Oh, partners. They can be lovely, but they can also fudge things up during birth. So it’s more common than you’d think for women to not want their partner present during childbirth. However, few women admit it, even to themselves, because not wanting a partner present at birth makes many moms-to-be think there might be something fatally wrong with their relationship. But not wanting your special someone there while you birth your other special someone doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed.
I’ve heard numerous reasons why women want to have only a doula, or maybe their mom, sister, or nursing staff, present at birth. One mom I worked with (we’ll call her Emily) had a hubby who got seriously squeamish in hospitals and once passed out after seeing blood from a cut. Emily was worried that instead of supporting her, the medical team would end up caring for her husband. Another mom (we’ll call her Yvonne) had a partner who never wanted her to be uncomfortable. If Yvonne were sick, her partner would fuss over her until she had to ask for space. Yvonne worried that her partner’s overattentiveness might be distracting during birth. The other woman who comes to mind (we’ll call her Cassandra) had a boyfriend who was adamant that she not get the epidural, but she wasn’t sure how she felt about the epidural. This sparked discord.
I worked with these moms on plans for discussing these concerns with their partners. In the first two cases, the couples decided to have the partner present only at the very end, when the baby was emerging. And for Squeamish Dad, a nurse was assigned to him in case he got woozy. Regarding No Epidural Dad, when Cassandra determined the epidural was the right choice for her, he couldn’t support her, and they decided it would be best for him to join her after their baby was born.
There are numerous reasons women might want their partner to support them from a distance during labor — and they’re all totally legit and worthy of attention. While your partner is of course an important part of the equation and will be likely a huge part of the child’s life, childbirth is all about what makes you feel most comfortable. While it’s monumental in many ways, birth is also a drop in the ocean of the child’s life; if your partner isn’t there, it doesn’t mean their connection with the baby will be scarred.
What to do
If you’re feeling like you might not want your partner with you during labor and delivery, do this . .
Spend time exploring the reasons behind this feeling. To start, ask yourself, “In what scenario would I be most relaxed?” Then, through good ole meditation, journaling, or talking with a trusted friend whose eyes won’t widen when you tell them your thoughts, get clear on what that optimally relaxed scenario will look like. Who is there? Where are you? What does the room look like? How are you being supported?
As you explore this scene, pay attention to whether or not your partner is there. If they are, how does their presence make you feel? What are they doing that does, or does not, make you feel relaxed? If you don’t see them there, examine and write down the reasons behind their absence.
Talk to your partner. If the previous exercise makes you realize you don’t want your partner at the birth, or want them present only during a certain phase of labor, summon the courage to talk to them. While this may feel like the last thing you want to do, know that having this conversation will seriously lighten your emotional load and help you have a more positive birth experience.
If the reasons you don’t want your partner at the birth strike deep chords in your relationship, it could be beneficial to have this discussion with the support of a counselor. You can even see the counselor alone first to talk through your concerns and make a game plan for how this request for nonpresence will be presented to your partner.
However, if your reasons are more basic, as with the queasy husband or overattentive partner I mentioned, you’re probably safe just having a sit-down with your person. You can start the conversation by asking, “Have you thought about how present you want to be at the birth?” See what they say. You might find that they’re also hesitant about being there. Or they might be full of ideas about how they’ll coach you through breathing and get you into squats. Either way, exploring this topic together will either help you become more resolute in your decision to not have them there, or dissolve many of your initial concerns. After the first phase of this discussion, decide whether you’re good to move forward with the “This is what I want to happen during birth” portion of the talk, or need time to process what was shared.
Make a plan for partner’s involvement. When you’re clear on what you need from your partner, make a plan for how involved (or not involved) they’ll be during birth. While it might be tempting to make concessions in favor of their feelings, make sure to not make compromises that limit your comfort. This conversation could be uncomfortable on the front end, but you will feel so much better when it’s all out in the open and you can move forward.