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  • Writer's pictureSusan Martin

"Coach" - What It Really Means

Updated: May 3, 2021

How would you feel if your partner was absolutely not allowed to be in the hospital with you during your labor and the birth of your baby? You couldn’t have anyone you know there. You would be dropped off at the front of the hospital, wave goodbye, and then wheeled up to labor and delivery – by yourself. Imagine this. How would this make you feel?

It sounds like a horror story, right? The crazy thing is that this actually was what was happening to laboring mothers during the time that Dr. Bradley became an obstetrician. None of it made any sense to him. Since he grew up on a farm, he witnessed many mammals giving birth. There seemed no reason to him why women couldn’t do this, too. Women during his time were separated from their husbands and all family. The hospital took over total control – drugging women with “twilight sleep”, separating mothers and babies, and undermining breastfeeding. They were the “experts”.

Dr. Bradley had a deep appreciation for women’s abilities to birth their own babies. He had a great respect for babies and cared deeply for their health and well-being. He discovered in his work the opportunity to enhance family bonding by bringing fathers into the birthing realm. Allowing fathers into the birth room was a radical concept. Supporting natural birth and breastfeeding was an idea that made Dr. Bradley scorned by his medical peers. Yet, Dr. Bradley stood fast by his moral code and put families first.

Dr. Bradley wanted the families he worked with to be prepared for labor, birth, and becoming new parents. He really liked sports – so he used sports imagery to help pregnant couples understand their roles for labor and birth. Labor and birth were likened to an intense athletic event, such as running a marathon or climbing a tall mountain. Mother and baby were the athletes – training helped them to be prepared for the big birth day and increased the likelihood of a good outcome.

What then of the fathers? Were they simply the spectators – watching and cheering in the stands? Fathers had been totally out of the loop. There was no precedence for their role in the birthing room. Dr. Bradley came up with the idea of the husband (as most partners were expected to be in the mid-20th Century) as a coach. The partner is not the athlete – the job of laboring and birthing must be done by the mother (and baby) – but, the partner is an active participant as the Coach.

I love this idea. My daughter plays tennis. When I think of her coach, I think of someone who creates the right conditions for the players to train and prepare, encourages the players to do their best, comes and supports when the player is having a tough time, makes sure the playing field is fair and his team is not getting screwed over, and oversees all the minutia so the athletes can concentrate on the game.

Husband as “Coach” = a metaphor for the partner’s role during pregnancy, labor and birth, and postpartum.

A metaphor is not meant to be taken literally – it is used to help create an image and an understanding. Dads can understand that they have an active role (they are not just a bystander separated from the action with nothing to do) and that they have a responsibility to their family. Remember, men traditionally had not been involved in birth at all. In the home, women generally took care of the household and children. Dr. Bradley suggested, as he wrote in his book Husband-Coached Childbirth, that “men should finish what they started” and be actively involved as partners and fathers. This was mid-20th Century people. Dr. Bradley was ahead of his time.

Dr. Bradley had a great track record. My understanding is that he had around a 95% natural birth rate. If you chose Dr. Bradley as your physician you had an amazing chance of having a natural birth and, if interventions were necessary, they would be done with respect. This was made possible not only by his outlook and his commitment to protecting the natural processes, but also by going outside the box and training fathers to be the continuous emotional support that we now know is so fundamental to mothers and babies in order to have good outcomes. When birth left the home and mothers did not have anyone supporting them at the hospital, this left mothers and babies to suffer unnecessarily. It also disrupted attachment and bonding, having a severe impact on family life. Bringing the father in was pure genius. Calling him a “Coach” gave the new dad a wonderful image to understand his responsibilities in a way he could relate to and understand. It made sense.

All of this is still relevant. While we take for granted that partners will be in the birthing room, nothing in our culture prepares them for this, or for how to truly support their partner at any point from pregnancy through postpartum. If you are delivering in a hospital, your doctor probably doesn’t have Dr. Bradley’s viewpoint (this is pretty much a given in Los Angeles) and navigating the obstacles found in the hospital setting can be overwhelming. If you are delivering at home, or at a free-standing birth center, your partner may feel unsure going against the mainstream 99% on top of not having a skill set to best to support you. Not training a partner or father to be prepared for all of this is, well…mean.

Training your partner to be your “Coach” – to be prepared to support you and advocate for you – is a wise investment in the upcoming birth of your baby. Your partner is part of the team. Your partner has clear guidelines of what they can do. Whether your Coach is your husband, your boyfriend, your wife, your mother, your sister – it does not matter. It’s the commitment that matters. The knowing that matters. The support that matters.

One of my favorite moments in my group classes is handing out the official Bradley Method® “Coach Card”. My class is intensive and hands-on - the Coaches in my classes really have earned the honor of receiving this little token by the end of Class 11. We have a good laugh and it's a lot of fun! Come earn yours…

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