Carolyn Hax: Husband’s support during labor doesn’t work for expectant mom


Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are expecting our first child. My husband is an American. I immigrated to the United States as a college student.

We are at a stalemate about my birthing plan. In my country, the father is not usually present for the birth. Normally, the father waits outside while a female relative or friend provides the mother with support. Our hospital allows only one support person.

I want to have either my mom or my sister as my support person and have my husband come in right after the baby is born. I’m not comfortable having someone who has absolutely no experience giving birth whatsoever as my support person. That just makes no sense to me.

The birthing classes cemented my opinion. My mom and my sister are both willing to do it, but neither one feels strongly about being there. My husband is appalled that he will “miss the birth” in favor of someone who doesn’t care about witnessing it. I’ve tried to explain that it’s not a spectator sport, but he says he’s being unfairly excluded. I don’t know what to do.

Expecting: As the one birthing the child, you are the decision-maker. You run your own body and care (no matter what your state government tells you). If I must choose from: (a) You decide; (b) He decides; and (c) Anyone else decides, then it’s (a). Slam dunk. You get to be “unfair,” and we all, your husband included, need to hear and respect that.

But I can’t support your making this decision without even trying to understand a husband and father’s emotional ache for inclusion.

Declaring it’s “not a spectator sport” is shockingly dismissive of your husband’s feelings and his investment in the family you two have created.

As you say yourself in arguing for a female attendant, the person at your side is a participant, not a spectator. A good support person holds your hand, keeps your spirits up, plays your music, reads your mood, advocates for you with the medical staff, keeps you company for hourrrrrs in most cases — and, yes, shares with you the unforgettable moment of the birth of your — that’s the plural “your,” not singular — child.

Someone who has never been in labor is capable not only of doing this, but also of being better at it than someone who has given birth. It’s the meaning as much as the mileage. The medical staff has the labor and birth experience covered.

Being together through this is often profound for a couple. Stories to retell decades later. That’s not a trifle.

Furthermore: You want him to be an involved, invested parent and spouse. He can still be that, certainly, after missing the birth — even if he’s smarting from his exclusion, his showing up fully for his family is a moral imperative — but his living this transcendent moment on the wrong side of a door you shut on him is not the most fortuitous start.

If you’re going to deny him one of his life’s singular moments, then make sure your reason is, “I foresee it adding unhealthy stress to my labor,” and not, “My country doesn’t do this.”

But, again — not until you’ve really heard him. Feel his need. Respect it. If you can’t, then ask him to talk you through it — if nothing else, so you get why “spectator” is such a face-slap and you don’t use it again.

Better, though, that you lower your defenses enough to sympathize.

At least then, no matter what you decide, he won’t start parenthood with the chill of not being heard.

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