As I started working on this book, one question came up that surprised me: “what is a birth partner?”
As I thought about the question, I realized I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the answer to the question covers a lot of the reasons for the existence of this book in the first place!
A “birth partner” is a (non-medical) person that helps a woman through childbirth. The birth partner provides both practical and emotional support. Practical support means helping with things that need to be done, like driving to the hospital, getting water for the laboring mother to drink, or holding a leg during pushing. Emotional support means providing reassurance, comfort, or strength. Sometimes emotional support is as simple as holding the laboring mother’s hand or stroking her hair, and sometimes it’s a lot more complicated.
The term “birth partner” isn’t used a lot in general conversation. TV and movies usually don’t portray men as effective birth partners (usually because TV and movies rarely have accurate birth scenes, but that’s another topic). Sometimes the grandmother-to-be or a friend of the mother-to-be is shown in the birth partner role. No matter who the birth partner is, in real life or on TV, they don’t get called a “birth partner”. They get referred to more specifically:
- “my husband, Bob”
- “my mom”
- “my best friend, Jenny”
Anyone can act as a birth partner. Most often, the birth partner role is filled by someone with a very close relationship to the mother-to-be. Sometimes, two people fill that role. Occasionally, a professional support person, such as a doula, is hired to be a birth partner.
Regardless of who the birth partner is, it’s important to the laboring mother to have a birth partner that is supportive both practically and emotionally.
I mentioned earlier that the explanation of what a birth partner is covers a lot of the reasons for the existence of this book. This book was written mostly for men (though it’s perfectly applicable to other birth partners-to-be). Men generally understand that women in labor need practical support. That’s what the doctor and nurses (or midwife, or other medical staff) are for, right? Well, not exactly. On the emotional side, men don’t usually realize the need a laboring mother will have for emotional support until the middle of labor. By then, it’s too late to get prepared to provide the kind of support that the laboring mother needs.
In other words, as a culture, or at least as men within this culture, we don’t understand that both practical and emotional support are necessary. And even when we do, we don’t take the time to find out what kinds of practical and emotional support are needed at different stages of labor.
With that in mind, let’s look back at the earlier definition and update it just a little bit.
A good birth partner is a (non-medical) person that helps a woman through childbirth, by providing useful practical support and the right kind of emotional support throughout the labor process.
Birth partners, this is what I hope you aspire to. (The Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner book can help!)