Husband at the birth No, mums are far more use… and you don't risk wrecking your marriage
23:56 GMT, 6 June 2012
Hours had passed, and Andy Lawrence’s wife was still screaming out with the pain of labour. He felt frightened, and totally at a loss as to how he could help the woman he loved.
Today, he sums up the whole experience of childbirth as ‘a living nightmare’. ‘My wife, Sam, kept telling me not to look at what was happening when we were in the delivery room. I didn’t enjoy the physical side of watching the birth, and I know Sam felt embarrassed and uncomfortable that I’d seen her in what you might call an undignified state,’ says Andy.
‘It didn’t put me off Sam — I think she was incredibly brave to go through all that and I still think she’s gorgeous. ‘But my being at the birth of our daughter, Bella, has affected Sam’s self-confidence.’
Mum's the word: Phoebe Mahon with mum Melissa and baby Darcey
Like so many modern men, Andy, 29, had always assumed he would be at the birth of his children. It seemed like the natural thing to do — to be present at one of life’s most profoundly emotional moments, giving support to his wife as she endured the rigours of labour.
But today, Andy and Sam, who live in Woodbridge, Suffolk, look back on the birth of their first child with mixed emotions. In fact, the experience left Sam adamant that her husband wouldn’t see her in the throes of childbirth again — so when their second child, Baye, was born 16 months ago, Andy wasn’t with her.
Sam, a 28-year-old full-time mother, explains: ‘I couldn’t bear the idea of Andy seeing me like that again. It’s somehow too personal.
‘So when I became pregnant the second time, my mum was the obvious choice to accompany me during the birth. Andy was still completely involved in the pregnancy, of course: the only bit he missed was the actual birth.’
'It was a bit of a shock': Daniel Mahon with Phoebe
Andy, an Army corporal, was in fact relieved when Sam said she wanted her mother, Pauline, to be her birthing partner second time around.
He says: ‘There was nothing I could do to help Sam, and I’d found the whole thing incredibly stressful — which was another good reason for me not to be there. The last thing Sam needed was to worry about me freaking out.’
Andy’s feelings are not untypical. Many men talk about feeling traumatised by watching their wife enduring the pain of childbirth when there is very little they can do to actually help.
Some find the experience unnervingly gory, or say that seeing female biology in an entirely new light can destroy intimacy between a man and woman.
Indeed, even some of the most macho of men freely admit to feeling sickly and faint at the sight of blood. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay says he didn’t attend the births of any of his four children because he’d ‘feel squeamish seeing that level of mess’.
Not an entirely sympathetic view; but it’s one which many men share.
Sam’s decision to have her mother as her birthing partner is the same choice being made by increasing numbers of pregnant women.
National Health Service statistics reveal that 98 per cent of fathers do attend the birth of their babies, but according to a 2010 survey, a quarter of pregnant women would actually prefer to have their mother as their sole birthing partner.
Who knewNearly a quarter of the 3,000 mothers in a Netmums poll said that after having children, their husband no longer saw them as 'sexual'
Over half of these women believed their baby’s father would be ‘unable to cope with the stress of the situation’, and nine per cent feared that their partner would be unable to empathise with the pain of childbirth.
It seems from the experiences of my own friends that for every couple brought closer by childbirth, there is another driven apart by it. A friend of mine confided that her partner has problems with intimacy after watching her give birth. Another says she lost respect for her high-flying alpha male husband when he fainted in the delivery suite.
Sam says: ‘Giving birth is essentially a female thing, and the best person to support you through it has to be your own mum.’
When Samantha went into labour second time around at Christmas 2010, Andy went to bed so he’d be well rested to look after Bella, then three, the following day.
They were staying at Sam’s mother’s house at the time, and as the labour pains took hold that night, Pauline did a sterling job of keeping her daughter’s spirits up.
Sam says: ‘She was so strong that she gave me the strength to carry on. The midwife arrived later, and I gave birth to Baye in the early hours.
‘I remember Mum crying and hugging us, and I was in a lot of pain so she gave Baye his first feed.
‘Having Mum as my birthing partner was the most amazing experience for both of us. If I have any more children, I would choose her as my sole birthing partner again.’
I know exactly how Sam feels, since my mother was with me when my first child was born ten years ago. When I went into labour at home at 6am, she immediately rushed round to help with my long-awaited homebirth. But the baby became stuck in the birth canal, so it was a long labour.
‘Looking back, I shudder to imagine how terrified my mother must have felt when I had to be transferred to my local hospital’s delivery suite. ‘However, she remained positive and supportive, and seemed to have an instinctive sense of what I needed.’
Forty years ago, childbirth in Britain was regarded as an exclusively female domain. As National Childbirth Trust ante-natal teacher Maxine Palmer points out, this is still the case in non-industrialised countries, where labouring women are routinely supported by their mothers or a close female relative.
Shocked by the 'brutality' of his son's birth: James Mansell with wife Clare and baby Theo
Maxine explains: ‘They are confident and calm, and the pregnant woman trusts them implicitly. This helps her to have a positive experience in labour, and she will go on to support her own daughter in labour in the same way.’
I tell Maxine that my mother’s voice was the only one I could hear in the chaos of the delivery suite the day I gave birth. She is not surprised.
‘Our mother’s voice is more powerful than any other sound. We hear it even before we’re born. We associate it with being safe and secure, and when we’re vulnerable and in pain, what we really want is for our mum to come and do whatever she did when we were little to make us feel better.’
James Mansell, 34, was at the birth of his eight-month-old son Theo — but he says he’ll do his best to avoid being at the birth of any more children.
‘The thing that shocked me most was the sheer brutality of it,’ says James, who is an Army captain.
‘It was a long labour — 19 hours — and seeing my wife Clare screaming in pain made me feel completely helpless. ‘I felt as if I was in a nightmare, and I just wanted it all to stop.’
James recalls feeling squeamish about the copious amount of blood and stitches he saw that day. ‘I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I had no idea it would be so extreme,’ says James, who lives in Moray, Scotland.
‘You can’t begin to imagine it until you’ve witnessed it. If we have another baby, I’d be secretly glad to be away for the birth. Clare’s mum would be a better partner than me.
‘It’s special to be at the birth of your child, but part of me just wishes we could bring back the 1960s, when men could wait outside the delivery room until it was all over.’
There may be sound scientific sense in what James says. After all, one of the world’s leading obstetricians has argued that a mother-to-be’s labour can be longer, more painful and more complicated because she senses her partner’s anxiety and becomes nervous.
Stressed out: Sam Lawrence and husband Andy
Childbirth specialist Michel Odent believes a baby’s arrival in the world would be more straightforward if women were left alone with only a midwife to help them, as they used to be.
‘The ideal birth environment involves no men,’ he says. ‘The best environment I know for an easy birth is when there is nobody around the woman in labour apart from a silent, low-profile and experienced midwife. No doctor, no husband, nobody else,’ he says.
‘In this situation, more often than not, the birth is easier and faster than what happens when there are other people around, especially male figures.’
Phoebe Mahon, a 26-year-old mature student, lives in Lyndhurst, Hampshire, with her husband Daniel, 27, a teacher, and their children Alfie, five, Jacob, three, and six-month-old Darcey. Phoebe’s mother Melissa, also a mature student, was her partner at Darcey’s birth.
Phoebe says: ‘My mum is my rock. I trust her more than anyone.
‘She and Daniel were with me when Alfie was born, but Daniel found it all a bit of a shock. He was there when Jacob was born, as I had to make the difficult choice of who should be there and who should be looking after Alfie — but we both knew he wasn’t that keen on watching it happen.
‘After that, I wanted Mum there for Darcey’s birth — she’s a calming influence — and, fortunately, Daniel was happy to fall in with the plan.
During Darcey’s birth, Phoebe recalls listening intently to her mother’s soothing voice.
‘It was as if that was the only thing in the whole room. She was reassuring me, repeating how well I was doing. All I could think was: “Please don’t stop talking, Mum!” because concentrating on her voice seemed to take the pain away.
‘When Darcey was born, Mum cut the cord then gave her a cuddle. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer experience of giving birth, and it’s made Mum and me even closer.’
Counsellor Colette Etheridge, 38, remembers reading an article many years ago which said that a third of relationships break down if the partner is present during the birth; and many other relationships suffer because the man can never see the woman in the same way again.
So when Colette became pregnant, she was adamant her husband, Andrew, 45, would not be at the birth. In fact her mother, Celia, a retired midwife, was her sole partner for the births of all three of her children — James, 12, Benjamin, nine, and Jacob, nine months.
Colette, who lives in Gloucester, says: ‘I never really discussed it with Andrew. I felt so strongly about it that there was no discussion to be had.
‘I know he was happy about it, though. He said he was relieved the decision was made for him. He’s a bit squeamish, and we knew he wouldn’t be that useful.’
Andrew, a plumber, was at the hospital during all three births, but was not in the delivery room.Phoebe says: ‘He gave James and Ben their first feeds, and probably found it easier to bond with them because he didn’t suffer the stress or anxiety of watching me in pain while knowing he couldn’t help me.’
Simon Brodie, a 42-year-old engineer, found the births of his first two children so stressful that he chose not to be at the birth of his third child.
He and his wife Evelyn, 42, a nurse, live near Witney, in Oxfordshire, with their daughters, Louise, 14, Rebecca, 12, and Heather, ten.
Simon says: ‘Louise was born after a long and stressful labour, and my wife was in dreadful pain. She needed stitches and the doctor made a mistake with it — at which point I became terrified I was going to lose her.
‘The doctors were panicking, and I suddenly thought I was going to faint.’
During Rebecca’s birth, Simon recalls feeling ‘like a hanger-on’, and says he hated every minute of it.
He’d intended to be with Evelyn for Heather’s birth, but ‘chickened out’ at the last minute. ‘I felt really bad, but I didn’t think I was up to all that stress again. I knew I’d probably keel over if I was in the delivery suite.’
For many years, men were barred from the delivery rooms of Britain, banished back home or to the local pub to wait it out while their wives laboured in privacy.
But what has often been condemned as an outmoded and Victorian approach to childbirth, looks, to increasing numbers of modern parents, like the best way to go.