birth partner

This One's For the Partners

Guest Post by Jody Richards, Labor Doula and Postpartum and Infant Care Specialist 

Guest Post by Jody Richards, Labor Doula and Postpartum and Infant Care Specialist 

Being a doula in the era of the internet, there is a sea of articles written about birth, and you begin notice some trends. One trend I've seen recently is the emphasis on partner support, and more specifically, physical closeness and intimacy between couples in labor. Experts on birth suggest that kissing, cuddling - all the romantic displays of affection you and your partner may enjoy with one another, can help move the labor process along. This lovey-dovey squishiness brings on the love hormone, oxytocin, which happens to be the same hormone that drives the contractions that bring your baby closer to the world. How wonderful, right? Perhaps, or maybe not so much.

You see, and don’t get me wrong - I am all for the squishy, gooey displays of affection, but this isn't every couples flavour. I have overheard women talk about how disappointed they are that there partner isn't on board with this idea, and how reading about these births leaves them feeling defeated. 

 

When I reflect back to the births that I have been at, the role each partner has played in participating in the birth of their child has been unique, and I realize how much they have all taught me about relationships.

 

There's the dad that spends most of the time checking his phone, and then there's the one who cracks jokes and makes it his mission to keep the labor room light. There's the dad that is tense and always looking to me for reassurance, and the ones who are old pros, lovingly doting on their wife without worry or hesitation. 

Do I look back and see that one was better than the other? Absolutely not! I actually look back and realize that love can be shown in so many different ways, and every couples dynamic is different. Even the dad who seemingly appears to be ignoring his partner during labor can very much be expressing his love for her, and I cannot judge the relationship that exists between partners who are entering into parenthood, together. 

 

As you prepare for your birth, open up the lines of communication, and talk about each of your ideals and expectations. 

 

Women: allow your partner the space and time to tell you how they think it might be for them. Listen to them without judgment and hear what they have to say about how they feel they fit into all of this. You might have to let go of the idea that your partner will everything you hoped he'd be, and that's okay. 

Partners: take the time to think about how you express love and respect for one another. What are the subtle ways you show you care? What do you need to feel like you can be true to yourself, but still meet her needs?  We all express love in different ways, so if we want to get that oxytocin flowing, lets do it, whether it means being the quiet observer, or tender and intimate.

So how can a doula help in all of the above scenarios? A doula gets to know each of you through prenatal appointments and contact throughout pregnancy. She helps you discover what each of your expectations are, what your roles may be, and how she can support you both. A doula doesn't have a single defined role: she is fluid and adapts to the dynamic of each individual couple. Many partners aren't even sure what there role will look like until labor begins; that's okay. Your doula attunes to you from first meeting until your baby is born; she's on this journey with you. I have heard from some spouses after a birth that they had been reluctant to hire a doula, because they didn’t wish to feel like they were being placed under a microscope; they did not want to be judged for how well they supported their partner.

 

This perspective tends to change once they experience how we actually helped them to feel free to be what they needed to be in the moment, and ultimately took the pressure off of them. 

 

Having a child is big, and watching the woman you love in the painful throws of labor is not easy. The intensity that a partner may feel for an impending birth is very different than that of the birthing woman. Something we pride ourselves in at In Bloom, is the ability to provide support for any couple and any birth, partner's included.

 

There's no judgement, and no one is under a microscope. There's no right way or wrong way, there's only you and your experience that is unique to you. 

 

Having these conversations toward the end of pregnancy can actually bring you closer and help you tap into each of your expectations, concerns, and the realities of how things may unfold. Decide what kind of support you need outside of yourselves to make the birth ideal for both of you. A childbirth education class is a great complimentary resource as you each prepare for your birth. Our labor doulas can help you both discover your needs, desires, and roles in labor, and help you create a plan to feel supported and confident. 

What Do I Need a Doula For, Anyways?

 

When the subject of my birth work comes up in conversation, it isn't uncommon for their to be a lot of confusion over what it is I do. Most people have heard the term doula, or know someone who's had one, but they don't totally 'get it'. There are a lot of misconceptions about the purpose or value of a doula. Even among maternity care providers, the explanation for how a doula benefits a mother in labor is varied and uncertain. Expectant parents wonder things like, "What does a doula do that my partner doesn’t? We like our doctor and have an open relationship, isn’t that enough?, I plan to just take things as they come; is a doula really necessary?" These are just a few questions among many (more questions are addressed in my blog, Is a Doula Like a Midwife?...And Other FAQ. 

But what’s the big deal, really? Everyone you’ve talked to has assured you that it’s a fleeting moment; that it’s going to happen how it happens; that your baby is going to be born one way or another, and a healthy baby is all the matters, so why not just get on for the ride?  

Birth can certainly be one of the wildest rides of your life, and we know that the most challenging moments of our life can also be the most empowering. We also know that exceptional support throughout labor can change your experience from being something you 'handle', to something you own. Here are a few of the ways we can help make that happen. 

A doula works with your partner; it’s better that way!

There’s a quote in the doula world that goes something like this: “You know her, we know birth.”

I’m not your intimate partner. I don’t know what makes you tick and what makes you cry. I don’t know the words to whisper when you’re at your lowest low, or how to make you laugh or smile to lift your tired spirits.

I do know about supporting partners in labor; I know to how to help them find their confidence to give you what you need. I know that birth can be exhausting, and sometimes the partner needs a break. I know when he hasn’t made a trip to the bathroom in 6 hours, and I know to ask if he’s eaten or drunk before he turns white. I know that watching you, the person they love most, in the throes of labor, can be exhilarating and frightening, all at once. I know that birth can be intimate; that sometimes my role is in the background, supporting you from the sidelines, and other times we are in the thick of it together, a circle of support.  

A doctor’s not a doula, a doula’s not a doctor.

You can have the best relationship with your midwife or doctor, but when it comes down to your birth, their number one mission is a healthy mother and a healthy baby. When everyone else’s eyes are on charts and numbers, my eyes are on you. The emotional intensity of birth can be as overwhelming as the physical. There can be surprises around each corner and I’m there to remind you of what is happening, what the choices are, and then supporting you and helping you make it around the next bend.

Plan or no plan, a doula’s a must.

We all know, “the best laid plans of mice and men, often to awry”. It’s not so much about having a plan, but knowing that there are choices for your birth. Voicing the things that matter to you most gets your birth team on the same page, and that’s important. Flexibility in your birth planning is essential too, because we know that birth is unpredictable. No plan? No problem. We will walk with you through your birth as decisions need to be made and options are given.  

Most importantly, above all else, we will tirelessly care for you and your partner every step of the way.

We will walk the halls with you, squeeze your hand, tie your hair back, and cool the sweat on your head. We will hold the popsicle to your mouth and breath with you through the hardest moments; we will remind you that you are enough, of the strength you possess, and the miracle you are bringing forth.While you pour yourself to empty, we will help fill up your cup.  

Everything we truly aspire to can be summed up in this quote by Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

How you feel, matters.  Your birth, this moment, is deserving of the utmost attention and care. We are there to make sure of that. 

You Are Welcome To Our Birth-Day....By Invitation, Only.

Who you welcome into your birth isn’t something anyone else can decide for you. While the birth of a baby is a miraculous and incredible experience to witness, depending on your personality and preferences, it is also a deeply intimate and private moment. Some of you may want every mother, aunt and best friend that can make it to surround you in a circle of love and support, others of you may not even be sure you want your own partner there for the event, or perhaps you’re really not sure who to invite into this sacred space. Whoever you decide to open your birth space to matters, and there are a number of factors that we think you should consider.

Will you feel free to be yourself? And by yourself, we mean: free to express yourself however you may instinctively do so in labor. Perhaps in your day to day you’re pretty put together, but we know that labor isn’t necessarily a graceful or glamorous event. There’s a lot of noise, nudity, and probably even some poop, and feeling uninhibited is essential. Ina May Gaskin talks about the “Sphincter Law” of birth, and references that the ‘sphincter’ of birth (the cervix), acts similarly to other bodily sphincters (think: washroom with a magazine). Just like we need to feel uninhibited to efficiently do our business in the bathroom, in the same way, the cervix responds to the disruption of privacy by delaying dilation and ultimately slowing labor. If you feel like this may be an issue for you, think twice about who you say ‘yes’ to.

Are they going to bring their experiences or beliefs into your birth? Unbiased support is essential. Whether positive or negative, the experiences of others need to stay out of your birth. You’re preferences and choices for labor are the only thing that should be considered, so it’s important to be sure that whoever accompanies you is leaving all judgment at the door. Is your mother going to have an emotional breakdown seeing you in pain? Is your best friend going to guilt you out of the epidural you had already decided on? Are they on board with your birth plan and ready to see you through? There’s no question the people that love you and want to support you mean well, but it’s up to you to decide if they’re the best thing for your birth.

Who are you saying ‘yes’, for?  This is your birth, remember? There’s no question it is an incredibly meaningful event for the people that love you most, as well as an honor and privilege of anyone who you welcome in, but the only person that should truly be considered is you: what you want, what is best for you, what will serve your birth and leave you feeling safe, supported, and empowered.

Having doula-care in labor; knowledgeable, judgment free, and compassionate support, is linked to better birth outcomes: quicker labors, lower rates of cesarean sections or interventions, and a greater overall satisfaction with your birth experience. Whether it’s your mother, sister, doula or friend, make sure whoever you bring into your birth-day meet the criteria that ensure they are the right fit.