Birth Partners During Pregnancy, Labor and Birth
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Today Jaelin and Andie talk about partners in pregnancy, labor and birth.
Points from the video:
Birth partners are an important part of the whole birth process. It is not just about having support at the time of birth, but to have a supportive partner during the whole pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum period.
Birth originally was a time of women. Women supporting women. Friends and family would gather at the time of birth, and there would be a midwife. Much later, the male physician was introduced, but it was still a space held by women. Once the 20th century rolled around, birth became a medicalized hospital event. When that shift happened, women found themselves often alone because of busy staff.
Can you imagine laboring alone, if you didn’t want to?
Unhappy moms and their frustrated partners who were asked to chill in the waiting room (called stork clubs at the time) were the catalysts for change. The women’s movement and the natural birth movement called for cultural change. Women demanded that the labor room should be their time and space to invite who they wanted in, and they wanted their partner with them. It did take a while, but by the 70s and 80s most partners were allowed to be present for the birth.
Deciding who will be in the room and in your space for your birth experience is usually a big decision. So, let us help you.
It is a sacred, intimate time. Birth is a time when not only your baby is being born, but your family is being born. It is special. It is also a lovely time of celebration. All that is to say, it is a very personal decision. I always like to tell mommas that if you wouldn’t poop in front of that person naked and feel comfortable, I wouldn’t invite them. I have seen women birth alone and I have been in a room with twenty family members supporting momma.
What is the partner’s role?
Often those lines blur because, in a hospital birth, the partner is often seen as a nuisance and in the way. This is not the case with midwives or out of hospital birth. We value the partner. Their role is big. They are the emotional supporter and the physical supporter. They know the mom better than anyone in the room. And, only they can fill the partner shaped hole in holistic birth.
The evidence applauding a supportive one-on-one partner in labor and birth is overwhelming. Moms cope better, have shorter labors, and tend to have a happier birth experience. When we are comfortable, we are more confident.
What will by partner actually be doing?
Well that depends on you. Every mom feels a little different and those feeling may even change as labor changes. One moment she may love to be touched and the next moment she is giving the eyes of damnation for you breathing in her direction. But, to paint it with a broad stroke it could look like this.
Sometimes when we are in the firm grasp of a surge or contraction, we forget how to stay calm and breath with purpose. That’s where the partner can keep you focused. They can physically breath in and out with you, slowing down your respirations. They can help you relax with a variety of great techniques like massage and helping with a playlist or keeping the room low lighted and peaceful. Also, they can help you into positions and place pillows around you for comfort. They can fan you, feed you, and offer you sips of your drink. This is a time of you. Also, it’s a time where your direct connection can be useful as you anticipate their needs and answer the call before its even asked.
Praise her and encourage her. Speak words of affirmation you know to be true in her ear. Words like, “You were made to do this.” Sometimes just offering a hand and locking eyes is all she needs. Emotional support can both ease her fears and help her with pain.
Knowledge is Power
Here is why we have a lending library and always push our parents to read. It is also why we recommend classes. I love Penny Simkin’s “The Birth Partner”. I think reading this book together is really lovely. We also recommend anything written by Ina May Gaskin. While in labor, moms often go inward and cannot always think through things because they are working so hard. This is a place where the partner comes in and can help them remember their plans and hopes for their labor and birth. They can also keep them informed on what is happening. Knowledge gives confidence to you and your partner’s voice which works out well because sometimes your partner may step in and advocate for you. They can ask questions or request for clarification of anything that is being offered or suggested.
Traditionally, your partner is the person who put the baby in your belly or the person you consider your life partner, but not always. In some situations, that just doesn’t work out. There could be a million reasons why your partner is not always your spouse - cultural, religious, and personal reasons. They are all valid. In this case family, a friend, or a doula can step in. There is research to show that another woman in your space can actually help the smoothness of labor and birth. Girl power.
This is a place where having two people with you may be a good idea. Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses. Some are good at massage and fanning. Some are great at calming words and gentle touch. Additionally, this allows for partners to have the much-needed potty break, snack, or a fifteen-minute power nap while you are never left alone. Most hospitals limit support people to 2, but midwifes usually have an open policy, so be sure to speak to your provider to know what the policy is and that you are comfortable with it.
Just like with any major life even, preparation is huge. How can we prepare for it?
Like we said before, knowledge is where all the power lies. The more you know about your partner, about your plan, and about pregnancy, labor and birth, the more you can help. I always recommend a nice long and ongoing, ever-evolving conversation about what could help, what she wants, and what you are comfortable offering. Then, actually go through the motions of practicing. She may think she will love your lower back massage, but what if you massage like Monica from Friends? That can’t be part of your arsenal. So, rehearse.
Classes! Please take a good childbirth class. We have lots of resources, just ask. It will help you prepare, and you will feel more confident during labor and birth.
To all birth partners - Taking care of yourself is also part of your role. You know your limits; do not reach them. When you are hungry or thirsty, fulfill those needs. You can’t help your partner if you are exhausted and starving. Visit the restroom. When you go on an airplane in the emergency plans, they tell you to put on your mask first. Same concept. I will add here, though, that smells may bother mom, so if you are drinking or eating anything with a smell, leave the room and then come back with brushed teeth. Coffee and a beef stick may get you karate chopped. This is where a midwife or doula can be so helpful, and we can gently remind you of these things and step in when you need to step out. I always say, one of a doula’s magical role’s is making sure a partner can fulfill theirs.
Partners are not superhuman. They are just a person, a human that is fallible and has needs. As laborers and birthers, we get to a place where we forget that and can only concentrate on the present need we have now. I say this as a warning and anticipatory guidance love note. No human can rub your back or apply pressure with hulk force for four hours straight. Your partner may need a break. Flip flopped, momma may scream out “No, don’t do that.” or “Stop.” It is not personal. These short words are just all she can form with her words in that moment. I always try to take it as a compliment that she feels safe enough with me to be firm.
Anyone who knows me (Andie) has heard me say this, but it’s so true, so I allow it to play on repeat. As a midwife, my goal is never to be the hero. When you and your partner are kicking’ it on the porch, drinking hot tea, and watching your grandkids play years from now, I hope you look at your partner and remember how you fell more in love with them the day your baby was born. Sure, I’d like to be a part of the birth story, but I want you to be the hero and them to have been your sidekick. Imagine Batman and Robin, without the tights. That’s you guys. I would simply be Alfred, the butler.