I had to spell it for a police officer, once, who gave me a warning to watch my speed, "WHAT is your occupation?" I am a doula. I do professional labor support. People hire me to help them plan and execute their births. Kind of like a wedding coordinator, only most times there isn't cake and there's never a big white dress or at least there hasn't been yet for me.
Last weekend, in the wee hours of the morning, I watched my 300th baby be born, pushed on my 300th back, encouraged my 300th woman. It was a sweet birth, uneventful, if you can say that about the arrival of a new, unique person. This milestone has made me introspective, caused me to look back and remember and smile. And it has inspired me to post my very first blog post ever.
Compared to some others, I'm really just a baby doula. The wonderful doula who trained me has attended over 1,000 births. I have attended only the 300 births. Each one has taught me something new. Each is as unique as the new babies working their way into the world. But I have also noticed that there are similarities. Some things do stay the same from birth to birth. Here's what I've learned.
1. Your partner is three months less pregnant than you.
I hear it all the time: "My husband won't read ANYTHING. He just doesn't seem to be as stressed as I am about the birth and the baby." You are five months pregnant, panicking because you're realizing that you've passed the halfway mark and you are nowhere near ready and your partner is still at the two-month "Wow, we're gonna have a baby." You arrive at eight months pregnant, desperate to check off all on your to-do list and your beloved is JUST arriving at five months: "We should get started on some preparations, shouldn't we?"
First of all, this pregnancy is happening to YOU not to him. Having never been with a pregnant partner I'm completely surmising here, but I'm thinking it's possible to go off to work, get involved with a project and absolutely forget that there's a baby in the making. Not possible for the woman with said baby on her bladder.
2. How a woman is treated during her birth matters immensely.
I began to get a glimpse of this reality during my own labors and I've seen it over and over again. When all is said and done, baby is born and everything is over, women will either remember their labor as a precious time when they felt loved and cared for or as a time when they felt frightened, powerless and abandoned. Babies will hear one of these two versions of their birth stories. We owe it to ourselves and to our sisters and daughters to see to it that every woman gets to tell the happier version of a birth story.
3. Labor, and birth, open women both physically and emotionally.
Have you noticed that you or pregnant women you've known are more emotional during their pregnancies? Many times, when I ask this question at a childbirth class, I get perplexed looks from women and, behind them, wide-eyed nods from their husbands. We pregnant women cry at the fast food commercials that depict sweet little girls in glittering crowns and at film commercials reminding us of how quickly babies become children and young adults. Small challenges that we would normally negotiate with aplomb might leave us in tears. Sometimes, we even cry for no apparent reason or provocation.
That emotional vulnerability gets bigger in labor. This is a big reason why couples need to be very, very selective about the members of their birth team. The things we say to a laboring woman and the things we do in her presence can have a tremendous impact on her labor, on her perception of how things are going, on her memories of her birth. It is almost like we have a main-line to her psyche: The things we say go directly to her most receptive, most vulnerable place and make an impact. Women can FEEL when someone in the room is fearful or judgmental of her or when there is just something going on that we're not telling her about.
4. Dads need support, too, for themselves and to benefit mom.
That emotionally open thing is especially important for partners to know. I can tell by how my husband throws his keys on the counter at the end of the day what kind of day he's had. When a woman is in labor, she looks to her partner for a feeling of safety. It is the partner's job to protect her space. If a woman's husband looks or seems scared, she picks up on that and the fear spreads to her. Partners need to be supported so that they can relax and feel safe. When partners feel safe, they communicate that safety to the laboring woman so she can open, surrender, let go and birth her baby. Consider carefully who will be supportive of Dad during labor.
5. Doulas are worth every dime.
I humbly confess to putting a tremendous amount of pressure on my husband when we were planning our first birth. I have vivid memories of asking him to remember about a thousand things for when labor came: positions to relieve back labor, positions to turn a posterior baby, specific words and phrases I thought would be helpful and encouraging, risks, benefits and alternatives to everything under the sun. The man had never been near a woman in labor and he doesn't even HAVE a uterus.
So here's the part where it sounds like I'm selling snake-oil, but I know this to be true: having a doula at your birth makes a difference. It makes a difference not only to the laboring woman, but to her sometimes scared, often tired, almost always out of his depth partner. My husband still has a thing for our doula. When she arrived at our birth when I was in labor, some 18 years ago, I was sitting on a birth ball in the shower. I had not even seen her yet, she had only been in our house for a minute and a half, but my husband came into the bathroom and said, with the most relief I'd ever heard in his voice, "Whatever we paid her, she's worth every dime." Just her being there, just having a calm someone who knew what to expect, who could tell us that we were still within the realm of normal meant the world to us both.
Thanks for reading! Come back next week for Part II of 10 Things 300 Births Have Taught Me!