10 Questions for Homebirth Dads with Chris Byrne
Chris is an independent sustainability consultant and papa of two wonderful children, both born at home. He lives with his children and wife in Western Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter: @byrnegreen
1. Why did you choose homebirth? 2. Whose idea was it, yours or hers? If hers, what convinced you to agree? If yours, what gave you the idea?
We were always clear that we intended homebirth. I had to ask my wife to help me recollect when we had ‘made’ the decision for our daughter, who was born first. I remember making decisions about the homebirth, but not about the choice to have a homebirth. It was probably brought up first by my partner, and it was just a non-decision, we both thought “of course”. That was just a natural extension of our values as individuals, partners, and a soon to be family.
I feel lucky that my partner and I are so aligned on what we feel and think is best for the emotional, physical, and spiritual health of our children and family. So many couples I’ve seen go through a huge process around topics like birth and circumcision and vaccinations. We’re lucky to share essentially identical values in those regards.
3. What homebirth books or resources did you find to be the most helpful?
There’s a funny story about our first labor, the book Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May, and my wife cursing like a truck driver that I’ll save, but one resource that made a great impression on me was the film Birth Into Being (Birth As We Know It) by Elena Tonetti
4. Before the birth, what fears or issues did you have surrounding homebirth (or birth in general)? How did those change for you after experiencing the birth?
Well, of course I wanted my partner and baby to be healthy. I had a resistance to the potential of fatigue for her (and me) and the pain and the potential of having to “transport” (to the hospital), but mostly i was looking forward to the awe of the event, and the intimate afterglow.
Part of the way we were able to relax into that space was that we had sought a great deal of education and done a lot of process around the birth. We knew what common issues were, and how to be prepared for them. We had a well thought out plan for having our children at home, and had thought considerably prior to labor what would be acceptable to us to face at home, and at what point if necessary we were prepared to transport to the hospital if any complications deemed it necessary for the health of baby or mother. We intended a healthy birth, and we intended for that birth to be at home, which they were. Both times were beautiful and yet extremely different from one another.
5. What do you wish someone had told you before your first homebirth? What advice would you give to a first time homebirth dad?
There is a primal threshold that the woman straddles in a birth, especially one that is open and not overly medicalized. My love describes it as going to the edge of the life / death veil and bringing the baby back into this realm. In my experience, the role of the papa or whomever else is the mama’s advocate is to be the warrior and protect the nest, and the mama and baby.
So the job of this person–be it in a hospital or at home–is to be present with the needs of the mama and her team. You are the guardian that allows the mama to put her guard down and focus on bringing the baby through. This goes for the physical space, but also for vibes. You are there to protect the emotional bodies and (if you believe) the subtle energies of the room as well as making sure the physical realm (warmth, water, safety, etc) is addressed. If someone that is attending (a friend or family member) is not comfortable (being overly anxious, for example), then it is your role (I believe) to make them aware that their issues are affecting the space and give them the opportunity to shift or leave. The mother relaxing is the most important jewel to protect, and that is your primary role.
Oh, and if you can, clear as much time as you can after the birth. The bliss lingers, and it is a great way to bond with your new family.
6. Which part of the birth did you find to be the most difficult or challenging for you?
My wife had been experiencing some excruciating “back labor”. The pain was incredible (not the pleasurable birth the second was to be) and my wife was meeting the pain–understandably–with cries of “it’s to much” and “I can’t take it” with each contraction. I decided after some consideration and sell-consciousness that I was about to confront the birthing lioness herself, to go into the bathroom, where she was standing in the shower trying to get some relief between contractions. It was the morning, and she had been going all night and it seemed there was still a way to go. The midwife had already spoken with me outside and expressed that she felt that if something did not shift soon she could not see my partner having the stamina to birth at home and that we would have to go to the hospital and allow them to intervene.
I walked into the room and said “listen love, I know that I am a man and I have no right to tell you about how to birth this baby but I really need to reflect something to you.” After some choice words about where I could choose to stick my opinion, I continued. “What I hear you saying is that you can’t take it. That it is too much to bear. And if that is the case that is fine and we will – without judgement – go to the hospital and get some help with the pain.” We both knew this was not what we wanted, but I believe speaking to this potential was a huge wake up. “The image that keeps coming to me” I continued” is of a swimmer in the break zone. You either need to swim out past the crashing waves or come into shore, but if you just hang out there you are going to drown. Either meet this pain or we need to do something else to help you shift, for your sake and that of the baby.”
I said that to her on my way out to her acupuncturist for some St John’s Wort oil for her sacrum for the pain, and when I returned, she was like a warrior goddess, in this deep, centered, beautiful zone. The intense pain was still there, I could tell, but the experience was entirely different. My beloved credits that moment as one where the birth turned a critical corner and allowed her to give birth to our daughter at home.
7. Did you have support during the birth from your guy friends? If so, what was the most supportive? If not, what would have helped you the most?
I did not have deep support during the first birth, which is probably a popular and equally tragic experience of our culture. I was younger and still on the cusp of finding myself, and most of my support came through classes and some friendships and friendly advice, but no real male mentor culture existed to steward me through the transition.
During the second pregnancy, I had been sitting with an inter-generational circle of 15 men going through a process of initiation that paralleled the pregnancy. In that process I (and the others) did deep shadow work and also looked at cultural and practical issues of being a provider for children and family in this modern life. It was very helpful. The week after my son was born, the men came in the dawn hour and sang to my son and then we all went out and chopped the winter’s firewood. All families should have that sort of support.
8. How was your interaction with the midwife during the birth? What could have made that better?
I think it is very important for the partner to attend as many of the pre-birth appointments as possible. This way, I had a relationship with the midwife prior to the birth. I was familiar with her and she was familiar with me and our approach and flavor as as partnership. We had great midwives.
9. How has the relationship with your partner changed after having a homebirth together?
We trust each other very deeply, and I believe our births have been a huge medicine for deepening that trust. We have seen each other at our strongest and most vulnerable and most challenged, and witnessed the power of the other at their best, and shared one of the most intimate spaces I think possible in this human experience: conscious birth.
10. Would you have another homebirth? Why or why not?
Well, we are clear that our family is complete and whole with respect to having any more children. However, if we were to have another birth, I couldn’t think of any other way I would rather welcome another soul to this planet.
Bonus: Will you describe the emotional/spiritual side of your birth experience from a man’s viewpoint?
My 3 1/2 year old daughter was brought down from her bed at 1:30am and met and held her brother as he was still connected to his placenta that was inside my wife. (Contrast that with a picture I saw on Facebook that made me cry of a brother “meeting” his newborn sister–days later–through glass.)
The newness and stillness of being beside the fire on that cold October night remains one of the most expansive moments of connection to source I have ever experienced. Same with the days after the birth of my daughter. During the second, my wife had been in pre-labor for the better part of two weeks, and before she went to bed that night, we anointed each other with specific oils for different intentions on the crown, heart, ankles, and feet. She came down a few hours later, and the final labor had begun.
Our son came in on his own, without so much as a push from my beloved, and the experience was a romantic and blissful celebration of our love, our parenting, our family, and the great mystery of life on Earth. I don’t believe this is held in the forefront in a hospital, if it is noticed at all in the sterile fluorescent birth-as-medical-condition experience. At home, I couldn’t help but notice it. I couldn’t help but be in the center of it, the whole time, a glow.
[Thank you, Chris! You're the only homebirth dad I've talked to that had some support or validation from your guy friends - I really like the visual I get when thinking of a group of men coming at dawn to sing to your son and then going out to chop firewood. Very cool.]
Image: Robert S. Donovan at Flickr