in bloom births

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. 

The Only Guarantee Your Doula Can Offer...(hint: it's what really matters!)

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There’s hardly a doula fresh out of training that hasn’t shared some variation of these statistics that you see above, myself included. Shorter labor, reduction in caesarean birth, oxytocin, analgesia, and epidurals; all of these things are meant to illuminate the value of doulas. These numbers are meant to wow the masses of what it is we can offer to ‘improve’ birth out comes for our clients. It’s well meaning, but it’s time for a healthy dose of perspective.  

The Cocherane Review has one of the most recognized studies that speaks to the benefits of doula attended births and provides evidence for these claims (You can see the actual study with accurate facts and figures, here.) This study is an excellent compilation of research that does in fact illuminate the difference a doula can make for a birth, but the way these statistics are being shared in the birth world may be doing more harm than good. 

When I share with you the ways in which I may be able to ‘enhance’ your birth by preventing analgesia or epidurals, I’m assuming you want to give birth without medication.

When I tell you that studies show my presence may reduce the length of your labor, I may be setting you up to feel as though your long labor was the result of a broken body or some bad luck.

When I suggest that, with my help, you may be able to avoid a cesarean birth, I’m assuming that this isn’t an ideal option for you, whether by necessity or by choice.

Here’s the thing: there is no golden standard for an ideal birth.These statistics suggest differently. Each of these numbers represents a preference, a personal ideal. Too often there ends up being an unnecessary weight of guilt and disappointment that mothers carry when their birth doesn’t meet expectations either set by someone else’s standard or their own. 

Nobody should expect or hope that any of the issues on these lists are important to you– maybe they are, maybe they’re not. Your doulas job isn’t to try to provide you with some statistically ideal birth plan, our job is to offer unconditional support to you through the birth you end up having; through the choices you make and the outcomes beyond your control.

Neither you or I can determine the outcome of your birth. If I take on the burden of trying to measure up to a statistic, I may not only be setting myself up for failure, but I may actually prevent you from birthing the way you want to. Birth doesn’t always stick to the plan; the unpredictability of labor means that you need to be ready to be flexible, to change your mind without apology, to grieve the things you’d hoped for and lost, and then celebrate how incredible you are for bringing life into this world.

So what is relevant here? What’s the point doula support if it comes without the guarantee of the birth you’ve planned for? Studies have shown that a woman’s satisfaction with her birth isn’t a result of interventions, outcomes, or having things go as planned; it largely relies on how she was cared for, heard, and supported, and that is an outcome I can promise to deliver. So here’s a statistic I think is worth sharing:

 

 

Protecting Postpartum

 

Everybody loves a squishy new baby. It’s almost irresistible to keep from wishing for the privilege to cuddle a weeks, days, or hours old newborn, who’s only just experiencing the big, wide world for the very first time. These tiny, precious lives leave us in such awe and wonder.

No doubt, you want to show off your little one, too. After all, this baby is yours; it’s you – in miniature form! It’s a miracle that you and your partner have made and brought into the world; the pride you feel is unexplainable.

It’s a fairly common cultural practice to expect that people will ask (or not) to visit you at your home or hospital in the early hours or days after baby is born. Whether it’s your closest friends or family, co-workers, or the most distant relative, it’s almost ritualistic to have a small parade of eager visitors, waiting in line to get their first look at your precious, wee babe.  

But guess what? This is your time. This is your moment. These are your first hours and days of passage into parenthood. It’s brief, it’s intimate, and it’s yours, so allow yourself to consider what’s best for you!

Giving careful thought to when and who you welcome into your space in the early days is important for a few reasons:

                The first hour of your baby’s is the most critical time of bonding and nursing.

This isn’t to say that you can’t bond or breastfeeding well beyond this point, but there is significant evidence that this time matters.

If you’re breastfeeding, it’s a learning curve, and time for privacy, rooming in and having space to learn this dance can be critical to your success.

Having visitors and learning to latch a baby to the breast can be so challenging. If you want visitors in the early days, allow yourself to retreat to feed the baby if you need to, or keep your visits brief and don’t be afraid to ask people to leave when you need some space.

Entertaining can cause undue pressure.

Are you going to feel pressured to entertain, provide food, or act as ‘host’ to anyone who comes by? If you don’t feel like you can have people in your home without feeling like a hostess, either ask them to wait until you’re ready, or draw clear expectations so you aren’t feeling the pressure.

You’ve just completed a marathon, followed by the biggest learning curve you’ll likely encounter in your lifetime; you need to time and space to rest!

Some cultures encourage women to rest and room-in with baby (with the exception of using the washroom, and joining in for some family/meal times), for 6 weeks. SIX WEEKS! Friends and family members will stop to bring food, healing teas, and help care for the house or the other children. Protecting the rest and healing of the mothers is of highest importance, and it’s reflected in the way they care for one another. Our North American culture might have a bit of a hard time wrapping our heads around that one, but perhaps we can learn something from them.

Don’t be afraid to tell your friends and family what you need most from them. If you feel uncomfortable, ask your spouse or a friend to relay your post-partum wishes and needs…

  • Request that your friends and family to text or call ahead; no surprises means you’re in charge of the who and when.
  • Ask for nourishing meals or snacks; food, food and more food!
  • Make a list of chores that can be done around the house or in the yard when visitors come by.
  • Be clear that you’d like visits kept short, that way, when you’re ready for a nap or need to nurse, you can excuse yourself without feeling guilty.

This time is short; these fleeting first days?  You’ll never get them back. You won’t regret creating healthy boundaries for yourself that protect this precious time, giving you the space you need for your new family.