The truth about dad's role in the delivery room

Dad's need to follow their partner's lead in the delivery room.
Dad's need to follow their partner's lead in the delivery room. Photo: Getty Images

And now we're a family of five.

Our third child, Mabel, has arrived. Our plans for a natural and non-medicated birth made me anxious about my upcoming amplified role in the delivery room, saying "I just hope I don't let her down on the big day, when she needs my physical and emotional support the most."

Well the reviews are in, and apparently I did okay. A pillar of strength, my wife says. But she was the superstar in this scenario, with baby Mabel coming in a strong second. My cameo performance was much less crucial than those of the amazing midwife and nurses, an empowering team of women who are now my personal heroes.

Having now witnessed a natural birth up close, I'm more amazed than ever at the strength of women in general and my wife in particular. I learned a lot during the process, so here are a few tips for fathers-to-be about what to expect and how to behave during a natural delivery (or any birth for that matter):

  • Do what your wife says. Imagine every pet peeve she has about you. Now, resolve them all in her favour, for one or two days at least
  • Be patient, and don't Google worst-case scenarios like having to unexpectedly deliver the baby at home or in the car. It will only freak you out.
  • Make sure your health care provider is really on board with a natural birth and not just telling you what you want to hear. Ask around, particularly at a natural birthing class -they will know.
  • Don't scroll through your wife's iPhone photos while she's labouring at home. But if you do and happen to see a shot of the bloody show (the passage of a small amount of blood or blood-tinged mucus near the end of pregnancy) she took in case the midwife or doctor wanted to see it, don't react with obvious revulsion. It doesn't help your wife's confidence in your fitness for the big day one bit.
  • Trust your wife's instincts about when to go to the hospital or birthing centre. This was hard for me. When labouring at home didn't move along as quickly as I'd convinced myself it would, I wanted us to be safely checked in with midwives and doctors nearby. But my wife was right; her sense of timing was impeccable. Mabel was born five hours or so after we were admitted.
  • Retain your sense of humour and sense of intimacy. This will be one of the most amazing things you and the mother will ever share. Stay in the moment and enjoy it.
  • Be prepared: There may be a lot of blood. Maybe I didn't notice it as much with the first two medicated births, or maybe the details are more vivid when you're more engaged and present as a dad in the process.
  • Take off your wedding ring. My wife gripped my left hand with nearly superhuman strength. I still have marks where the ring dug into my skin.
  • If you're even semi-sensitive to your wife being short with you, toughen up for the birth. Elaina gave me a quick and dismissive "No, no" whenever my meant-to-be-encouraging mantras rang on deaf ears. "Let it go" made her think of Frozen, and "Trust your body; it knows what to do" sounded creepy, she told me later.

It turns out silent strength was my role. Which mainly meant bracing myself as Elaina leaned on me and looking her in the eyes calmly and compassionately as she did all the work. Just shut up and stand there? Turns out, I can do that.