Your approach to labour will already have been decided by the time your wife goes into labour. Even if you plan not to attend the labour or the delivery you should learn about the signs of the onset of labour. If you plan to be with your wife during her labour and delivery then you may have already attended one or more of the antenatal classes and learnt a considerable amount about what to expect, but more important you will have been told what is expected of you and will have received instruction during the classes accordingly.
When the expected day of confinement arrives, it is only natural that everyone should expect labour to start, but this does not always happen because the expected date is only an approximate or average calculation of the expected time of delivery. Try to prevent your wife from building herself up to a psychological climax for the great day, because the great day may easily come and go without any sign of labour commencing, and when this happens it tends to be followed by a period of depression and disappointment. Of course the eager enquiries of neighbours and friends like ‘Oh Mrs Jones, haven’t you started yet?’ or ‘Mrs Jones, are you still here?’, while they are meant very kindly only serve to deepen the depression. It can sometimes be helpful to be a little bit misleading and to suggest to people that the baby is due a week later than, in actual fact, it is expected.
When labour begins you should telephone the hospital to inform them that you are bringing your wife and to let them know her condition so that they will be prepared. They will also give you any advice over the telephone you may require. Your arrival at hospital will be expected and your wife will be taken by a midwife for her routine admission, while you are asked to wait. After a while you will be invited to join your wife either in the ward or in the room reserved for patients during the first stage of labour.
Every hospital is slightly different and the routine in every hospital or maternity unit is also slightly different. It is not possible, therefore, to describe in detail what may be required during the first stage of labour. You will have been instructed about this during the antenatal classes or you will be told after your arrival in hospital. If you are staying with your wife then she will probably be quite happy to have you just sitting in the room with her, although she may want to talk for a bit, may want you to read to her or may just want you to be there while she goes to sleep. The essential thing in early labour is companionship.
As labour advances she will want more encouragement and support, together with help with her exercises if she has been taught how to do them. Even if you have not been specifically instructed you can easily encourage her to relax during contractions and make soothing kindly remarks when the contraction has ceased. You must help your wife with any specific instructions that she has received from the midwife or the doctor and make sure that she has as much mental support as you can possibly supply.
During the second stage of labour and when your wife is moved into the delivery ward, if you are going to be present at the delivery you will go with her and having been properly gowned will probably be given a seat close to her head so that you can either hold her hand or help her with her breathing or analgesia. Some form of pain-killing drug may have been given earlier in labour so that your wife is not quite as alert as she would normally be and during the second stage of labour not many women have much time for the niceties of behaviour. You are not in the way; someone will tell you exactly where to sit, but if no one seems to take any notice of you this means that all is quite satisfactory and everyone is happy with your presence. You can repeat the doctor’s or midwife’s instructions to your wife and make sure that she does her best to obey them. When the moment of delivery arrives you will be just as overwhelmed as your wife and will be able to share with her that extraordinary moment when you hear your child cry for the first time. A woman’s emotions at the time of delivery are extremely complex and frequently very upset. Do not be surprised if you find your own emotions also somewhat disturbed and disorganized.