"What is the best way for me to help?"
It doesn't matter where you come from or how advanced you are in your profession. When you have never before witnessed birth and are about to step up to the task of supporting your beloved on a journey famous for its intensity and unpredictability, it is normal to feel reduced to the status of "rank amateur".
Here are five tips to build your confidence and help you support the birth of your child like a pro:
1) Get Educated
Take a prenatal class that is geared towards giving you skills to work together with your partner to effectively promote comfort and relaxation thoughout labour and the postpartum period. Make sure your options and rights will be outlined in a way that is objective and evidence based, respecting whatever choices your partner and you are thinking about making for the birth and early days of parenting.
Chat with your prospective childbirth educator before choosing a class. Active experience in the field of childbirth and mom/baby support as well as an established excellent reputation with the doctors, nurses, and midwives in your area means your educator will have valuable insider knowledge about your place of birth. A good prenatal class will help you to feel inspired, confident, and empowered to support your partner no matter how birth unfolds!
2) Be Present
At the end of a birth, when Baby is safely in arms, the birthing mama will usually beam at her partner and say, "I couldn't have done it without you," leaving them surprised because they often don't feel like they were particularly useful in easing most of the discomfort. Remember this: it isn't about what you DO, it is about how you ARE. Birth is hard work, and while you can't do it for her, birthing moms appreciate feeling like you're fully available to be leaned on for physical and emotional support.
Since the advent of smart phones and tablets, the opportunity for distraction is always available. It is common to hear of partners frequently updating folks outside the birthing room as to what is going on inside of it. Whenever possible, TURN OFF YOUR DEVICE! Birthing folks don't like feeling their partner was connected to everyone else but them.
Birth is hard. You are needed. And you only get to have this baby once. Generally the more present you are, the richer and more bonding the birth experience can be for the family. Birthing moms report that what they appreciated most in labour was not the fancy massage techniques their partners used or how handy they were with a stop watch, but simply how THERE they were, tuning into and quietly meeting her needs.
3) Protect the Space
I repeat: birth is hard. Amazing and thrilling, but challenging. Though birthing mothers are the strongest people ever, they are also vulnerable to environmental factors that can impact the groovy hormonal flow which gets the job done. Communication skills are hard for mamas to summon when in the throes of strong labour.
Protecting her space means being a strong but gentle buffer for environmental distractions. Especially in a hospital birth, many questions have to be asked and things explained. If you are able, field the questions you can, especially if your partner is having a contraction. If you feel that a staff member is not understanding your partner's needs because she is too absorbed in her labour process to articulate the way she normally does, participate in the communication. Having good prenatal education under your belt and having a clear understanding of your partners' birth preferences will help you be effective with this task. Doing so in a friendly way is always best for everyone.
If there are family members/friends who show up to your place of birth uninvited or are contributing to the environment in a not so helpful way, lovingly and compassionately explain to them that they need to leave/stop calling the room and that you will give them news AFTER the baby arrives. If their excitement is greater than their tact and you don't want to create drama, you may engage your nurse (who has your back) to play bad cop and enforce the hospital rules about too many people in the room/clogging up the waiting room. You will find nurses are very skilled at doing this in a way that leaves everyone's feelings intact.
4) Stand up for Birthing Mom's Wishes
What goes on in a birthing woman's body is best known to the woman herself in partnership with her caregiver. If a woman had certain plans or expectations about labour, it is possible these things may change as the experience unfolds. Your voice is important. This is your kid too. Your loving encouragement can help soothe the rough edges and get her through the hardest bits. You will discuss decisions together. But in the end, the choices will be hers. If she wants to birth naturally and you find yourself scared of the "fierce", breathe and trust so she knows you're okay. If she wants pain relief when you knew she wanted a natural birth no matter what you try to bring comfort, I repeat: breathe and trust. Don't take it personally. Always make her feel like the rock star she is. Unconditional support from you helps the changes in birth expectations be embraced as empowering, not defeating. She will carry those feelings of support and empowerment into new motherhood, shaping the quality of her experience.
5) Take Care of YOU
There was a time partners were never allowed in the birthing room. Now there is an expectation upon them to not only be there, but to be the primary source of comfort, the one to figure out how to support birthing mama's self-advocacy, know all the questions to ask, understand the benefits and risks of interventions, at the same time as being an emotionally invested and desperately sleep deprived partner and parent. That can leave birth partners very depleted at the time they most need to take care of their new little family.
Ensure you get rest during labour's down times, remember to eat and hydrate, take breaks so you can take little walks to compose yourself, tell yourself frequently that you are doing an AMAZING job, deal gracefully with the surprise appearance of bodily fluids, ask your primary healthcare providers for information when necessary so you can make choices together about clinical care, and know that sudden barf, odd sounds, and the striking of surprising poses are perfectly normal during labour. If this sounds overwhelming, get some support. It feels great to have some of that pressure off so all you need to do is bring the love. Whomever you choose as a support person, they will ideally uphold you as the indispensable and primary support person that you are.
Doula care is famous for how much it supports birthing mothers, reducing the risk of common medical interventions that may not necessary for her case, increasing maternal satisfaction, etc. The case for doulas. But doulas are there for the partner too!
I wish you the most wonderful birth imaginable, Precious Birth Partner.