Alright, men! You've made it! Your partner has passed through the phases of early labor, active labor, and transition. It's almost time for the main event. Pushing can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours (and mama-to-be might end up needing a c-section). You need to be prepared to support your partner as she bears down to delivery that bundle of joy you're just dying to meet. In other words, it's time to familiarize yourself with the things grown-ass men do to support their partner while pushing.
I was in labor with my daughter for 29 ungodly hours, and my husband was a total champ. (I mean I was a total champ, but I'll give him credit, too.) At around the 20 hour mark, I got a dose of Pitocin at the exact same time I got the epidural. About six hours later, I was ready to start pushing. I pushed for an hour, but baby girl was not responding to all the effort my body was putting forth to assist her in entering the world (and for the record, it's pretty terrifying to know that your child's heart rate is dropping every time you push). I ended up having a very necessary vacuum-assisted birth, and those last few pushes were brutal. Through it all, my partner was the calm in my storm. My safe harbor.
Honestly, that's exactly how it should be. Childbirth can be a scary process for all involved, but it's very important that the partner of the pregnant woman takes his or her time to put themselves in their partner's shoes. Trust me when I say that she's dealing with that same terror at the same time, while simultaneously doing intense physical work (because it's called labor for a reason). It's your job to be her rock, so buckle up and brace yourself for pushing!
He Offers Encouragement
Congratulations, you've just made the cheerleading squad! Encouragement during pushing can take many different forms. You know your partner best, and you'll want to take your cues from her as to which form is the most helpful.
Maybe she wants you to watch what's happening down there and describe it to her to motivate her ("You're almost there!"). Perhaps she'd prefer that you stand by her shoulders and whisper encouragement in her ear. Then again, maybe your constant, silent presence is what she needs to keep on keeping on. Whatever the method of delivery, the message is always, "You're doing a great job!"
He Stays Calm
My husband is a pretty laid back, self-assured guy, and that was never more apparent than during the birth of our child. He was as cool as a cucumber. During almost the entire process, we only had a midwife and a nurse with us. When pushing wasn't going well and they had to get the doctor, there were immediately ten more people in the room. I started bawling. My husband reassured me that those people were there to help and that everything would be OK. He later admitted that he'd been completely terrified (looking back at pictures, I can see it in his face), but he held it together for me.
Childbirth can take some unexpected twists and turns, but it's important that you maintain a calm, reassuring demeanor (even if you don't feel that way inside). Remember that your partner feels all those emotions and then some, but she still has a lot of hard work to do.
He Takes Any And All Outburts In Stride
We love you. We really do. However, childbirth is a b*tch, and we're really pissed off. It's possible that your partner will find the way you are breathing annoying, swear at you, or demand that you get a vasectomy. I hate to break it to you, but you're going to have to suck it up.
At this point in the labor and delivery process, mom is probably feeling intense pressure, back pain, and a burning sensation as baby crowns. The best way I can describe it is trying to crap a bowling ball. Growing a temporary thick skin is the least you can do.
He Advocates For Her
A mama who is pushing has other things on her mind, so she may need you to speak up for her. Familiarize yourself with her birth plan. If she prefers to tear over having an episiotomy, you may have to remind the provider. Maybe she wants to keep a certain family member out of the delivery room, so it's on you to run interference.
Once the baby is out, everything happens very quickly, so if mama wants to breastfeed or do skin-to-skin contact right away, speak up (and be ready to do that kangaroo care yourself if mama can't for some reason).
He Helps Her Focus
When your partner is in the midst of pushing, it'll be hard for her to focus on anything else. Still, it can be helpful to breathe along with her. Breathing can help her maintain control and avoid frantic pushing. If she strains too much (my midwife called this "pushing with your face"), she can end up with some severe bruising.
For some women, it can help to see what's going on down there, so you may be called on to hold a mirror for her. Seeing her baby crown may help her develop a laser-like focus.
He Helps Her Relax Between Pushes
Mom needs to rest between pushing. She'll want to conserve energy for the next round. You can help by wiping her brow (if she wants to be touched) or feeding her ice chips. Try to distract her with a bit of humor, if she's up for it.
My husband is always ready with a quip. He told me about seeing a rabbit in our backyard. It was raining, and because I wasn't in a rational state of mind, I asked, "Did it get wet?" He replied, "No. It was a magical bunny, and it had a tiny umbrella."
He Provides Affection (If It's Wanted)
Some women don't want to be touched at all during the childbirth process, or only during certain phases or in certain ways. Honor those wishes, and try not to get your feelings hurt. For other women, hugs and kisses are welcomed as comfort and reassurance. Massage and counter-pressure may also provide pain relief, in addition to touch therapy.
He Holds Her Hand
Even if she doesn't want to otherwise be touched, mom-to-be may still want to hold your hand. It's a symbol of solidarity, but it's also something to squeeze. That's great when you're pushing. Some research even indicates that holding your husband's hand may offer pain relief. So sorry about those metacarpals. Your sacrifice is noted and appreciated.
He Says, "Yes, You Can!"
There comes a point in pushing where I think every woman utters (or screams) the words, "I can't do this!" Your answer as her partner is an unequivocal, "Yes, you can!" Show her you believe in her and her amazing abilities.
Once I was hooked up to the vacuum and bearing down, I expressed my lack of confidence. The response was a resounding, "Yes, you can!" from literally every person in the room. Their complete faith in me gave me the second wind I needed to get that baby out.
He Does Pretty Much Whatever She Asks
When my mom was in labor with my brother, she got a little loopy and told my dad he needed to get their son some shoes. You know, because newborns can't be getting their tiny feet dirty with all that walking they do. God bless him, he assured her he would.
Our requests aren't necessarily going to be reasonable. They may be downright irrational. However, your willingness to acquiesce will make a challenging experience a little more manageable. Plus, in terms of self-preservation, catering to mama's whims is probably best anyway.
He Celebrates With And Brags About Her
When it came down to the end, I decided to keep pushing even though my contraction had passed. I cried when my daughter was finally out, from joy and relief, and my husband held back tears. It turns out that pushing had been so hard on me because my daughter came out with her hand next to her face (it's called compound presentation).
My husband was so proud of me. As we recounted our birth story to and for our many visitors, he bragged about how great a job I'd done. It felt awesome. Your partner deserves some accolades because, well, she's just delivered a freaking human being into the world. Give her all the kudos. If you helped your partner feel better during this process, you've done your job.