Berlin (dpa) – At the decisive moment, fathers present in the delivery room at the birth of their child are merely observers who feel helpless. The good thing is that they neither have to, nor should, do more.
Just being there, keeping well-meant advice to themselves and not constantly pointing a camera at the proceedings is already doing plenty properly, say midwives and obstetricians. But many of the men’s questions are still unanswered when labour begins.
The presence of fathers at childbirth was not always a matter of course. ”It’s been that way only since the 1980s,” said Edith Wolber, spokeswoman of the German Midwives Association. In some cultures, such as Turkish, the labour ward remains off limits to fathers. In Western cultures, however, the consensus among family and friends is that good fathers are present at the birth of their children, Wolber noted. ”Sometimes the expectations are excessive,” she added.
A prevailing feeling of helplessness in the delivery room is a sign of inadequate preparation, said Wolber, who therefore recommends that men attend special childbirth classes, preferably without their partner.
Eberhard Schaefer, director of the Berlin Fathers Centre, has been preparing expectant fathers in a three-hour, men’s only childbirth course for the past five years. In the absence of their partners, the men have the courage to bring up issues they otherwise would not, he said.
”More than nine in 10 men accompany their wives into the delivery room,” Schaefer noted. ”But many wonder, ‘Should I really? What am I going to do there?”’
The first lesson he imparts is: ”You don’t have to know any tricks.” The most important thing is for them to simply be there for the mother and not spread nervousness, which sounds self-evident but comes as a surprise to many. ”They think, ‘A new task awaits me and I don’t have time to learn it,”’ Schaefer said.
But men have to abandon the notion of being able to influence the outcome. Wolber sees this observer role as an important experience.
”They learn something that they’ll later become aware of as fathers:
You’re not always active with children,” she said.
Aside from providing support, expectant fathers perform another important function in the delivery room, namely as a mediator between the midwife, the obstetrician and the mother-to-be.
”Communication is essential. It’s really regrettable if they sit in the corner and don’t say anything,” remarked Achim Woeckel, a senior physician at the University of Ulm Medical School’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Men should not hesitate to say to the midwife, ”Tell me what I’m supposed to do,” said Woeckel, who has been in charge of about 2,000 births.
Proper preparation notwithstanding, men who accompany their partners into the delivery only out of a sense of obligation are doing no-one any good.
”They should be encouraged to say no if they don’t want to go,” Woeckel said. In his experience, the involuntary presence of an expectant father at childbirth can even heighten the risk of complications. A solution, he suggested, is to get a back-up:
”Perhaps the sister of the woman in labour can replace the father at critical moments.”
Schaefer has a different view. ”I advise against bringing other people along,” he said. ”This causes unease and new conflicts.”