Friday, August 28, 2015

5 Essential Ways to Help your Partner Give Birth

Dads and Moms who are about to witness their partner give birth often have many concerns.  As a childbirth educator, doula, and friend I have been asked by over a thousand concerned birth partners:

"What is the best way for me to help?"

It doesn't matter where you come from or how much mastery you have in other areas of your life.  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 throughout pregnancy, 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,".  The partner sometimes looks surprised because they may not 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 BE.  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.  You helped Baby get in there (whether biologically or not) with love.  It is love that will help get it out.

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 DEVICES! 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 individuals 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 their 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 explain to them that they need to leave/stop calling the room. Reassure them 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.

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 family.

Ensure you get rest during labour's down times, remember to eat and hydrate, and 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 strange 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 primary birth support person that you are.

Doula care is famous for how much it helps birthing mothers, reducing the risk of common medical interventions that may not be necessary for her case, increasing maternal satisfaction with the birth experience, and increasing breastfeeding success rates. But doulas are there for the partner too, ensuring you get what you need to make this experience as wonderful as possible for you.

No matter what, I know you're going to come through.   You've got this.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is my Baby a Jerk?

You have the most amazing baby in the world.  You are SO in love with this bundle of joy.  Those eyelashes nestled fan-like, ever so delicately upon his face as he sleeps....those little hands...the thigh chub...utter perfection!  We know your gratitude knows no limits for this magnificent baby of yours.  And, let's face it:


One day on a postpartum visit after a particularly long birth the mother dealt with like a rock star, the dad took me aside.  He wanted to be out of earshot of his wife who at that particular moment was cooing animatedly at their little son as he spat sour milk up all over himself, as proud of him as if he had just ended world hunger.  

Looking cautiously over his shoulder Dad said, "Don't get me wrong.  We love this baby more than words can express.  But he cries a lot.  Like, a LOT.  We worked really hard to birth him. We feed him, we change him, we hold him, we make stupid faces at him, we talk to him in voices our friends would never let us live down if they heard. We are doing our best to make him happy. We adore him, but between you and me, I think he's kind of a jerk sometimes.  I'm terrible, right?"

I hugged this earnest new papa, so invested in his child's happiness, willing to wrestle a pride of lions if need be to protect his family. He was feeling so powerless about the reality that there were times he couldn't elicit smiles and contentment from Junior despite his valiant efforts, and so guilty that he couldn't help entertaining a negative thought about this precious new life entrusted to him.

"You're not terrible at all," I reassured him. "Most parents feel like this at times. Besides, it's true," I admitted, having been in the trenches of life with New Baby a few times myself.  "Babies CAN be jerks."  

I believe it is important for parents to be able to have the space to express the truth of their frustration once in a while amidst their sweet whispers of undying love.  Lectures from those who feel the need to snap people out of their emotional struggle by reminding them how grateful they should be for their babies can serve to create shame around these occasional feelings which, if you check in with most parents, you'll find are pretty normal.

Babies are born unprofessional at this life business.  They aren't interested in keeping decent hours. They frankly don't care that you're exhausted and sporting stitches in unspeakable places on their account.  They demand attention in excessively dramatic ways.  They are incontinent.  As soon as you remove one poop saturated garment to replace it with a fresh one, they explode tiny little geese.  They throw up without apology, and rarely let you get any work done.  It is a fine day when you can take a shower AND do a load of dishes.  

There will be times when for a moment we are caught up in taking it all just a little bit personally.  The sheer magnitude of new parent love can strip us down to emotional brass tacks, exposing the soft underbelly of vulnerability which lies just beneath the thin veneer of "I have my sh*t together."  We can find ourselves feeling irrational in moments of overwhelm, ashamed at our intruding  frustration when just moments before we knew with absolute certainty there was never a more holy being on Earth than our very own baby.  

There is no need to be so hard on ourselves.  It is normal and okay to wonder sometimes if our babies (and older children) are intentionally sabotaging our efforts to be great parents. 

If you whisper to me that you secretly think your baby might be a jerk, I'll meet you in that place with empathy.  Go ahead and let off a little steam.  Your baby will not be ruined or jinxed because your parental feelings aren't always pristine. Your gratitude lives within you intact even if you've momentarily misplaced it.  I also promise not to let you know that I'm barely surviving my third teenager. Because that is a whole other story.

MotherWit Doula Care