By Bethany Domzal Sanders
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
Call the Midwife is back for a seventh season and so are the faculty of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing with a weekly guest blog. Watch the show Sundays at 7 p.m. through May 6, then read our blog each Monday morning for historical and contemporary context about the previous night’s episode. SPOILER ALERT: Some posts may contain spoilers.
Sunday’s second episode of Call the Midwife was filled with memorable storylines, tearful experiences and the kind of relatable, loveable characters that make you pine for sitting down at a turquoise Formica table and sipping a “cuppa” from a pastel Luray cup. Of all the characters tonight, though, the one I identified with most was the hapless expectant father, unprepared and yet volunteered by his wife to be present and actively participating in his child’s birth. I say this because that was my husband.
I’ve joked with families that my favorite picture of my son’s birth was taken just moments after he emerged. In the photo, I’m holding this brand-new baby in my arms, gazing lovingly and amazingly at what I had created. My husband is standing back about a yard, arms crossed, looking absolutely horrified at what has just transpired. Over the past 10 years of observing husbands and partners at births, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are definite behavioral patterns.
Here are three of the types I’ve identified:
- The coach makes statements such as “our water broke” and “our contractions are now 5 minutes apart.” Has packed high-protein healthy snacks in the dedicated dad bag for his endurance during the labor. Attended all childbirth education classes and has the certificate to show you on request. Created a custom dedicated playlist for labor, pushing and birth.
- The wallflower stands in a dark corner of the labor room, going unnoticed by hospital staff for over half an hour. After nurses suggest he grab a bite to eat, they have to call him two hours later to request that he return or he will miss the actual birth. It turns out he’s a couple of blocks away at a deli. During birth he stares either down at the floor or shuts his eyes. The wallflower usually declines to cut the cord, insisting that he doesn’t want to mess anything up. May turn green after baby is born, prompting the nurses and midwife to insist that he sit down and drink some apple juice.
- The eager guy is initially reticent about the labor and birth thing, but on the actual day of he is high on adrenaline. Stops at Starbucks on the way to the hospital, calling ahead to see if the nurses have any special drink requests. Talks too loud, especially during contractions, and cracks jokes that his partner doesn’t find funny. Uses lots of wows in conversation. Totally peeks at baby as it is crowning, even if his partner asked him not to. Usually cries when the baby is born.
All joking aside, over the past decades as we’ve welcome husbands and fathers into the labor and birth rooms, we’ve not always done a great job discussing with them what the mother’s expectations and needs of them are. We’ve not always taken into consideration their strengths and weaknesses and leveraged them. A little bit of communication can go a long way, as we saw suggested by Nurse Valerie to expectant father Allan Romaine in Sunday’s episode.
And for the record, my husband did much better at the birth of our second child. As Allan looks at Janet after the birth in the van and vows to be right by her side the next time, I wanted so badly for him to volunteer to help assist with the next birth. Baby steps, though. I like to think both my husband and Allan would get there eventually if given the opportunity.
Bethany Domzal Sanders, MSN, CNM, is a member of the Vanderbilt Nurse-Midwives, the clinical practice of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing located at West End Women’s Health Center.