Most of us want our partner to be there when we’re in labour. We want him to hold our hand, whisper words of encouragement and witness the miracle of his baby’s birth. However the thought of him seeing us as he’s never seen us before – squatting over a birthing ball, bellowing and secreting all sorts of fluids – makes us feel a bit anxious.
Losing your dignity in front of your partner is part of labour. The good news is that whatever scenario you’re worried about – and we’ve listed a few common ones below – there are plenty of mums, dads and midwives who’ve been through it too.
Will he still fancy me?
The fact that most women go on to have another baby is evidence that labour doesn’t crush a man’s libido.
According to independent midwife Natalie Mottershead, who practises at The Birth Centre in London, it might have the opposite effect. ‘Women are beautiful in labour,’ she says. ‘They get a lovely, rosy-cheeked endorphin flush, and they look stunning. I’d say that some men fancy their wives more afterwards, because of the power and the energy they’ve had.’
Nick, 33, agrees. He was with his partner, Judith, when she gave birth to both their sons – Jake, 4, and Joe, 18 months. ‘I guess it’s hard to look at a vagina the same way after you’ve seen a head come out of it,’ he admits.
‘Having said that, sex gets better in that the way you view your partner changes. I always felt Judith was a cool kind of person, but I never thought of her being a big, strong woman, because physically she’s quite small. But to see how powerful she was in labour was unbelievable, and now I think, “Wow, she’s amazing!”’
Will we still want to have sex?
While childbirth can turn some women off sex, for others it has an aphrodisiac effect.
Angie, 30, had to have an emergency caesarean when her first son, Mungo, now 3, was born. ‘My husband, Torq, helped me immensely during labour, getting me to count to take my mind off the pain, and rubbing my back. Then things went wrong and I was rushed into surgery. But immediately afterwards I looked at him and thought, “I love you so much!” And I had this overwhelming urge to have sex with him there and then. It felt like I was in one of those disaster movies where, once the danger has passed, everyone makes love.’
However, it’s not unusual to feel angry, rather than loving, towards your partner. ‘It’s common for women to get quite abusive in labour and say things such as, “I’m never going to speak to you again,” so warn your partner in advance,’ says Melanie Every, a Regional Manager for the Royal College of Midwives. ‘And tell your partner not to wear a tie. I had one man go a bit grey when his wife nearly strangled him with his.’
What if I make weird noises?
Unless you’re a scientologist or suffering from laryngitis, you’re unlikely to have a silent labour. ‘The important thing is to do what feels right,’ says The Birth Centre’s Natalie Mottershead. ‘Women shouldn’t feel inhibited about making noises in front of their partners. In most cases they sound like the noises I imagine they’d make during sex. They’re probably nothing their partners haven’t heard before.’
Melissa, 34, disagrees. ‘My primal roar’ is how she describes the noise she made when she gave birth to Evie, now 3. ‘It was kind of a scream of rage. I was kneeling with my husband, Alex, on one side and my sister on the other, and I remember them looking at each other with their eyebrows raised, as if to say, “What the hell was that?”’ Thankfully, Alex recovered enough to father another daughter, 18-month-old Flo. ‘He still finds it funny, though,’ says Melissa. ‘He calls it my “Platoon moment”.’
And, gulp, what if I have a poo?
This is a concern that most of us are reluctant to talk about at antenatal classes. However, the chances of your partner witnessing you poo during labour are minimal.
‘The midwife will be quite used to it happening, so will deal with it quickly and efficiently, and it will go almost unnoticed,’ says Melanie Every. ‘Your partner will have his mind on so many other things, it really won’t register.’
Natalie Mottershead agrees. ‘Most women do a poo in labour. It’s more of a shock if they don’t,’ she says. ‘To a midwife, it’s a good sign, as it shows things are moving on and the baby’s well on its way. If the dad does happen to see, I usually suggest that we don’t announce it to his partner.’
So if you do poo during labour, you probably won’t notice or not be told by the midwife. During labour, some women say their bottom felt so stretch they would never have noticed if they had done a poo or not.
The one type of labour where pooing is noticeable is water birth, where the poo will float in the birthing pool.
‘Even in that situation, men aren’t usually fazed,’ says Natalie Mottershead. ‘I’ve even had the odd man who’s insisted it was his job to scoop it out. They actually refused to let me do it.’
What if he can’t handle the blood?
It’s not unusual for men to be squeamish about blood. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has been quoted as saying he didn’t attend his children’s births because he’d ‘feel squeamish seeing that level of mess. It’s like sending 25 vegans into the kitchen with meat in the blender’.
However, a lot of births aren’t that messy, and there’s not much blood. Melanie Every says, ‘In my experience, even if a dad hasn’t wanted to be there for the birth, he’ll be so enthralled he’ll end up staying. In over 25 years I’ve never had a single dad who’s fainted.’
Carla, 28, mum to Sebastian, 3, decided she didn’t want her partner at the birth with her. Just because women chose not to have their partner with them during labour doesn’t mean their labour experience won’t be positive.
Carla says, ‘I knew Neil hated hospitals, but I laughed it off when he said he didn’t want to be at the birth. It was only when I became ill midway through the pregnancy and had to go to hospital that I saw genuine fear in his eyes. This made me realise he wasn’t being selfish; he was actually terrified of seeing me in pain.
‘When it came to the birth, he was with me in the early stages, and then when my mum arrived he went to a café. To be honest, giving birth was such an intensely personal thing – I was just focusing on my own body – I didn’t miss him being there. It was an amazing, beautiful experience.’