Let’s start this blog with question: Do you need your partner’s permission to give birth the way you want to?
It’s a polarizing question and people generally feel strongly one way or another.
As with most things, I tend to sit somewhere in the middle.
When it comes to women’s bodies I strongly believe in bodily autonomy – that women have the right to do as they please. In my mind, birth is no exception to this. However, I recognize the added complexities that the tiny-human brings to this decision.
Birth involves bringing an entirely new human into the world and signifies the beginning of your parenting journey. For the next 18 years, give or take, you will be required to make decisions in the best interests of your child. Decisions that require communication and compromise between two partners. With time, you will hopefully become experts at this, but for many couples birth is the first time you will be required to do so.
As such, it presents a fantastic opportunity to set the tone for your parenting journey and lay a strong foundation that allows you to begin your relationship as parents, from a place of collaboration and respect.
For me, a huge part of having my husband on board for a homebirth was about knowing that we have made the choice together, and therefore shared equal risk and responsibility for the outcomes. Because birth is unpredictable.
While no one likes to talk about it, there is always the lingering question of “what if something goes wrong.” While I try hard not to operate from a position of “what if,” I knew going into this that if I put my foot down and made decisions about the birth that my husband did not agree with, in the unfortunate circumstances that something went wrong, I would shoulder this responsibility alone. I feared the impact this would have on our relationship.
Now of course things go wrong in hospitals too. In fact, giving birth in a hospital arguably increases the chances that something will go wrong. But in a hospital setting, poor outcomes are usually attributed to misfortune or the inherent risk of child birth (a whole blog in itself). AKA it is seen as being unavoidable – no-ones fault.
However, when you make a decision about your maternity care that falls outside of the norm – for example declining antenatal testing or choosing a homebirth, people are quick to point fingers – usually at the mother.
I am not saying this is right, in fact it’s incredibly problematic, but it is true nonetheless.
Another consideration for us as a family was the fact that my husband is the primary bread winner and earns close to 90% of our family income. While we both try to remember that this money is shared, and my contribution is equally valuable (if not more), homebirth in Australia is not cheap. Like all financial decisions that we make, it was important to me that we were in agreement about this huge financial investment.
Lastly, going into this birth I knew that my husband was going to be my birth partner. In moments of fear and apprehension I knew I needed to be able to look to him for confidence and strength. If he had been convinced to have a homebirth despite his doubt about it’s safety, at the first sign that something was “wrong” I know he would have crumbled. This would undoubtedly have affected my mindset, my confidence and inevitably ,my ability to give birth at home.
All of this is to say that it was important to me that my husband and I felt aligned on this decision. While I am lucky enough that he was supportive, I do believe that had it been necessary I would have been prepared to pull the “my body my choice card.”
Here is why.
In Australia 1 in 3 mothers experience birth trauma and as many as 1 in 10 women experience PTSD following the birth of a child. While undoubtedly a traumatic birth effects the whole family (statistics suggest as many as 1 in 10 men will experience psychological trauma following child birth), women are the ones living with the physical trauma that can result from a birth injury.
Knowing that birthing in hospital inherently increased my risk of things such as episiotomy, significant tearing, c-section and more, this is was an important consideration for me.
In the case of a stale mate some couples end up compromising and choosing a birth center. This may be the right choice for you, however it is important to really be aware of the differences between giving birth at home versus giving birth in a birth center. They might have all the comfy furnishings that make it feel homely, but it is certainly not the same as giving birth at home. That does not mean that it is not the right choice for you, simply that it is important to know the difference.
So does your partner need to be on board for a homebirth? That is something only you can decide. But, if like me you feel that it is important, below are 10 ways to open up the discussion and help you get your partner onboard for the homebirth of your dreams.
Choose a time wen you are both feeling relaxed and will be able to have an uninterrupted conversation (easier if this is your first baby!). Take some time to discuss each of your fears, concerns, hopes and dreams for this birth – Are they similar or vastly different? Discuss what matters to you – Is a healthy baby all that matters? Or does a healthy mum matter too? And what does healthy mean to you? Does healthy mean alive? Or also physically, mentally and emotionally well? How do you want to feel during and after the birth of your child.
This is just a starting place. Other questions may pop up a long the way. Try hard to listen without judgement, ask follow up questions and remain open minded. Your job at this point is not to convince them of anything, simply to gather the information necessary to understand their views and enable future conversations.
2: Discuss what the benefits of homebirth are for the whole family
When it comes to homebirth the benefits for mother and baby are well documented: Lower risk of interventions, lower rates of birth trauma and better infant and maternal outcomes just to name a few. In other words, the whole family benefits from the decision to birth at home. While you may be the one pushing for this decision, you are by no means the only one who will benefit from it.
If your partner is feeling a little left out, it may be helpful to highlight how he can stand to benefit from the decision to birth at home. Not only will it increase the chances of his family emerging from birth physically and emotionally well (this should be enough to convince him), he will also benefit from:
· Uninterrupted bonding time with baby
· No stressful drive to the hospital
· No sleeping in an arm chair over night
· No crappy cafeteria food
Most women who choose to homebirth do so after conducting extensive research. Some women feel that it should not be their job to educate their partner about birth- we carry enough of the mental load right? But if you have already gone through this process yourself you are in a unique position to help your partner find information that is high quality and non-biased.
As humans we have a tendency to seek out information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs (it’s called confirmation bias). Basically, whatever you believe to be true, you will find information to back it up. If you believe that homebirth is unsafe, you will find information that supports that. If you believe that homebirth is as safe, if not safer than hospital birth, you too will find information to support that.
It may be helpful in this situation to direct him to resources that you know to be reliable.
As a starting point I would always recommend:
4: Share resources
When it comes to birth not all resources are created equally. So throw out “What to expect when you’re expecting” and try some of these.
Whether your partner is into reading, podcasts, ebooks or documentaries there are some fantastic resources that can help educate them and normalise homebirth. If like my husband they are less than enthusiastic about sitting down and reading about birth, try starting with a podcast while driving or a documentary with snacks. These require very little investment and can be less intense than other resources.
Some of our favourites include:
· Beyond the Birth Plan by Rhea Demsey (book)
· Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth (book)
· Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr. Sarah Buckley (book)
· Birth Time (Documentary)
· Why not at home (Documentary)
· The Business of Being Born (Documentary)
· The Australian Birth Stories Podcast
· Birth Kweens (Podcast)
· Evidence Based Birth Podcast
· Happy Homebirth Podcast
5: Watch birth videos together
Depending on your partner this one might be a total write off – I get it. I think it took 5 years for me to convince my husband to watch birth videos and he still maintains that it is largely non-consensual. But for many women, and even more men, we have never seen birth. Especially not physiological birth. As a result, our perceptions of birth come entirely from over-dramatized Hollywood portrayals of birth or horror stories from our best mate. Not only can birth videos help your partner to feel prepared for birth (regardless of where it happens) it can help to stimulate conversations about our beliefs surrounding birth and where they came from.
6: Meet with a private midwife
In addition to their three year university degree, private midwives in Australia who attend homebirths are required to complete mandatory clinical hours, further university study and achieve endorsement. Basically, they are incredibly knowledgeable and confident in supporting physiological birth. In my experience, this is incredibly evident when talking to them. They have the ability to put even the most skeptical mind at ease.
Most private midwives will provide a no-cost no-obligation meet up at the beginning of your pregnancy where you and your partner can discuss your fears and concerns, as well as ask any questions that may arise. Prior to this meeting it may be helpful to sit down together and come up with a list of questions for your potential midwife. If you need help with this see my blog post on “How to find and hire a private midwife.”
At the end of the day everyone’s goals are the same. We all want the best outcomes for our family. Sitting down to discuss what this would look like with a private midwife can be incredibly helpful in providing this kind of reassurance. Many women report that meeting with a private midwife was the key to getting their partner on board with a homebirth, and that was certainly true for me.
7: See a counsellor
If you are already seeing a couples counsellor or have engaged with mental health services regularly, meeting with a counsellor may feel like a natural and easy step for you to take. If not, it may feel a little daunting.
However, acknowledging that you need support to communicate, compromise and see eye-to-eye is certainly no weakness. These are skill that you will need to utilize throughout the rest of our parenting journey. So why not start figuring them out now?Sitting down with a counsellor can ensure that both of your views, fears and concerns are heard and validated, and can give you the tools for future conversations where you may not see eye to eye.
This process can be especially beneficial if one or both of you has experienced birth trauma in the past.
8: Connect with others who have experienced homebirth
Sometimes what is daunting about homebirth is the fact that it is so unheard of. Currently, only about .3% of Australian women give birth to their babies at home. As a result, it is highly unlikely that you know someone who has had a planned homebirth.
Taking the time to connect with others and hear about their experiences can normalize this choice and help you to feel more knowledgeable and confident about homebirth. If you do not know anyone personally, social media can provide a fantastic opportunity to connect with other homebirthers. I personally have found the Facebook group “Homebirth Group Australia” to be filled with people who are more than happy to share their knowledge and experiences. If this is not for you, simply listening to birth stories (such as through podcasts) can help to normalise this decision.
9: Take an independent childbirth education course together
Antenatal education is not all created equally. If you are planning a homebirth taking the standard hospital birth classes is unlikely to be helpful.
This is why I recommend seeking out independent childbirth education. I personally have taken the Hypobirthing Australia Course and foundation but I am seeking more Homebirth specific courses. If you know of anything please let me know.
Take the time to research whether the courses you are looking into discusses homebirth and physiological birth and if possible, get in touch with the practitioner to let them know you are planning a homebirth. Not only will indepdent childbirth education help to increase your partners knowledge and confidence, they will ensure they feel like an integral part of the process.
10: Consider hiring a doula
Women need birth support, but so do their partners. Especially if this is their first time attending a birth. Having someone to support your partner, provide reassurance and practical suggestions can alleviate the pressure on them and allow them to feel more calm and empowered in their role as a birth support person
Ideally this process will begin long before you find out you are pregnant. You are attempting to dismantle years of conditioning and beliefs surrounding birth – no easy feat.
When you get that positive pregnancy test the clock starts ticking and there is a legitimate rush to lock in a model of care / care provider. This is especially true if you are planning a homebirth as private midwives tend to book out incredibly quickly, and spaces in public homebirth programs are incredibly limited.
Whether you are still trying to conceive or 8 months pregnant, this is a conversation worth having. It is never too late to decide on a homebirth. Hopefully with the help of this blog you will be able to get your partner on board and achieve the homebirth of your dreams.
Regardless of where you are at in your journey, I hope this blog can help you to approach birth as a more united team.