I never thought I would write this article: Because my body did not directly experience labour, my wife's perspective was far more important than mine. However, after one year now I think that maybe I have something to share with any dad who is reluctant about home birth.
I have two children, DS (now almost four years old) and DD (just past one year). DS was born in a public hospital; DD was born at home.
More than four years ago, I was quite determined to participate actively in my son's birth and in parenting. I resigned my job. I attended all the necessary childbirth classes with my wife (DW), whether theorectical or practical, and thought I was able to support her effectively even in the unfamiliar environment of the hospital's birth room.
However, to our great shock, after DW's admitting to the hospital we had reserved shortly following her "water breaks", a doctor speculated (and it was very likely that he was wrong) that DW had had prolonged amnion rupture, and treatments stimulating contractions were applied to her to induce labour. This totally ruined our original plan of applying what we had learnt together to ease DW's pain (through, e.g. massage, different postures, birth ball, etc.) - because DW was then made to lie still on the bed without any food or water, and after that Caesarean section would be performed if childbirth was not "stimulated" in 12 hours.
Although at last DW gave a vaginal birth to DS at midnight after nearly 12 hours of continuously laying on bed, the experience of total passivity, the worry that we did not get off to a good start of breastfeeding, the feeling of loss of control of oneself, the sense of powerlessness as our desire for mutual help was replaced by the dominance of expert control, technology and pain relief medications, and the sick and docile role unidirectionally created by Western medicine all made us feel extremely demoralized.
Even more, immediate extensive skin-to-skin contact between mother and the newborn was deprived because DS was taken away from us for nearly one hour (against the recommendation of WHO) for numerous, arguably needless (in Jack Newman's, M.D., words), "examination" by medical professionals. Hospitals for us were intimidating.
(On the other hand, the benefits of labouring in a public hospital in Hong Kong, in contrast to a private but far more expensive hospital, are that it is the public policy that they won't give your baby a bottle of formula without your consent, and that in most cases the baby and the mother room in together.)
But when DW told me that she was attracted to the idea of homebirth when she was pregnant again, I was a bit hesitated. Although I had been rather critical of Western medicine since I first read books on the sociology of medicine (when I was a university undergraduate), I was a bit worried if there would be any unanticipated negative consequences. (And, as the main home-maker, I didn't feel like the idea of my cleaning the mess of the house after delivery :-P)
However, I felt more relaxed after reading the statistics showing the comparative safety of homebirths vs hospital births for most normal pregnant women, and that all the prenatal check-ups attended by DW showed that the conditions of the fetus were normal, stable, and indeed good.
And above all, I respected my wife's will to more control of her own body free from unnecessary medical interventions: she had read a lot of books and articles on homebirth, and I had never seen her being so interested and indulged in a particular subject before - she desperately needed her husband's unconditional support.
Together we agreed to go for it, and later DW told me that she had found an experienced mid-wife. I have to confess that I was a bit lazy this time, although I went to a Yoga class for pregnant women with DW and read a chapter on the role of fathers from the book "Birthing from Within" written by Pam England and Rob Horowitz.
And finally the day came. At midnight DW suddenly had contractions and they quickly became regular, stronger, longer and closer together in early morning. We knew that DW was elbowing her way out, and I immediately called our mid-wife.
Meanwhile DW was already lying sideways (to prevent the baby from coming out too quickly) on the protective floor cushions in front of our DIY "king-sized" bed: the pain was so intense that she could hardly move. I tried to make her comfortable by massaging her back, handling her a hot pack and reminding her to breathe. I tried to make the bed more suitable for labour, but I also had to prevent our spirited toddler DS from entering the bedroom and I did this in a way that he did not feel excluded and overwhelmed. Fortunately, although two of our friends who had agreed to come during DW's labour could not come at last because of busy jobs, another two came later and one of them could look after DS in the living room.
In thirty minutes' time the midwife came and under her instructions, I helped make the bed, sterilize the clips, scissors and other tools. I supported DW by running my hands gently through her hair while confirming her that she was doing good work and was in control of her own body, and that thanks to her we were about to see our new baby.
Although my role was always very minimal especially after midwife's arrival, I felt like myself acting like a lion, guarding the birth place, handling phone calls (e.g. from relatives) and visitors (e.g. a post officer, a courier and the very baffled security officer of our estate), dividing labour among friends and myself, and providing materials to midwife and gentle compassionate support to DW to ensure a smooth delivery (although recalling retrospectively, I wish I had given her still better support).
Thanks to the familiar and warm environment of our home, I felt myself relaxed, calm, assertive, motivated and my mind clear, and indeed empowered, feeling capable of handling even the worst situations.
It did not last long before the birth of our new baby - indeed, the stage was very quick, and I guess it only lasted less than half an hour - I don't know if this was related to DW's better contributing of her all strengths and efforts in a familiar environment, the fusion between her mind and her body (which would otherwise be forcifully separated by medical professions), to help her body do its work to cope with the natural intensity and the expression of pain in labour.
The baby's head emerged after a few strong guided pushes by DW, and she was then fully born (I hope DW can write the whole process down in details - sorry I did not directly experience such rich huwoman experience). Midwife immediately brought our newborn to her mother, these two having been living in a relation of harmonious symbiosis for nine months, and it's their first face-to-face encounter! And this was the most magical moment. The immediate response of DW, although obviously having emotionally prepared for this moment for so long, when holding our beautiful, delicate, crying princess in such an intimate distance, was totally enraptured; her (and indeed, our) emotions were so overwhelmed and powerful that we were speechless.
My gratitude to my dearest wife who coped with all these intense release of pains was beyond words.
And of course it was always exciting watching the new-born felt the first taste of his mother's breastmilk immediately after her birth, in such a natural and familiar environment without unnecessary medical interferences. They were perfect rewards to each other.
With the help of our midwife, I cut the umbilical cord myself. I was glad that I did not scare blood this time (unlike DS's birth), perhaps I had been cutting fishes and meats for dinners for several years! :-)
After the delivery of the placenta, DW and I brought the baby to his brother, who was watching Sesame Street in a separate room when his mother was labouring (I hate using videos as childminders but it was the only way to divert his attention for 2 hours). We gave him a gift for "upgrading" to the brother status immediately after we introduced his sister to him - this was one of our tricks to reduce his anxiety.
DS was a little bit upset the first day - kept asking mother to "put the baby down" - but this amazing child shortly began to adjust very well to the change (which we had prepared him psychologically for months) that although mother would be less available, he could still enjoy special time with her alone and even receive more attention from his father who had determined to be a father before his birth and strengthens this determination every day.