As the busy parents of three young children Noel Baker and his wife Aine Bonner know a thing or two about pregnancy and birth. Here they review a new book on the topic.
WE ALL have moments when, no matter how hard we try, we find ourselves out of our depth.
Strange words fall out of your mouth. Believe me, I know.
It was during the throes of my wife giving birth to our first child and I was trying to offer as much support and encouragement as I possibly could.
It was at precisely this point that, for reasons unknown, I decided to channel a Junior B hurling coach on a training pitch, rather than an expectant dad in a Holles St maternity ward.
“Drive it, drive it!” I urged, not quite knowing what I was saying.
I suppose I wanted a variation on “you’re doing great, you can do it!” but it sounded like I was trying to rev up the lads in the changing room before a match on a soggy Sunday.
God knows what the midwife thought of it all; my wife kindly asked me to stop.
She still likes to remind me of this embarrassing episode, and I can’t blame her.
Maybe if I’d had a handy The His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth I would have been better prepared — or maybe not.
It is a ‘his and hers’ guide but the whole book is a reminder that knowledge is power.
Take chapter 14, and its sub-headings such as: “What if I poo myself?” This is refreshingly candid, important stuff. The section on being a birth partner was quite eye-opening, particularly the passages on being an ‘advocate’.
“Most women when labouring, in the right environment, will ‘zone out’,” it says.
“You need to protect that state. Nobody, not you, nor the midwife, should ask her a question during a contraction.”
Now I would definitely have found that a useful nugget of information.
Despite my constant yapping during the whole process, I would contend that I performed reasonably well as a first-timer.
I attended and enjoyed all the pre-natal classes and even wrote notes specifically for the car.
I was at almost every hospital appointment.
I cooked a large number of meals for freezing so they could be dug out after our eldest was born.
I went to the Chinese takeaway for three-in-ones at midnight.
The car wasn’t running on empty the night my wife went into labour.
I made sure I didn’t crash into anything on the drive across Dublin to the hospital.
I carried the bags, fetched snacks, put on the pads for the TENS machine, and — bar a few seconds at 6am — stayed wide awake for the duration.
Did I make mistakes?
Absolutely, and too many to mention.
Hopefully fewer as my other children came along. The point is, men will never know what’s it like.
It can feel like a shared journey, to use that awful phrase, but the role of the expectant father can be a tricky one.
Be supportive, but know when to shut up. Always be available to assist, but don’t get in the way.
Work out how to install the baby seat in the bar before you’re outside the hospital waiting to pop your child in it for the first drive home.
And, on a personal note, always have change in your pocket; I entered Holles St at 10.30pm on a Saturday with a €50 note in my pocket, and spent the rest of the night pestering other fathers-to-be for change for the coffee machine.
Much of what’s inside this pregnancy and birth guide is pure common sense, but when we’re in the midst of momentous life experiences, that is precisely the quality that’s in short supply.
It also reinforces how, in the end, it mostly comes down to communication - listening to the other person and attempting, no matter how difficult it might seem, to put yourself in their shoes.
That, and leaving the sideline exhortations at home.
WHEN I first started reading The His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, I gravitated more towards the ‘his’ sections.
After all, as someone who has given birth to three kids, I kind of figured I’d have everything in the ‘hers’ section covered.
One of the first things that jumped out at me was that men might experience underlying uncertainty which could manifest itself as “crankiness towards your partner, wanting to spend more evenings out with your friends, or flirting with other women”.
This is all normal, apparently.
Apart from that little nugget, there’s the obvious “feeling left out” lark that I’ve often heard when it comes to how men feel about their partner growing a human being over the course of nine months.
In month four, the authors warn men that the ‘blooming second trimester’ is a myth and that not all women turn into sex fiends.
They discuss how bigger tummies, stretch marks, sickness and heartburn might make her feel unattractive and not in the mood - and that he himself might not even be in the mood because of her delicate condition.
All very superficial indeed and it definitely induced more than one eye roll.
And if a pregnant woman is as insecure about her body, as the book seems to think , then perhaps it not a good idea to tell her that her partner might not fancy her anymore or that he’s more keen on going out flirting with non-pregnant females.
Overall, though, the book does contain some useful information that could help empower women into having a positive birthing experience.
The importance of a birth plan and knowing what your partner’s birth preferences are, is mentioned, and I couldn’t agree more.
At the height of labour, discussions with midwives or doctors are the last thing on a woman’s mind.
Having a birthing partner armed with information and who can be assertive and speak on your behalf is invaluable.
Hospital staff have a knack of trying to talk you into things that you might not necessarily agree with and go against best practice guidelines.
Your partner can be your voice when someone is trying to pressure you into having your waters broken, for example, for no good reason other than to ‘help things along’. (My body is doing a good enough job on its own, thank you very much, now go away with that glorified crochet hook.)
The book is also good in that it goes through different birthing scenarios — everything from hospital births to home births and water births, and what to do if dad unexpectedly has to deliver baby at home.
Unlike One Born Every Minute on TV, there’s very little scaremongering and the book does have good doses of cop on, which as a first timer, you might not have much of. I didn’t.
First time around I went into hospital at the first twinge and ended up sleeping there through most of the night before I realised what labour actually felt like when it happened.
Second time around was the opposite — I ended up on a mad ambulance dash to Holles Street and almost gave birth on O’Connell Street.
“You may as well push now, I can see the head,” the paramedic told me.
“No, no, I’ll hold on, it’s just around the corner,” was my reply.
I just about made it from the stretcher onto the hospital bed before himself was born, all 8lbs of gorgeousness of him.
I credit a birthing programme called GentleBirth for allowing me to have three amazing labours, calm and drug free.
Another sensible piece of advice is not to go nuts buying a load of things that you think you will need.
It’s so easy to get carried away, especially on your first.
One piece of advice from the book that I wish I’d heard at the beginning of all pregnancies was to ignore insensitive comments — and believe me, for some reason they come from all directions when you’re pregnant.
People seem to lose their manners when in conversation with pregnant women. Whether it’s commenting on the size of your bump (‘oh my god, are you sure you’re not having twins?’ ‘Oh wow, you’re so neat, are you sure you haven’t just eaten too many pies?’) to them telling they hate your name choices, or that they hope you have a girl or a boy because x, y or z.
Ignore them. Nod and smile. Keep your name choices to yourself and don’t let anyone convince you that you should do such and such because it worked for them or their auntie Mary’s neighbour’s daughter’s first cousin.
And enjoy it as much as you can.
You will never have a first pregnancy again — if you do it again, there will be another child to take care of so make the most of napping, lie-ins and taking care of you in every way you can.
Your world is about to change forever.
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