There is so much focus on TABS (trauma after birth syndrome) that has increased since the 1980s … as it affects women. But men are impacted by birth as well and too often left feeling traumatized. In fact often more so than women. This is true of almost all trauma. When we personally experience something traumatic we have the ability to process things. When we see someone we love having a challenging personal experience we often feel absolutely helpless and have huge difficulty dealing with these feelings. 

We have to go back to look at fathers in birth over the past 45 years.

In the early 1970s fathers were encouraged to be part of the birthing process. We, Women, wanted our husband to be with us for several reasons:

  • We didn’t want to be alone
  • We wanted our husband to help us cope and manage
  • We wanted our husband to understand the hard work of giving birth
  • We wanted our husband and baby to bond as early as possible

The alienation of having a man sit in the waiting room or go to the pub had to stop because that led fathers to feel alienated from their newborn. This meant very, very few men actually felt confident to help take care of the newborn. Because they had not seen the efforts of birth they didn’t understand how tired and changed we were. Women were changing lots of things in the 1870s and one aspect of life was to shift the social dynamic around childbirth.

Fathers are now expected to be at the birth of their children. When men are skilled they are actually able and willing to help! There weren’t any choices but obstetricians, midwives, and staff saw millions upon millions upon millions of skilled birthing women and birth-coaching dads. The collective behaviors of families during the 1950s-70s led the way to the change in ‘choices’.

Come in and help … dads!

So fathers started coming into births. From the early 1950s to-70s the very first childbirth preparation classes in the US and New Zealand (where I’ve lived) were skills-based. In the US there was Lamaze and The Bradley Method. In the US Grantly Dick-Reid. These three methods were developed by obstetricians who had three goals:

  • Achieve a natural birth
  • Achieve painless labor
  • Have less medical care

This means fathers had skills and were expected to use them. Curiously, not enough women achieved those three goals HOWEVER, the vast majority of women really appreciated the efforts of their partner and felt truly helped. In other words, the goal of natural birth advocates was not achieved but the goal of birthing women was. During this period, there would have been traumatic births but there was not the level of TABS that exists today. Why is that?

Come in and support … Dads

By the 1980s everything changed. Because not enough women achieved those 3 goals, birth advocates changed their approach … for very good reason. Women had no choices and that made no sense. Skills were replaced by choices and Birth Plans.

The role of fathers shifted from ‘helping’ to ‘supporting’. Supporting meant … ‘to support the choices women are making’. In other words, childbirth classes shifted from teaching skills to teach about the pros/cons of ‘interventions’. This means fathers shifted from knowing how to use skills to help his birthing partner to help his partner choose what she wants and doesn’t want and then supporting her choices.

The death of skills but choices are unreliable

Here’s the dilemma. With skills gone women don’t cope and manage the hard work of giving birth as well. Women rely on their choices and Birth Plan. Fathers are now standing around without specific skills to help, feel more useless and try to support a woman’s choices but really feel left in the dark. Birthing women and men are no longer able to work together. Women are doing the work of giving birth while fathers have been left out! We need both skilled birthing mothers and birth-coaching dads. Sure, couple this with ‘choice’ but rely on your skills.

This story about a traumatized dad really has more to do with ‘choice’ than skills. They didn’t choose to have a premature birth but they also didn’t have a set of skills they could use during the birth as well as after the birth as a way to stay connected and supporting of one another. Birth can easily be overwhelming and this story explains one of the multiple reasons mothers and fathers feel traumatized.

Birthing Better skills were developed by moms and dads in the early 1970s in the US and used by many thousands globally in all types of birth. Birthing Better online birthing classes are housed in Common Knowledge Trust.