It's such an ongoing issue - What role should partners play in the decision making surrounding the birth of their child? Despite all the steps forward that we've made in bringing awareness to the fact that care providers CANNOT make decisions for us, we still see so many women being dictated to by their partners.
So just what role SHOULD our partners play? And how do we ensure that the role that they play is positive and actually helps us to step into OUR power?
“I really want to have a homebirth. I’m terrified of the hospital. But my husband isn’t comfortable with homebirth so we decided to compromise and I’m just going to hospital and maybe he’ll let me get a doula”.
I see this sort of statement a LOT. I’ve said similar myself – twice. Most women who say this wouldn’t dream of allowing their husband to make other decisions about how they use their body – in fact they would consider it controlling or abusive if their partner started telling them how they are allowed to dress, who they could talk to, what feminine hygiene products to use, how to cut their hair etc. So why do we suddenly allow this same controlling behaviour when it comes to pregnancy and birth?
“It’s important to respect his wishes because it’s his baby too!!!”
This is generally the response if you suggest that a man should not be allowed to decide how you birth your baby. And, to an extent, I agree. It is important to respect his opinion. Respect is integral to all partnerships. But it goes both ways – he needs to respect your opinion as well.
His opinion can be respected without being proclaimed as the more important one.
Because I’m pretty sure we have reached a time and space where men’s opinions aren’t actually considered the more important…Maybe?!
What message does this statement send – That it’s okay for my husband to make decisions about my body? That my husband is better able to make decisions about my body? That my husband cares more about my health and wellbeing and that of our baby than I do? Is that the message I want to pass down to my daughter? That it’s okay for daddy to make decisions about our health and wellbeing, without doing any research or taking into account anyone else’s opinion, just because he’s the daddy?
What happens in regards to healthcare decisions of the baby once it’s born? If you disagree about a course of action does your husband simply get the final say? Unless he’s a specialist paediatrician I would think probably not. You both go and talk to your GP or a specialist. You chat to other parents who had similar experiences. Maybe you chat to your own parents and get their opinion. And then you come to a decision together. So why does he get the final say about the care of the baby while it’s in utero? Is he a midwife? No? Then what qualifies him to be making these decisions?
I would wager that most men (and people in general) who make these types of comments have never experienced a homebirth, spoken to a homebirth midwife, spoken to a homebirthing family, read one single article about homebirth or researched the risks associated with hospital birth. Most women who want a homebirth have done extensive research on the topic.
Cultural conditioning and social acceptability
So the person who is LEAST educated on the topic is making the decisions. Why is this okay? Because the decision he is making is the most socially acceptable. In this case the vast majority of people will be telling you that “he just loves you and wants you to be safe. And so do we”. Or they will tell you that he is just acting in your best interests.
Because we all know that pregnant women are totally unable to act in their own best interests, right?
If they are feeling super supportive they might tell you “well if this birth goes really well you can always have a homebirth next time”. Most people don’t realise that the chances of a hospital birth going “really well” are pretty slim.
So, what if we change the story. “I’d feel much safer birthing in hospital. But my partner read a story in a magazine about a woman who was paralysed because of a botched epidural. Then the following week he read a story about a baby that suffered hypoxic brain injury and it’s been linked to the use of syntocinon during labour. Now he’s freaked out and wants me to birth at home because it’s so much safer.” Hands up who’s going to tell me I need to respect my husband’s wishes. Where are the cries of “It’s his baby too – how will you feel if you do birth in hospital and baby suffers a hypoxic brain injury as a result?” or “He just wants what’s best for you and the baby – it would be really selfish to put your feelings of safety above that!” And hands up those who are going to tell me that my husband has lost his marbles and should just go join a hippie commune? Who’s going to suggest that my husband needs to do a little research about hospital birth and the actual stats? Who’s going to suggest that he have a chat to the Ob about his concerns?
It's MY body on the line
It’s also worth remembering that MY health and wellbeing, my life, is on the line with every decision in regards to my birth. My partner’s isn’t. Women die in childbirth every day around the world. My risk (here in Australia) of death is tripled if I have a caesarean and my risk of a caesarean is around 30% if I birth in hospital. Why is it okay for my husband to force me to take on that risk? There are also many interventions that may be recommended to me in hospital which increase the risks to both mine and my baby’s health and wellbeing – induction, AROM, syntocinon, epidural – all these carry risks to both me and the baby. None of these carry any risk to my husband’s health.
So he gets the decision making responsibility and none of the risks from the decisions.
Active participation VS controlling the decision
I think that many women are confusing “active participation in decision making” with “controlling the decision”. Most of us want our partners to take an active role in the pregnancy and the decision making. And I really feel like men should be doing this. After all – it IS their baby too!
For both of my births I desperately wanted my partner to be an active contributor - I did everything I could to encourage that. I gave him articles to read, I brought him to all doula appointments, all hospital appointments and he did the hypnobirthing course with me. Then every time I would ask his opinion on something or try to start a conversation he'd say "I don't know" or "It's your choice" or "I'm not interested in reading about that".
Despite that, he felt that he had a right to tell me that I couldn't homebirth. I felt really let down by his lack of active participation in the process. It seems like a lot of men want to make the big decisions without doing any of the work. And women do all the research and then allow their partners to over rule them.
Through my first two birthing journeys I realised something very important. While I’d love for my partner to be an active participant in the decision making I don’t actually need him to be.
Through his lack of informational involvement I developed the confidence to simply get on with it for baby number 3. I made decisions and just told him as I went. He didn't put up any argument. Maybe because he realised that doing it his way led to two traumatic births and that it was time to see what happened when we did it MY way. Maybe he realised that any argument would be futile as I now had the knowledge and the confidence to argue my own point – at length. Or maybe he was just sick of hearing about birth politics and birth choices - again at length!
Either way – My body, my birth, my decisions, my responsibility.
PS: One of the key aspects of my VBAC mentoring program is helping you to have these conversations with your partner in a way that is respectful and powerful. Being on the same page for pregnancy and birth care and decisions has so many benefits for you and baby. And a strong, confident, and powerful mumma has epic benefits for the whole family.
Sound like something you need? Contact me HERE to book in a 20 minute coffee chat and see if my VBAC mentoring could be just what you need.
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