The Day We Had Our Baby!
As told to “Awake!” correspondent in Germany
LAST year an article in the German magazine Stern caught my attention. It described a hospital, the first of its kind in Germany, where mothers are allowed to keep their newborn babies in the same room with them right from birth. Some doctors are very vocal in praising the arrangement, commonly described as “rooming in.” Others are equally outspoken in questioning its advisability.
The Stern article observed: “Fathers are requested to be present at the birth. Hassauer [one of the hospital’s gynecologists] said: ‘Over 50 percent of the men agree, and most of them are a big help. They are an encouragement to their wives during the period of bearing down; they hold their hands and comfort them. Not one has keeled over yet.’”—April 21, 1977.
As I read the article, it reminded me of a friend who had recently witnessed his daughter’s birth. So I went to see him and his wife to get their impressions. With Jenny making soft gurgling sounds in the next room, we talked.
“Whose idea was it that you be present?” I inquired.
“Well, it was actually my wife’s idea. Right from the beginning we planned for my being present at the birth. This planning was most important. We got many books dealing with natural childbirth.”
“I really wanted a natural childbirth,” his wife said. “I couldn’t think of anything more natural than having my husband present.”
“But isn’t such an arrangement more or less the exception, at least here in Germany?” I asked.
“From what we read,” she replied, “there is a developing trend in some countries for fathers to be present, but it hasn’t made much headway here in Germany as yet. There are hospitals that don’t encourage it. We asked beforehand to make sure of the one that we were going to use.”
“During your hospital stay, how many times did you hear of husbands’ being present when their children were born?”
“At least a hundred babies must have been born while we were there. As far as I know, my husband was the only father present. One of the nurses later told me that fathers are seldom present.”
“I wonder why.”
“I think,” my friend offered, “because neither husband nor wife know what to expect. They’re fearful. If you get prepared for it, there’s really nothing to be afraid of.”
“What do you mean, ‘Get prepared’?”
The Preparation Involved
“In the books we read,” his wife said, “we found chapters especially designed for husbands, outlining what they can do to help their wives. The books also concentrated on breathing techniques and the rhythms of breathing that help to prevent the mother’s body from cramping. This eases the delivery.”
“Another thing that helped,” her husband continued, “was our visiting the labor room together ahead of time. This is permitted if the husband is interested, and I certainly was. A nurse explained the whole procedure to me and answered all my questions.”
“While I was preparing for the birth,” his wife added, “I practiced my relaxation and breath-control exercises in front of my husband. So he was aware of what I would be doing when contractions started. He knew, for example, that he would be on my right side when I had the baby, and that he would have a soft moist sponge that he could wipe over my lips after each contraction. What a wonderful sensation that was! I was relaxed again. My lips were moist. I felt able to take the next contraction and breathe properly. If I’d been thirsty or my mouth or tongue had been dry, it would have been much more difficult to concentrate on doing what I had been practicing.”
“Our books told us that when the contractions started I shouldn’t talk to my wife. She shouldn’t hold my hand either. You see, she would squeeze it and that would cause tension in her other muscles when they should be relaxed. Rather, I should hold her hand, squeezing it tightly so she wouldn’t grab hold of the midwife or the blanket or the pillow or something else nearby. The effect on her was a relaxing one and helped her to work with her body, not against it.”
“And the doctors and nurses didn’t make you feel that you were in the way?” I wanted to know.
“No, not at all. I think that they were impressed. They appreciated the interest I showed. They appeared to accept me as part of the team. And it really was teamwork, believe me. I stood at her right hand, a nurse at the side of her leg, another nurse over on the other side and the doctor in the middle. When these strong pains came, the doctor would tell my wife: ‘Bear down now, bear down.’ One of the nurses would hold my wife’s legs back, while the other would reach down and try to help the child’s head to emerge. My job was to reach behind her and help her up to a sitting position so she could bear down better. When the contraction subsided, we would stop and talk until the next one came.”
“After I had given birth,” his wife said, “I spoke with a nurse from Taiwan who works here in Germany. She said that in Taiwan when a child was born at home a husband felt quite at ease. He was in his own surroundings, in charge, so to speak, as man of the house. The midwife would give him different chores, like boiling water and getting clean towels ready. She made him feel necessary. But that was 10 years ago. Now, with many Taiwanese children being born in hospitals, husbands are made to feel unwanted. But the Taiwanese women said that they tended to be more relaxed when their husbands were with them.”
“I imagine most women would want their husbands present,” I noted.
“I did. However, I found that not all women feel the same. Most young mothers in our hospital weren’t prepared for giving birth. They were nervous. They didn’t know how it was going to be or how they were going to react. Many were misinformed by stories that exaggerated the difficulties involved in childbirth. They didn’t want their husbands to see them in pain, maybe crying and screaming. Too, without advance preparation, a husband would not know how to help his wife during labor, especially should it stretch out for many hours. For that reason many husbands prefer to be absent. They feel out of place, unneeded, even unwanted.”
“But you think that with proper preparation they might feel otherwise?”
“Yes, I do. Some of the women seem to regret that they had not made better preparation and that their husbands had not been with them. When their husbands would come to visit, they would try to tell them how it had been. But you can’t really tell a person something like that. Emotions are involved. You must experience it together. Here you’ve been waiting nine months to find out whether it will be a boy or a girl, whether it will be healthy or not, and you’ve been working so hard these last few contractions, working with your whole body. Then suddenly you hear your husband—not the doctor, not the nurse, but the voice of your own dear husband—saying, ‘Honey, we have a little girl!’ It can really bring you to tears.”
“I can imagine. How does it make a father feel?”
“Wonderful! I saw how our daughter came out, how she was separated from her mother, how the nurses dried her off and then gave her to the mother. When I left the hospital and got into the car to drive home, I had an overwhelming feeling: a tremendous event had taken place. I had witnessed it. I had this sudden urge of wanting to stop everyone to tell them that my wife had had a baby. Well, it was more than just an urge to tell them. I had been there too. I had experienced it! WE had just had OUR baby!”
Something particularly impressed me in the Stern article. It said that a seven-year study of this “rooming in” method indicates that mothers and fathers who make preparations for the birth of their children have a more intense feeling toward the children afterward than those who don’t. I asked my friends what they thought.
“I feel that when the husband is standing there helping his wife at that critical time of birth it brings them closer together,” the husband explained. “And there is no doubt that a good husband-wife relationship contributes to a good parent-child relationship later. I don’t see how it could help but have a beneficial effect.”
“And what would a mother say?”
“Oh, I agree completely,” his wife responded. “For example, being so wrapped up in what I was doing, there were certain things that I was unable to observe the way my husband could. Filling one another in on the details helped us really to share the experience.”
“Of course,” her husband added, “a man can undeniably be a loving father and a devoted Christian without being present at his child’s birth.”
My friends had given me something to think about. There was obviously no lack of natural affection in their family. I wondered if mutual preparation and participation before and during the birth of a child might not go a long way in creating and preserving a good family atmosphere. It could be something for expectant parents to consider. But it obviously was something not to be done without knowledge and careful forethought.
I still remember my friend’s closing words as little Jenny cooed in the background: “It’s something wonderful to work together to have a baby. I’ll never forget the day we had OURS.”