Much of the literature and information pertaining to the unfolding of birth is geared towards demystifying and preparing the mother. However, there tends to be less focus on how to prepare the partner for the birth experience and how to be a helpful and vibrant support. If one forgoes hiring a doula, then the partner has a tremendous responsibility.
Here are some helpful tips for those supporting a laboring mom.
- Educate yourself! It is vital the support person has a comprehensive understanding of what “normal” birth looks like and what are the emotional signposts of labor. Countless times, I would receive slightly panicked calls from partners who declared they are on their way to the hospital or birth center after witnessing the mother have her first strong contraction. In these cases, I asked to talk to the mother and listen to her during her contraction. Usually, it is simply the mother has transitioned from early labor to active labor. While, this transition is a normal and welcomed part of labor, the shift from easily coping with contractions to becoming more introverted and now actively managing the waves may be unnerving if it is unexpected.
The mother will also go through several different pain management techniques through out her labor. As a doula, I literally and figuratively have a bag of tricks I can pull out to aid in comforting the mama. Part of my job is not to disturb the mother in “labor land”, instead I could offer different tactics for coping skills and see what the woman gravitates towards. Partners, start to make a phyiscal or mental list of comfort techniques you can pull out. Don’t ask the woman what she wants, we don’t want her to go to her “thinking mind”, we want her to stay in her “laboring mind”. Try something and if she doesn’t like it, she will let you know.
2. See the MOTHER, not the MACHINE! There is a great Monty Python scene in The Meaning of Life called The Miracle of Birth. The basic jist of it is, the mother is lying there on the laboring bed and all the focus is on the machine that goes PING! When the mother says,
- Obstetrician 1: Get the EEG, the BP monitor, and the AVV.
- Obstetrician 2: And get the machine that goes ‘ping!’.
- Obstetrician 1: And get the most expensive machine – in case the Administrator comes.
- Patient: What do I do?
- Obstetrician: Nothing, dear, you’re not qualified.
I think it is very easy with the hyperfocus of constantly looking at screens to focus more on a machine, than the mother. This issue can show up in several ways, with the partner focusing more on the contraction app than the mother in the contraction or watching the fetal monitor record the contractions. So, partners, put down the phone, turn away from the fancy machines, and give the mother the attention she very much needs.
3. Protect the mother’s space and be her advocate. My mentor Terry, told me the story of a couple she worked with recently. The mother’s labor was very slow and methodical, progressing much behind the expected time. However, the mother and baby were tolerating the labor extremely well, great fetal heart tones and good blood pressure from the mother. Every time the doctor would start to enter the room, the husband quickly and quietly moved to the door, escorting the care provider back outside and asking, If the mom is ok and the baby is ok, can we please have more time? This simple line of questions was held over and over for many, many hours. The doctor responded, “Yes, I guess you can have more time since everyone is doing well. I really have no reason to push intervention besides time expectations.”
What an amazing example of the partner holding and protecting the mother’s space and being her advocated. Had the doctor come in and started to discus interventions, this could have disturbed the mother’s ability to focus on relaxing into the contractions. While this exact scenario may be unique, the idea of the partner being the gate keeper and being “crowd control”, as well as being the mother’s advocate for helping her achieve the birth she envisions, should not be out of the ordinary.
4. LOVE the mother! Get that oxytocin going! For labor to function well, the mother needs to have her oxytocin soaring! Oxytocin is the amazing hormone responsible for creating the uterine contractions. It is the same hormone we feel when we are intimate with someone or even just looking at a loved one. Partners, labor and the time leading up to labor is the time to shower the mama with love. Make her feel protected, cared for, supported and sexy. This act of cherishing the mother can allow her body to naturally produce oxytocin and guide her into labor.
Birth partners now have a very clear road map for supporting the mother. Hopefully this guidance can alleviate stress many partners feel as labor approaches. There can be tremendous pressure as to how to best support a laboring mother, however, it really boils down to being the person she fell in love with- see her, love her, support her and you really can do no wrong.