Pam England

Training Father-Birth Story Listeners and Mentors has been on our radar for many years. Finally, we know the time has come because we opened our doors to enroll a father in Part I this month. 

Fathers and men do not tell birth stories in the same way mothers or women do; I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that as a birth story mentor, but I was. Of course, it goes to reason that any two people in the same birthing room are not, in one sense, at the same birth. Each would have coped in their way as events unfolded. And later, when reflecting on what happened, it’s inevitable that each will give it different personal meanings.

But I am talking about something else when I say fathers’ birth story sessions are noticeably different from a mother’s. Fathers and mothers follow a different internal story map, so the Listener must follow differently. 

At the beginning of a session, most fathers confide that they have not told another about their secretly held, distressing experience. Making a private appointment with an attentive listener opens the way to receive support. Rapport and a quiet space open the way for fathers to sort through a confusing moment in the labor room, such as:

Three ubiquitous experiences fathers describe include: Regretting not knowing what to say or to ask or how to “stand up for my partner.” Fear that their partner and or child would die in childbirth inducing anticipatory grief; imagining raising their baby alone. Feeling invisible during childbirth preparation or in the way during labor and postpartum. Limiting or reducing their role to supporting their partner contributes to their not being able to experience their birth as their rite of passage, too. 

When fathers have not told their story before, there is something fresh and straightforward in their telling. While on the surface, it might seem a father was not troubled by a difficult birth, he might have been avoiding opening talking about his distress believing “nothing happened to me, it happened to my partner, and I need to be there for her.”1 Still, over time, turning what happened over in his mind in a sincere search for understanding and self-awareness, the change he desires may already be well underway when he comes to a session. 

  • Seeing their partner in pain
  • A rapid cascade of unexpected interventions
  • The sight of blood
  • Worrying about the well-being of his partner and or baby

On the cutting edge of a grand experiment, BIRTH STORY MEDICINE is meeting the needs of a once overlooked birth-storyteller: the father. We are acknowledging the problem and providing a solution. In time we will develop a method of training that works well for men. As women, our perspective on birth is inherently different from that of fathers and men. Some fathers may prefer talking to another father about their birth experience. 

We are now actively recruiting fathers. Please refer fathers who would make good birth story mentors to contact pam@birthstorymedicine.com. Empathic fathers who have personal experience with emotional birth trauma and are therapists, counselors, social workers, and hospital chaplains would make excellent candidates.

1.       Jody Ethridge and Pauline Slade. 2017.”Nothing’s actually happened to me: the experiences of fathers who found childbirth traumatic” BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-017-1259-y

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