All posts for the month April, 2014

This one’s for the moms-to-be out there.

As a mother-to-be, you’ve almost certainly been getting prepared.  You know your due date.  you know what week you’re at.  You’ve got the nursery planned out (or set up already), started figuring out which diapers to use, which bottles will be best, and of course, decided whether to go with froggies or birdies on baby’s bath towels.

You’re probably also looked at, registered for, or taken birthing classes at your hospital.  You might have pre-registered.  As a very pro-active gal, you’ve also started working through the Plan-Ahead series (or maybe the planning checklists in the book).  You’ve got this as under-control as you can (and, you admit, there’s a lot you can’t control, but what you can, oh boy, you’ve got that!), and you’re feeling pretty good about things.

What about him?  You know, your husband (or boyfriend, or whomever your birth partner is going to be–and if he’s a she, just adjust pronouns and other words as needed).  That guy that’s going to be by your side through the birthing process.  Do you trust him as a birth partner?

We both know he’s a great guy.  Funny, smart, handsome, fantastic at grilling burgers.  We both know he cares about you and would do anything for you.

But…there’s something in you that’s just a bit concerned about him.  Your concern probably falls into one of two categories (they’re listed in the book, and I’m not going to list them here, lest you decide that you should be concerned about both categories), and that makes you feel just a little bit uneasy.  You absolutely want him by your side during the birth, but you kind of, just a little bit, also want someone that you know will be steady and fully equipped as a birth partner.

As a side note, that’s one reason people hire doulas, even if they’re having a hospital birth.  They’re experienced, generally pretty steady, and they’re usually pretty well equipped as birth partners, that being their job and all.

Let me paint a different picture for you.  What if, instead of that little bit of unease, you looked over at him.  Funny, handsome, smart.  And you thought about him by your side during the birth.  You realized he’s going to be steady, solid, and he’ll know what to do.  Even if he doesn’t know what to do, he’ll know enough that he’ll be able to figure it out and you know he will completely take care of you.  You can trust him.

Did you have a little shiver there?  That’s a pretty exciting scenario.  And if that’s your scenario, you’re in a much better situation that most women heading into the birthing room.

If you can trust him as a birth partner, you’ll be able to focus on birthing your baby.  You won’t be splitting your attention.  You’ll be able to relax, knowing that he’ll do the right thing, the thing in your best interest, and that you’ll be surrounded by steady loving care.

I’m not a woman, and I’ve never given birth, but I’m pretty sure that sounds appealing.

If you want that, don’t just dream about it (though even as a guy, that scenario sounds pretty great).  Figure out what your concerns are about him as a birth partner.  Then work through them together.

There are resources out there that can help.  The Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner is, I think, a great resource.  It may not be the right resource to address your concerns.  Leave a comment below, or email me, and I will do my best to help you find the right resource for you.

From the Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner:

When a woman is trying to push a baby out, it can be helpful for her to widen the birth canal by moving her legs to the side and toward her head.  While it’s theoretically possible for a woman to pull her legs back by herself while still pushing strongly, it’s not the best use of her energy.  You may be asked to “hold her legs”, or notice the opportunity yourself.  Your wife will guide you by moving her legs to where they need to be.  Your part is to hold them there during a contraction so that she can push, then gently move them back to a resting position.  It’s easier than it sounds, but be ready for it.

That paragraph pretty well covers the basics of leg holding.  It makes sense when you’re there, going through it, but it does help to know what to expect and to be ready for it.

Here are a few other notes:

  • She only needs her legs held during pushing, which is toward the end of labor (Stage 2, as it’s called).  She probably won’t want her legs held too early or too late in the process.  Once the baby is born, holding her legs will just annoy her.
  • You’ll probably only hold one leg.  A member of the medical team will most likely take the other.
  • She’ll only need her legs held in certain pushing positions.  If she’s trying different pushing positions, you might be able to help in other ways (maybe holding her steady during a push).
  • The leg positioning you’re after goes something like this:  lie on your back with your knees bent and your legs flat on the floor.  Let your legs fall open, apart from each other.  Then, keeping your legs as far apart as possible, bend your legs at the hips to move your knees as close to the same-side shoulder as possible.
  • Pull gently but firmly (don’t pull too far, pinch/twist her skin, or anything uncomfortable like that).  When you’re done, slowly and gently return her leg to a resting position.

It’s not complicated, and isn’t always necessary.  But if she starts pulling her legs back, help her out.  She’ll appreciate the help, and even more than that, she’ll appreciate that you’re paying attention and trying to help her before she asks.

The previous post talked about the importance of providing emotional support.  This post is going to examine using words for emotional support, and the importance of making sure the words you use are encouraging.

As a birth partner, you want to keep the spirits of the laboring mother up.  If she gets down on herself, grumpy, or starts feeling like she just can’t do it anymore, her birth experience is going to be more difficult.  Not only that, she’s going to remember the experience less positively.  In turn, that means, while she may appreciate help you provided, she’ll still associate you with a less-positively-remembered experience.

Bummer.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be associated with an experience that she remembers as positively as possible?

Let’s examine some American wisdom literature:

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,

and the deer and the antelope play,

where seldom is heard a discouraging word

and the skies are not cloudy all day!

The poet reminds us that an experience remembered as pleasantly as critters frolicking in a sunny field cannot include discouraging words.

The generic sports movie coach might give his team some “tough love” early on.  But how often do they make it to the championship game, head to the locker room at halftime, only to hear the coach say “You know, boys, y’all really don’t have what it takes.  I know it’s a close game, but I can’t see that second half going any better.  Sure can’t see us winning.  But I suppose, let’s get out there and not embarrass ourselves too badly.”  Doesn’t happen.

So don’t get into the birthing room and be discouraging.  Here are a few things that might come to mind that you shouldn’t say:

  • “The nurse doesn’t think you’re doing very well.”
  • “You look tired.  And we’re barely getting started.”
  • “Can’t you make this go any faster?”
  • “I thought we’d decided no epidural.  Why can’t you stick to the plan?”
  • “I have a feeling you’re going to need a C-Section if you can’t do better.”

There are many, many other things that can be discouraging.  Think before you speak, and look for words that build her up, give her hope, remind her she’s not along, and give her extra strength.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • “I’m proud of how you’re holding up.”
  • “You can do it.”
  • “I know you can do this.”
  • “I’m here with you.”
  • “That’s good, keep it up, you’re doing great.”

Keep these in mind as things to say if you can’t think of something encouraging at a particular moment.  Having some fallback phrases in mind can be helpful during stressful parts of the birth process, because you don’t have to feel as on-the-spot to come up with words and make sure they’re encouraging.

The tone you use matters, but that’s a different post.  For now, just remember that your tone needs to match the words you’re saying.  Encouraging words with a distant (or worse, discouraging) tone will undo any good of the words, make the poor laboring mother feel unsupported, and you’ll have to fix the problem you created for both of you.

Use encouraging words, with a sincere and encouraging tone, and you’ll be well on your way to being an awesome birth partner.

 (There are more encouraging, supportive, comforting words in the Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner.)

Men, you probably don’t realize this, but the single most important type of support you can provide is…

Take a guess.  Is it “emotional support” or “physical support”?

Emotional support means things like being loving, reassuring, holding her hand, helping to distract her when she needs it, and helping her to focus when she needs to.

Physical support means things like getting her water when she’s thirsty, helping with comfort techniques, holding her leg while she’s pushing, and we will even include things like helping make sure she gets pain medication or an epidural when needed.

On the one hand, touchy-feely stuff.  On the other, tangible things-I-can-do.

You’re probably thinking it’s not even close.  You’re right.  Not even close.

While researching the Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner, I heard a story.  A young lady headed to the hospital to give birth.  For reasons that don’t affect the story, she ended up having to go alone.  She didn’t have a support person that could come with her.  Not the father of the baby, not one of her parents, not a sister, not a close friend.  I felt bad hearing that.

It turned out to be a fairly long and painful birth.  Because she didn’t have a support person with her, the nursing staff filled that role.  From what I understand, they always had at least one nurse there just to be a support person, in addition to any nurses there for the usual medical tasks.

Finally, the baby was born, she got a chance to rest, and at some point, she was given some sort of “how’d we do” survey about the birth.  One of the questions was something along the lines of “On a scale of 1-10, how enjoyable was your birth experience?  1=awful, 10=rainbows and unicorns”

She put down 10.

Someone on the hospital staff noticed the answer to that question, and went to talk to her, thinking she had, perhaps, misunderstood the rating scale.  After all, it had been a long, painful birth–not just by the new mother’s experience, but according to the opinion of the medical professionals as well.

“Oh, no, I understood it.  I meant to put ten,” she said.  “Yes, it hurt a lot.  But I’ve never felt more loved and supported in my life!”

So there you have it.  Emotional support, at least to a woman in labor, is usually far more important than anything you’ll provide in terms of physical support.

So, men, while those physical support skills are important, being able to provide emotional support will be much more important to the woman you love.

It’s not even close.