I am going to talk about men. Not men in the general sense but those who are planning to be present at the birth of their baby. Usually sometime after the birth, I chat to the men to see how they got on when their partners were in labour and their thoughts and feelings on the process.
To give a sense of history, men have only been invited into the delivery room for the last 35 years. Before then, when woman went to hospital to birth the baby, traditionally the men would have been sent home and told to come back the following day, or they were sent to waiting room where they would either chain smoke or pace the corridor until they were told the baby had been born.
The results of a study carried out by Bedford & Johnson (1988), found that, father's perceived their presence and role in the birthing room as one of guidance, comforting and protection from an alien enviroment. However, recent research suggest that fathers felt they were excluded from the decision making and were left feeling isolated and frightened (Harvey, 2010).
The main concern that came from the discussions were that men perceived themselves as not being able to do anything for their partner, particularly the pain. To put this into perspective, pain is subjective and it means different things to different people. That said, the pain in labour that your partner will experience is completely normal, in fact, I call it 'Good Pain,' because it lets us know that the woman is in labour and her body is working hard for the baby to be born. The pain of labour also helps her body to release endorphins which are its own powerful morphinelike painkiller.
There are many things that you can do to help your woman in labour. You can be there to hold her hand, tell her you love her, massage her back, tell her you are proud of her, wipe her brow, support her through the pain by telling her how wonderful she is. Help her to remember to drink water between contractions, to breathe through the contractions, to connect with her baby. You can be there to guard the doorway to prevent over excited relatives turning up unannounced and interupting the flow of her labour (unless she has invited them). The Midwife will be there as advocate and support you both, she will explain everything fully so both of you are able to make informed decisions.
While searching for a link for new fathers, I came across an article where a top obstetrician suggests that men should never be at the birth of their child. Michel Odent, who I have quoted before (see Oxytocin the love hormone) in my blog, suggests that, "his presence is a hindrance and a significant factor why labours are longer, more painful and more likely to end in intervention."
Makes interesting reading, here is the link to the article.
For fathers and their children
Bedford, V.A., Johnson, N., (1988). The role of the father. Midwifery. 4 (4). 190-195.
Harvey, M., (2010). More support needed for new fathers in the delivery room.