#77: How Childbirth Affects Men – Dr. Amy Gilliland

Men and childbirth 

My guest is Dr. Amy Gilliland, Ph.D., ADVCD/BDT(DONA), CSE (AASECT). She is a doula, an AASECT certified sexual educator, and her work has been extensively shared and published in many prestigious academic journals on the subject of sexuality and various aspects of childbirth. 

This episode largely deals with men (with female birthing partners) and the influences that childbirth and post-childbirth time periods can have, not just physically but psychologically as well. 

Sexual attraction and desire might actually diminish after watching their female partner give birth, relationship dynamics can change, and there are a myriad more things to consider from the male perspective as well. 

This talk spans a wide array of very important facets of the subject–all of which is driven by Dr. Amy’s expert insight. 

Listen to “77: How Childbirth Affects Men – Dr. Amy Gilliland” on Spreaker.

Inspirations and Influences for Amy’s Involvement in the Work 

Amy says that she grew up in an environment that was largely women, so she never had a very concrete understanding of men.  

Due to her line of work, she was witness to this abrupt shift from men being absent from the delivery room to them all of a sudden becoming staples of labor support. This means that men were all of a sudden relied on to give steady labor support with no questions asked and no real training. 

So, as most males are wired to do, they are left with the difficult prospect of wanting to fix the pain of their spouse, but are powerless to do so. That can weigh heavy on the hearts of most men. And not a lot of medical professionals have the time to ask crucial questions about how men are feeling during the delivery. 

Hormonal Differences in Sexes Pertaining to Childbirth Response 

As Dr. Amy states, there are some markedly different aspects between the sexes regarding hormonal response to childbirth. So, not only are there anatomical differences, but also hormonal differences. A woman will experience a rush of oxytocin to combat stress or labor, whereas a male partner will not.  

Dr. Amy talks more about this during the episode. Listen in! 

The Support System Needs Support Too! 

When looking at the research, a lot of fathers respond very well to support from a doula. And support in general is good for lessening the chance and effects of PTSD that can accompany afterwards. 

In addition, Dr. Amy says that the more men are involved in the decision making process surrounding birth, the more likely they are going to feel like they have some sort of control. This lack of control, as well as lack of answers during the chaos of childbirth, can adversely affect the physiology (stress response) but also the psychology of the male (PTSD).  

The Challenges of Asking for Help 

As Amy says, the medical world is largely patriarchal. But this is not so in the birth realm, which is largely matriarchal. Some men are comfortable within more female spaces and others are not. And on top of this, having to ask for help within a female-dominant place can make some men feel uncomfortable, so within the delivery room, men can feel very powerless. 

And of course this powerlessness can manifest itself with PTSD and similar experiences. 

The Brain’s Response to the Invasive Aspects of Childbirth 

As Dr. Amy says, we are supposed to act like cervical checks are normal proceedings for our brains to comprehend. But for a male, it can be a strange experience to see multiple cervical checks by multiple doctors, not to mention the other invasive medical procedures on top of this. The aftereffects, no matter how common the practice, can still be traumatic for men, even if not felt in the most concrete ways. 

The Importance of a Doula 

Because men often feel like they need to be a protective role during labor, a doula can be essential for calming down and explaining to the male everything that’s going on. So often, it boils down to the man not knowing enough during the birth. This lack of knowledge leads to anxiety and stress. A doula or knowledgeable friend is indispensable in this way. 

And because men typically go into these births with only a few hours of labor support education, they are vastly unprepared for what they are told is their responsibility as a support system. Amy thinks that men are often expected to perform the same way as an experienced doula; she says that is a huge burden to bear for a guy. 

Advice for Dads Who Are Experiencing Sexual Difficulties  

She says that admitting a sexual difficulty, first and foremost, is key. For the male, you need to communicate your difficulty. This is not to blame the baby, but just unpack the birth and how you felt about the whole experience. 

After acknowledging your feelings, then talk about it with someone is knowledgeable about childbirth. Talking to another man who has been through childbirth is also helpful as well for fully relating to the experience before any lasting trauma may set in. 

But this is just the tip of the iceberg of all that was discussed in this episode. Check it out! 

Key Links for Dr. Amy Gilliland 

Her website: https://amygilliland.com/ 

Affiliate link for Her book: The Heart of the Doula 

Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/amylgilliland/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gilliland_amy 

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