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Your Partner's Role During Labor

By Gayle Peterson, Ph.D.

Excerpt from An Easier Childbirth

Available for purchase online at Amazon.com

But let there be spaces
in your togetherness
and let the winds
of heaven
between you

--Kahil Gibran, The Prophet

Witnessing the woman he loves in the middle of intense and painful contractions may be a very new experience for your partner. It is a natural response to want to take the pain away, to make it better for those we love and cherish. Sometimes a partner will feel afraid or guilty that he cannot share the pain. You must address these feelings before labor, so that they do not inhibit your coping abilities or distract your energy.

Reading this chapter together can help you develop a pattern for relating during labor that does not inhibit your ability to cope with pain. It helps to establish realistic expectations of each other and to open channels for communicating your needs. You need to be supported and encouraged to deal with contractions during active labor and not protected from normal pain.

You will find your energy diverted if your partner is so uncomfortable with your expressions of pain that instead of encouraging you, he only wants to stop your pain. This often happens when a partner takes on too much responsibility for his part in the process. First-time fathers often feel helpless when they expect more of themselves than is possible. A husband's job is to comfort and encourage, not to make the pain go away. It is a mistake for either of you to expect that your partner knows any more about labor than you do, or that he can lessen your pain or protect you from all intrusions -- medical or otherwise. Neither of you should expect this to be his role.

If you have concerns about medical interventions, consider involving a trained labor or childbirth assistant. It is always a good idea to have available a knowledgeable person who can support you and your partner. Too often women express regret that their husbands did not know enough to comfort them during labor; some even end up angry at their partners. A husband may feel he failed when his wife's expectations for his role were not realistic. This common pitfall can be avoided by having a support person present who can tell you that what you are experiencing is normal and healthy. Taking time to read this chapter and to participate in the exercises in this book will give you a more realistic orientation.

It is also important to stop taking care of anyone else while you are in labor, including your partner. This is not a time when you can afford to inhibit your expression or the release of pain. Do not play the role of hostess. Labor is a time when you owe all your attention and loving concern to yourself.

You and your partner are learning about the process of labor together. By sharing your fears and expectations, you can eliminate any false beliefs about comfort or protection that either of you may have. This can clear the way for loving support that is possible and realistic. True intimacy can make a difference in the quality of your journey into the unknown. The foundations for intimacy are honesty and sharing. Whatever your labor brings, it can be a shared experience that deepens your relationship rather than an isolating experience that alienates you from each other. How you travel through labor together can make all the difference as you begin your new family.

Copyright 1993 by Shadow and Light Publications. Reprinted with permission from the author and publisher. This excerpt may not be reproduced in any manner, including electronic, without prior written consent from the publisher.

An Easier Childbirth: Book Information

Excerpt: From the Introduction: Becoming a Mother

Excerpt: Making the Most of the Prenatal Journey

Excerpt: Postpartum Blues and Support

Excerpt: Siblings at Birth

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.


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