The attitude of many potential fathers to pregnancy and labour has undergone a dramatic change over the past few years. This has been brought about by several factors. Firstly, the press, radio and television have discussed pregnancy, labour, delivery and breast feeding much more openly. This has been the result of a demand for knowledge by the public as well as a general feeling that part of the secrecy and mumbo-jumbo should be swept away from the process of childbirth. This desire for knowledge which at first affected only the women did in fact spread very quickly to their husbands so that an increasing number of men are now taking an interest in pregnancy and even more are being encouraged to do so. In the past, pregnancy and child-bearing have been regarded as a private part of a woman’s married life in which the men in the family have been encouraged to take very little interest. Many of the changes that take place in a woman’s body during pregnancy are not confined to the reproductive organs, and almost every tissue and organ responds to the stimulus of pregnancy. An understanding husband who knows about these changes can give much help and support to his wife at this time in her life. Pregnancy is not an illness and, despite the fact that many women become emotional and irritable while they are pregnant, it is amazing how well equipped they are to meet the increased demands which pregnancy brings. However, it is an immense comfort to have a husband who understands.
A second, but no less important factor, was the feeling Of all who look after pregnant women that it was high time that they understood more about themselves, their pregnancies and their labours, because good antenatal care, which is preventive medicine, can only be conducted really efficiently with the full co-operation of all concerned. The more the woman can be instructed, the more easily will her full co-operation be obtained.
Thirdly, and again not in order of precedence, came the influence of ‘natural childbirth’ and ‘psychoprophylaxis’, both of which imply, and indeed demand, a certain amount of knowledge concerning pregnancy and labour. The women who were learning and being taught in classes started talking to their husbands who gradually became interested, so that slowly a situation has evolved in which nearly all the courses of antenatal instruction being given in maternity units include a fathers’ evening, at which husbands are encouraged to attend and at which they may be shown a film and are certainly given instruction in, and encouraged to ask questions about, pregnancy and labour.
Today it is becoming increasingly common for a father to be present during his wife’s labour and delivery. If you intend to be present you should learn as much about pregnancy, labour and delivery as you possibly can and should try to become as knowledgeable as your wife. If you do not intend to be present for her delivery but wish to be present during part of her labour, this still applies. If you do not wish to be present during any part of her labour she will still require your help and support throughout the whole of her pregnancy and to achieve this you must know what is happening to her both physically and emotionally so that you will be better able to help her.
Here are set out a few facts concerning the father’s approach to pregnancy, labour and delivery, but if you are really serious in your desire to help your wife you must read most of this book and seek special instruction elsewhere.
The emotional aspect of pregnancy is a very complex subject. There is no doubt that the nervous system is more sensitive during pregnancy making women sometimes seem almost unreasonable and occasionally they will not even respond to logical argument. They may also have vague fears of pain, fear of the process of birth and fear of the unknown, and it is for these reasons that every woman needs the stabilizing influence and sympathetic understanding of her husband. The expectant father has a very important role to play and a great deal of satisfaction and happiness can be achieved by sharing some of the problems that his wife will encounter.
Modern family planning is so efficient that you should be able to sit down with your wife and plan not only the number of babies that you would like to have but more or less the exact time of their arrival. If your wife is working then her present earnings, together with her future prospects, will be an important consideration in reaching your decision. Providing a pregnancy is normal (and there is no reason to suppose it will not be), there is no reason why your wife should not continue to work up to the 32nd week of her pregnancy. Of course the decision to continue working depends on how far she has to travel, what work she has to do and how her pregnancy progresses.
Probably the first indication she will have of the possibility, or likelihood, of pregnancy is when a period does not arrive on time. The absence of the period may or may not be associated with other symptoms such as early morning sickness. The earliest time that a diagnosis of pregnancy can satisfactorily be established is about twelve days after the first day of the missed period. A urine test performed at this time is the commonest way in which a very early pregnancy can be confirmed.
The various changes your wife may undergo are discussed under their different headings in this book. You should try to understand the emotional changes that occur in early pregnancy and look after her accordingly. She may suffer from severe symptoms of nausea and early morning sickness and may be increasingly tired, especially during the day-time. Such symptoms which make her irritable and lethargic are quite understandable and you should do your best to help her, even if some of your social engagements and parties have to suffer. If she ‘goes off’ alcohol or coffee, or anything else, do not be surprised. Alternatively, you may find that there is very little in the way of symptoms of early pregnancy and in feet very little change takes place either in her emotional state or in her daily life. Even so, please try to remember the physiological changes that are inevitably talking place in her body and that minor emotional changes arc also occurring although they may not seem obvious.
Providing the pregnancy is normal and there has been no earlier history of miscarriage, sexual intercourse can continue as usual during early pregnancy, although you should treat your wife particularly gently and remember that her breasts may become painful and tender.
The morning sickness and other symptoms of early pregnancy disappear at the end of the 14th week and the three months of middle pregnancy is the time during which your wife will feel at her best.
During the last three months of pregnancy you should be prepared to accept more responsibility for day to day management around the house and home. You must make sure that all the necessary arrangements have been made for the new baby’s arrival and that all other arrangements are complete and satisfactory. If your wife is going into hospital you must make sure that she has everything ready and packed, that the ambulance number is readily available beside the telephone or, if you do not have a telephone, that you have made arrangements to use a neighbour’s or that you have some coins put away to use in the local phone kiosk. If you are taking your wife to hospital by car, make sure that you know the best and the most direct route and that you know the correct entrance at the hospital to which to take her. Make sure that you always have enough petrol in the cat for getting both to and back from the hospital.
Your wife will probably be attending a course of antenatal classes which will include classes in mothercraft and relaxation. If there is a fathers’ evening, you should attend it. Plenty of other fathers will be present and you will find all the staff helpful and anxious to answer any questions that you may have. Incidentally, the evening before you go to the fathers’ class it is a good idea to sit down with your wife and make a note of any questions that you may wish to ask.
When your wife attended the booking clinic she was probably asked, or she has herself enquired, about your being present during her labour or delivery. You and she will by now have reached a decision about this and if you have decided to be present during her labour and delivery you may have some additional questions to ask when you attend the fathers’ class. Some maternity units allow fathers to be present during both labour and delivery providing everything is progressing satisfactorily. If you have read or are reading this book, then you will have a considerable interest in understanding all about pregnancy and you will have sufficient knowledge to realize that delivery can be a most exciting experience. Some women like their husbands to be with them, whilst others prefer that they should not be. Whatever decision you reach do not let the horror stories put you off. If your wife wants you to be with her, then your presence while she is in labour will do more to help her than any other single factor, and there is very little that can give her greater joy and happiness than that you should share this unique experience with her. Whether you are present or not is entirely up to you and your wife. Do not be persuaded by other people’s stories or by current trends in fashion.