Why we need to stop laughing at the videos of dads in labour

Have you seen some of the videos doing the rounds on social media of dads in labour? This is one from a while ago, but there are many others. These videos are obviously being created for entertainment purposes, but in a nutshell, they are trying to prove that men couldn’t possibly take the pain of labour and childbirth. And the way labour is simulated is by hooking these men to a bunch of electrodes that will send an uncomfortable amount of current through their abdominal muscles.

Ok, we get it. It’s kind of funny. It’s a joke, and we get that. Just like the widely accepted joke of Mum coming down with the flu and running around the house looking after everyone as usual, while Dad falls ill and lies in bed (dying) asking for soup. (True stories, by the way, although we won’t get into the why and how that is). We promise you that here at The Natal Family we do have a sense of humour, and we are able to take a joke and laugh at it. Honestly.

But believe it or not, when a new ‘labour simulation’ video comes out and goes a bit viral, our teachers tend to scroll past it and roll their eyes. And like we said, it’s not because we can’t take a joke or because we’ve seen it plenty of times before (we have, by the way). It’s because these videos are actually quite damaging to the work we do as Antenatal Educators for the BabyNatal and MummyNatal programmes.  

Why?  How?

  1. It’s pointless – a man’s body just CANNOT go through labour

We can try and try, but a man without a uterus simply CANNOT experience labour. We can’t replicate it. Even when we strap a man onto a bed, hook them up to a machine and start sending strong electrical current through their abs, well, THAT is still not labour. THAT is not actually a contraction. And it’s very unlikely that that’s how a woman experiences it. It’s basically just the equivalent of hitting a man on the shin with a baseball bat and seeing how he likes it.

Why do we say this? Because their body isn’t prepared for it. A woman’s body is designed and built for labour and childbirth. Men can’t take labour because their body simply can’t do it! A woman’s body goes through an enormous amount of change and preparation before she starts labour. Her body has actually been geared towards this event for weeks and months – essentially from the minute she became pregnant. The hormones in a woman’s body play a HUGE role in how her body and mind work during labour and birth.

There may be a similarity between what a labouring woman actually experiences and this simulation, and that’s fear, worry, tension. A man being strapped onto a bed and hooked to electrodes will most probably start to anticipate pain. An element of fear for what’s to come will kick in, and his body will be flooded with adrenalin and cortisol. Now, THAT can happen to a mum in labour too.

In an ideal birth scenario, mum would feel calm and relaxed, and this wouldn’t happen. And when our MummyNatal teachers talk mums through the physiology of birth, they do so to provide them with a series of different ways they can use to calm their mind and relax their bodies. But very often, and for many women, a little tension, worry and fear (in various degrees) do creep in. This does happen. And yet, a woman’s body helps her cope with this – the labour hormones like oestrogen, oxytocin, prolactin, relaxin and prostaglandis flood their bodies to ‘help’ with the process and counteract the stress hormones – the ones triggered by the fear and anticipation of pain, amongst other things.

And what do men have?

The internet laughing.

  1. It feeds the self-fulfilling prophecy of the ‘useless dad’

We work with men (dads and dads-to-be) on a regular basis. And sometimes the men in our classes open up and tell us they feel like a ‘fish out of water’ or ‘a spare part’. They feel insecure and have no idea of what their role is during pregnancy, labour, birth, and even in the first few weeks and months after the birth of their babies. These videos certainly don’t help to change any of these feelings!

Thankfully, the dads that have been to our classes leave in a completely different state of mind – they leave feeling confident, knowing EXACTLY what their role is, how they can help, feel involved and actually play a CRUCIAL part in a process that seems (on face value) completely centered around their female partner. They know how they can and WILL make a difference!

But not all dads are this lucky. Not all dads get to come to our classes or get to read our books, like The Expectant’ Dad’s Handbook by Dean Beaumont or The His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Dean and Steph Beaumont. And if we keep laughing at these images of the ‘useless, incompetent dad’ who doesn’t know what to do during childbirth or with their young baby, then we shouldn’t really expect dads to step up and change. If we laugh instead of helping, we continue to give this same image and example to the dads of our children. And then to our sons too!

So how about we start to show dads in a different light? For the caring, competent, involved members of the family that they are?

  1. It tells dads or partners that it’s all about the pregnant woman, and not them!

In most cases it takes two people to make a baby. There is often another person – a dad or a partner – who is part of this family, whose baby this is! And as Steph Beaumont, founder of The Natal Family and of the BabyNatal and MummyNatal programmes puts it:

All of these videos are about getting men to experience pregnancy / labour / birth from the expectant woman’s point of view. It’s similar to getting men wearing an ’empathy bump’ to help them understand how pregnancy feels. I agree there are some benefits to supporting men to understand what their partners may be experiencing (although none of these simulations are really accurate), but this emphasis is always about men or partners understanding how mum feels, and therefore they lend themselves to saying that it’s HER point of view that is the most important. It tells men that they need to understand what women go through, that it’s a one-way street, when in reality, even as a woman who is currently pregnant with her FIFTH baby, who has had both easy and difficult pregnancies and births, I don’t think this helps to bring mums and dads together. It’s not a competition about who has it hardest!

Plus, what do these videos say to men? That in labour we expect them to be sympathetic and supportive, but in these simulations, the women get to sit there laughing at their partners?! Is that really even a simulation of labour on ANY level then? If it’s realistic and ok for them to do that, then what does that say?

Do I think it’s important that my partner understands me and what I might be going through so he can support me? Absolutely, YES! But not by being given electric shocks or a fake bump to wear. None of that helps him understand the emotional changes I am going (or may be going) through, what needs I feel I have in labour, how I need him to relate to me when things don’t go as expected, etc.

We feel this a very important point, so we asked Steph Beaumont, who also co-authored The His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, to give us some more thoughts on this. So watch out for another lovely blog post on this topic!

  1. It perpetuates the belief that labour and childbirth are the most painful experiences you’ll go through in life

We recently wrote a post about this on the MummyNatal blog. It’s worth a read because labour and childbirth aren’t perceived as painful by ALL women. More and more positive stories are being shared by mums these days, online and offline.  Some women describe the sensations of labour as ‘uncomfortable’, but not painful.

And let’s face it. There are women, who, unfortunately, have probably been through greater pain than labour and childbirth in their lives. Broken bones, chronic pain or terminal illnesses come to mind. How come certain conditions, injuries or illnesses call for regular use of strong painkillers and morphine, while a lot of women can go through labour and childbirth without pain relief?

Can we confidently say, to ALL women – to ALL young girls out there who haven’t been through it yet – that labour and birth will be the worst pain they’ll go through in life? Isn’t that a bit scary, overwhelming and daunting? And plus, is it true?

Yes, it’s most definitely true to some, and we should never dismiss a woman’s or a family’s experience or feelings when their wishes weren’t respected, or their labours and births didn’t go the way they wanted or hoped for. Never.

But maybe, at the same time, we could stop promising our sisters, friends and daughters that labour and childbirth will be, hands down, the worst pain they’ll experience in life.

So instead of putting dads down, can we just celebrate mums?

If we want videos that make a point and prove just how amazing women are for going through labour and childbirth, can we do just that? Instead of ridiculing men, can we just celebrate women?

Yes, we get it – it’s not as funny.

Yes, we get it – the videos are meant to be taken as jokes.

And like we said, we can all take a joke. But at the same time we know that the next time we’re running one of our amazing classes, we’ll have more assumptions and misconceptions to dismantle. And we’ll do it – we won’t get tired of doing it.

But please don’t blame us when we roll our eyes at the next ‘labour simulation video’ that does the rounds on social media.

What do you think? Do you think there is more behind these videos than the entertainment value they seem to be have been made for?

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