As a doula, I have had the privilege of witnessing so many beautiful moments during labour. From loving embraces, to funny (but appropriate) jokes to lighten the mood, a woman’s birth partner can most certainly be her rock during labour. But I have also observed those moments that people in the Twitterverse like to call #epicfails. Someone says the wrong thing, or eats the wrong food. It really doesn’t take much to anger or upset a labouring mama, so here are some tips to help you stay on her good side:
1) This first one is a biggie but it can be a tough one to master, especially for all you men out there (sorry, but it’s true). Try not to say anything stupid. In case you don’t know what would constitute a stupid thing to say, here are some examples: “does it hurt?”, “are you okay?”, “how long is this going to take?” or “I can’t believe I am missing the big game”. Do not say any of these things. And keep in mind that this this is far from extensive, so think before you speak.
2) General complaining is also a BIG faux pas. I do understand that it has been a long night/day/days. You have every right to be tired, hungry, sore and anxious. But for the love of bananas, act like you are perfectly fine! Your partner doesn’t need to hear you whine. Nothing you are experiencing is as uncomfortable as what the labouring mom is going through, so suck it up, buttercup!
3) A labouring woman (or women in general, really) can quickly tune into how others are feeling and acting, so if you think you aren’t coping well then don’t let her see it. If you can, leave the room until you feel more composed.
4) If you are having a hospital birth it may be hard to turn away from the super cool mountain drawing machine (AKA contraction monitor). Those things are borderline hypnotic, but ignore that pesky monitor! All of those beeps and buzzes mean nothing of consequence and distract you from mom. In fact, I feel like they give partners a false sense of understanding what the labouring woman is going through. Avoid comparing the monitor to her pain level, and steer clear of phrases such as “these contractions aren’t nearly as big as they were two hours ago” or “here comes a contraction”. Trust me, mama knows what’s going on with her body way better than the machine attached to her does.
5) Don’t interrupt a woman who is coping well with a technique or idea. Encourage what is working for her instead of trying to introduce new ideas or tips.
6) Sense of smell is heightened during labour and many women become nauseous. Avoid eating in front of her (unless she is okay with it) as the smell of food might be a big turn off. During the labour of my first son I became very agitated when the smell of cucumber wafted in my direction. If you step out for a bite to eat then brush your teeth before you return. And if mom has medical circumstances that do not allow her to eat food, then eating in front of her would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
7) Try not to be preoccupied with other thoughts such as getting the car seat installed, getting to the coffee shop before it closes or calling your mom. Your partner is your main focus, and being overly concerned with anything else will earn you some evil stares.
8) As labour progresses, mom will likely want the chatter toned down a bit. Follow her lead. Be silent if she is being silent. Bring a book to read in the corner or nap if you can. Don’t ask open ended questions, especially late in labour. Stick to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. And most certainly do not ask any questions during a contraction. I’ve witnessed this occurrence on several occasions and it is never pretty
9) Do not encourage mom to do things that do not fit into her birth plan. If mom desires to avoid pain medication do not suggest it because it is hard to see her in pain.
10) Don’t ask her what you can do to help. She is likely too exhausted to come up with an answer, or she simply just doesn’t know. Instead, just try things that you think might help. She’ll let you know if she doesn’t like it and if she does, don’t take it personally.
Disclaimer: Evey woman is unique. Reading this blog post does not guarantee that you will not say or do anything stupid. I do not take responsibility for any omissions that have gotten you into trouble.
Shame and guilt appear to be accepted aspects of motherhood. There is very little a mother can do that doesn’t make her susceptible to being shamed into feeling like a ‘bad mother’. If you formula-feed, you are denying your child a healthy start. If you breastfeed past one-year, you are a hippie attachment parent who can’t let their baby grow up. If you go back to work early, you are abandoning your child. If you stay home, you have no ambition (I have done ALL these things by the way). The list goes on…
Shaming also extends into the birthing world, and birth shame is personally something that I have carried with me for some time now. After attending an awesome lecture by Jodi Hall at this weekend’s Birth & Beyond conference, I was inspired to explore my birth shame a little deeper.
When I was pregnant with my first son I had planned the birth that many doulas dream of. I had the midwifery team, the doula, my home birth supply list, and even a spot in my backyard picked out for planting my placenta. It was going to be a peaceful, primitive and undisturbed birth experience, complete with rainbows and unicorns. Well, it turns out (in case you didn’t know) that things don’t always go as planned, and I ended up in the hospital at 36.5 weeks facing an induction.
Induction is a bad word in the birthing community. It should be avoided like the plague! And I was a doula, so shouldn’t I know better? Shouldn’t I be ‘informed’ enough to know the risks? Against what I was taught I went ahead with the induction. After 12 hours of labour my son was born, and was immediately whisked away to the NICU. Instead of making memories of our first gazes, or taking pictures of his tiny feet, I was left in the birthing room without a baby. Were my choices the reason that my baby was in a cold incubator all alone? Was I the reason that we missed out on those first precious moments together? My shame convinced me that our mother-child bond was compromised by my failures. All I could see was that I hadn’t been good enough, that I hadn’t tried enough, and that I hadn’t been smart enough. Maybe if I had refused Pitocin, the birthing process wouldn’t have been so hard for my son. All the things that I could have done differently swirled in my head.
As a doula, I felt somewhat like an imposter for not having the intervention-free birth that I had envisioned. I would share my birth story with other moms and doulas, but I felt the need to justify all of my actions and to explain all the medical reasons that led to an induction so that I wouldn’t be judged. Luckily, with time, the shame simply morphed into disappointment. I was soon pregnant with my second and I had convinced myself that I would do things entirely different this time around. But unfortunately many of the same problems that plagued my first pregnancy started creeping up again, and it looked like my rainbow-coloured home birth was just a fantasy.
After 37 weeks of a very emotional second pregnancy, I made the decision to be induced before my medically necessary 'deadline date' (cue audible gasps). I was exhausted and worn down by a difficult pregnancy. And I was sick of being treated like a ticking time bomb. I was done with the blood tests, the ultrasounds and the non-stress tests. I was just done. I knew it was the ‘wrong’ choice to make, and I carried a lot of shame over it. I didn't telI anyone about my choice (until now!) because I was afraid that I would be judged by other moms, and by other birth professionals. But after some self-reflection I have realized that it wasn’t the wrong choice to make, because it was the right choice for my family in that moment and it involved so much more than simply weighing the medical benefits and risks of an induction. My fears, my hopes, my past experiences, my knowledge, my insecurities, and the information I was given were all factors in my choice to be induced. And people can judge my birth choices all they want, but I am no longer going to let their judments cause me shame. I am proud of myself, and I am proud of my births.
Being a mom is the source so much guilt and feelings of failure. Let’s not make birth one more thing that we fail at as moms. Let’s support each other and the decisions that we make, even if they were ‘uninformed’, or based on fear or pain. Let’s watch our words and our thoughts, because they can have a big effect on how a woman remembers her birth experience. Let’s not project what we feel is an ideal birth onto someone else…it may not be what they consider ideal at all. And let’s focus all of our judgey energy on making maternity care system better, and not on shaming the woman within the system.
Kiss-ass doula, pretty okay-ish mom, spreadsheet enthusiast, punctuality freak, ice cream addict.