted on our family expansion plan as it unfolds.
Dads, what were your experiences like during your children's births? Moms, do you think your partners would enjoy the aspects of home birth that Batista draws attention to? Do you think your menfolk would even consider it an option? Would you?
PS. For a few more dads' home birth stories, click here.