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A Difference in Presence
The Father's Role in Pregnancy and Birth

Before my partner, Katrina, became pregnant I always wanted to be a father but hadn't really thought much more about it. As we started to prepare for the new arrival by choosing where we would have the baby and buying the associated paraphernalia, I had some thoughts about what my role was in this 'mystical' process? Where did I fit in?

Ethan's birth was one where naivety was the biggest contributing factor for me. I had attended the birth center classes. I had done some reading about birth and Katrina and I had talked about what we wanted. Everything was going to be ok. Well everything was ok and we have a healthy vibrant little boy but…

After 24 hours of labour and an emergency caesarean our little boy was born. The process of how that occurred is a bit of a blur for me even now. Was I really there? In many ways my body was there but my mind and more importantly my attitude was not. I had a story going in my head that birth was women's business and that the man did not have a role in the process. With that attitude I was distant and aloof and while I rubbed Katrina's back and provided drinks of water and held her hand I was really somewhere else. I felt confronted by the pain and in my protective distance I let the medical authority with their experience in this process handle the situation. After the birth my partner gave some feedback about my performance and she let me have it.

"You flipped out!"

" No I didn't." I said.

How could I have flipped out, I wasn't doing anything. And there it was.

I wasn't doing anything.

With my attitude of this is women's business I wasn't there to provide support, I wasn't there to provide anything and that is what I did.

The time came to have another go at this, Katrina was pregnant again. The biggest moment for me during the pregnancy came when attending one of Rhea's Dempsey's classes. She talked about the support team during birth and the relationship the support team has with the mother and the relationship the support team has with the other communities that are associated with birth. In that conversation I realised I had an integral part to play in this process. Yes it can be women's business and that works in certain societies but that is not what Katrina wanted and when I thought about it, that was not what I wanted either. What I wanted was to be a part of the birth. It was my child as well and such a momentous occasion. In that moment I also took responsibility for what I had done (actually more like what I hadn't done) at Ethan's birth. Katrina had already forgiven me and it was my turn to forgive myself and I did that.

Claire's birth was not straight forward. We planned a home birth and after 12 hours of hard labour, transferred to the Monash Medical Center. After another 12 hours, epidural, syntocinon, Claire was born with forceps. This time, except for being tired and having a nap a couple of times I was there. I remember it all. It is hard to describe how fulfilling it was to be there at the birth of my child. I was at Ethan's birth but at Claire's birth I was part of the team, I had actually contributed. Interestingly there was a moment when I could have easily slipped back. Katrina looked at me when we were still at home and said "don't just sit there get up and rub my back".

I jumped. She must have seen my attitude slipping and she called me forth.

What was the difference, I still rubbed her back, provided drinks of water and held her hand but this time my attitude or intent was different. I wasn't confronted by the pain but thought about her being an elite athlete and experiencing the pain of peak performance. This time the feedback from Katrina had a different ring.

"You were awesome!"

It felt awesome.

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