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Birth Porn-- the power of birth videos and dads

I show a lot of videos. The kind that people are afraid to see. The kind that people assume I will show, and are anxious about before they go to a birth class. The kind that make expectant fathers drag their heels in the sand and beg to stay home to watch the game instead. Full frontal birth porn. That’s right, I said it. Birth porn. It’s graphic, it’s messy, it’s in your face, and I play it on a large screen.

A few of the dads in my last series came in with some squeamish reservations, putting on a brave face but doubting their ability to view and support the act of birth without some sort of visceral or fear-based reaction. I had a lot of questions on the first day about the emotional repercussions that couples experience in their postpartum sex lives as a result of the dad’s ‘trauma’ by seeing the birth, and also a lot of questions about what exactly they would have to see, and if it was possible for them to see little, less, or none of it at all. I heard about fear of blood, and being afraid to watch their partners be in so much pain and not being able to do anything about it—the old adage that partners of laboring mothers are ‘helpless’. These are not uncommon questions, and I get them all in some form with every group. In time, I make sure they all learn how very powerful their influence is on the day of the birth, and how powerful his perspective, and attitude, and words will be for her—even if they’re said from a few feet away. And then with each group I say the same thing—this class is a safe place for you to view and familiarize yourself with the images of birth. It is your responsibility to challenge, recognize, and respect your limits when your child is born, but you won’t know what those limits are until you challenge them. If you find that you will be unable to view the birth, it is your responsibility to communicate this to your partner and birth team, and then hire a doula, or find someone who can do so in your place, because a laboring woman will need you nearby, even if you are supporting her from a seat in the corner.

I start slow, showing things on the more modest end of the spectrum, and work my way up to a few more ‘extreme’ births. Starting slow is no consolation to many dads, as they have never seen a birth in their life, and it seems so PRIVATE and INVASIVE and INTIMATE and PAINFUL to watch. To say they are uncomfortable when viewing these films is quite an understatement. From the point of view of a beginner, what many of us see as beautiful and natural, appears dangerous, messy, fear-inspiring, and foreign. I think it triggers in them, too, a fear of what their responsibility will be to their partner, as they undergo this foreign and painful looking process.

So, we start slow, but I don’t pull any punches. This is desensitization. I will explain exactly what they are going to see, what they need to watch for, and what I want them to learn from watching each film. My goal here is for them to see so much birth that it starts to look familiar, and no longer sounds the alarm in the part of your brain that detects danger. This same part of your brain produces anxiety as a fight or flight response to perceived ‘danger’. By watching these videos week after week, I take away the threat that theses birth images pose from the men in my classes. It’s a slow a subtle process, but it works. Even if they make faces, or turn away, they slowly acclimate to the images before them, so that when their partner is laboring, he has nothing left but the knowledge of what to do to comfort and support her, and his own emotions of anticipation, excitement, empathy, and perhaps a little sleepiness.

I perform my weekly ‘exposure therapy’, where we see bodies and births and babies galore. Eventually their responses grow less physical, and I see fewer and fewer grimaces, even as I start to show videos that are VERY graphic, and more intense than anything they are likely to see at their own birth—like the unassisted home birth of twins, where the second one is a footling breach. They may not enjoy the videos, but they don’t bother them much anymore. And since I have 12 weeks to do this, it’s quite effective, and in the end, they almost all thank me for showing the videos I did, realizing that this allowed them to attend their birth without fear—something birth classes often only focus on for the mother.

My last series just ended, and they’ve almost all given birth now, and I was present at their births—and they were AMAZING. Each dad knew just what to do when his wife needed it, and none showed even the slightest aversion to the ‘wetter’ parts of the process, or the birth itself. One dad watched as his baby became visible in his wife’s vagina, and looked up at me with amazement, and excitement—and none of the aversion or fear he thought he would have on that first day we met. And he ALMOST, ALMOST reached down to bring his baby up to his wife as it was born. At the last moment he chose to hold his wife’s hand, a decision that I fully support. But I am convinced that with the next baby, that daddy is going to deliver! He didn’t wait for his baby to be cleaned up, but reached out immediately, loving all the wetness with his whole heart and body, with no interference from that pesky fight or flight response center.

I was SO. PROUD.

1 comments:

birthamiracle said...
August 31, 2010 at 3:30 PM

What an awesome testimony! I've always been hesitent to show birthing videos to dad because of their modesty with seeing other women in the nude, but I absolutely see the benefits! Thanks for sharing. ~Another doula

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