Dr. Robert Bradley was a maverick of the natural childbirth movement in the 1950’s. Like maverick men in other movements, he could be described as opinionated, arrogant, charming, chauvinistic, egotistical, brilliant, a leader, and ahead of his time. This comes through in Husband-Coached Childbirth, which was first published in 1965.
He was very instrumental in opening doors for husband’s to be allowed in labor and delivery rooms. The main tenants of his method, as outlined in Husband-Coached Childbirth, are excellent nutrition, emotional stability, involved partners (husbands), basic exercises, and relaxation practice during pregnancy. During birth, Bradley recommends minimal distraction, no non-emergent medical intervention, walking in early labor, and comfortable positions coupled with deep relaxation and abdominal breathing for the active stages of labor. He writes specifically to fathers, emphasizing their role throughout all of pregnancy and during birth. The basis for his philosophy arises from observations of animals birthing with ease and without fear and the belief that education and love empower women to do the same.
Ironically, while Bradley’s work is quite truthful and empowering, his language in Husband-Coached Childbirth would make any feminist roll in their grave. He claims that women need to be taught, in detail, how to birth because we have lost our ability to draw from instinct. His goal is to empower fathers to coach their wives into flawless “obstetrical athletes.”
If you can’t read through the patronizing philosophy Husband-Coached Childbirth will do little more than disgust you. However, if you can, there is much to gain. I agree with nearly 100% of the methods and advice Bradley proposes. They represent only one narrow picture of how to support physiological birthing and cope with contractions, but it’s an accurate one. He covers a thorough scope of preparations including physical, emotional, and spiritual health, earnest commitment of both partners, and prevention of potential institutional obstacles. All are absolutely necessary. He also emphasizes the profound impacts of genuine love.
In his practice, where all of these aspects of preparation and support where enacted synergistically, he found that 3% of women benefited from emergency medical intervention, primarily c-section, and another 3% from some other form of medical help such as pharmaceuticals. 94% of women experienced positive natural births. His number picture is right on in my mind. The numbers are similar to those reported by Ina May Gaskin, a well-known, low-intervention midwife in Tennessee, and closely match what I experienced first hand as a homebirth midwife’s assistant.
I believe very much, like Bradley teaches in Husband-Coached Childbirth, that women are very capable of birthing and that, in most cases, the best support is nothing more, or less, than genuine love informed by an understanding of women’s needs in labor. If you and your partner are ready to embrace everything from eating well to choosing a doctor or midwife who is truly excited to support you, as this book will help you to do, you can expect to have a physiologically healthy birth and a positive experience.
Feminist values aside, the Bradley method upsets a lot of people and has a reputation for being rigid and tyrannical. Bradley himself addresses this some in Husband-Coached Childbirth. People become so enthusiastic after positive natural birth experiences that they also become single-minded, militant, and judgmental. This includes both some of the families who directly experience the benefits for their own family but know nothing of the realities of other families, and also in some instances, the childbirth educators who teach the Bradley method.
It’s a shame. While the “Bradley method” works, putting the full and complete picture into practice is a far cry from the reality of what many modern women, hospitals, and doctors bring to birth today. (And by the way – could we please replace “Bradley method” with “women’s bodies and ancient way of supporting one another through birth?” Nothing Bradley suggests is new or the domain of Dr. Bradley.)
Excellent nutrition, mature, committed, and loving partners, emotional stability, health without drugs, and practiced birth preparation are not the expecting family norm today. Non-distraction and the prioritization of comfort and privacy are not the guiding principles of most hospitals. On many accounts and for many reasons, birth today is a more interventive, painful, and fearful process than “Bradley method” may lead you to think.
This is a societal picture though and you need not worry about it too much. You are preparing for your unique family picture. The two pictures may be drastically different, or the same. You know yourself and how similar or different from modern culture you are.
The cultures of bad nutrition, violence, addiction, self-centeredness, and egotism perpetuate many of the problems that surface during pregnancy and birth, making medical intervention appropriate and necessary healthcare during birth. Medical intervention is also needed during a small percentage of perfectly healthy births and in high-risk birth. Nurses and doctors should not be judged for providing culturally relevant care, nor should families be judged for the impacts of complex issues on their lives.
If you are in a position to choose differently for yourself and your family, the providers and institutions to support you should also be available. In most communities they are. You simply need to do your homework, both in terms of personal preparation and research. Husband-Coached Childbirth (even if your loving partner is not a husband) offers much education and guidance to help you do so.
**A note on Bradley’s emphasis on labor support from a loving partner rather than from a doula: I agree that a loving partner is irreplaceable in birth. That being said, “loving partner” and “labor support professional” are two different roles that can indeed be fulfilled by the same person, given that person has significant training, some of which comes only through experience. Since that isn’t likely for many families, hiring a doula is a fruitful choice for most. Doulas bring a skill set to the birth that is very valuable and a good one will only enhance the involvement of your loving partner.
Husband-Coached Childbirth’s Authors, Robert A. Bradley, Marjie Hathaway, Jay Hathaway & James Hathaway
Robert A. Bradley, M.D., was an Obstetrician in a time of horrible obstetrical care. He drew on his childhood experiences with natural animal birth to promote more options for mothers. He did a lot to improve childbirth during his era but has not continued to write as times have evolved. He passed away in 1998.
Marjie Hathaway, husband Jay Hathaway, and son James Hathaway run the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth. Marjie and Jay were early students of Dr. Bradley and so enthusiastic about their experience with the “Bradley Method” that they developed a course to teach other families about it and eventually helped run the association charged with teaching Dr. Bradley’s work. As part of their work, they have continued to revise Husband-Coached Childbirth to keep it relevant to present-day families.