All posts for the month June, 2014

After going through one birth experience, you might think that you’ve got it down.  Well, you might think that if things went swimmingly.

You very well might.  It’s entirely possible you nailed this birth partner thing, and have nothing to learn.  If so, that’s great!  Also, please let the rest of us know your secrets.  We certainly would benefit.

Having experienced one birth will at least help you know what to expect at different stages, and that by itself is a vital piece of information.  (If you don’t have experience and you want that vital information, along with a lot of other very useful information on how to be an awesome birth partner, download my book.)

But–and this may be surprising to some of you–no two births are the same.  Some are a lot alike.  Some are very different.  My first child kept my wife in labor the longest, including the longest time spent pushing.  We joke, though, that when my second child was born, the doctor needed a catcher’s mitt because he popped out so fast.  With my second child, most of the time between our arrival at the hospital and his birth was spent suppressing pushing and waiting for the doctor.

If I’d been locked into the road map from the first birth, I’d have messed up the second.

Use any previous experience you have as lessons about being physically and emotionally supportive,  Don’t try to apply the specifics.

And good luck!  I hope each time you’re a birth partner, things go even better!

I’m going to keep this one shorter than usual.  Now, I only bring this up because I’ve heard this mentioned by multiple women.  I am not making this up.

Guys, just because you grew up on a farm and have helped deliver cows, pigs, goats, dogs, cats, llamas, and bison doesn’t mean you know anything about helping a woman give birth.

Don’t say “don’t worry, darlin’, I’ve pulled dozens of calves out, I know what I’m doin'”.

I’m guessing not a single one of those mama cows needed emotional support.  Human women don’t (as far as I’ve heard) ever need to be restrained with a headgate during delivery.  And human women can tell you what they’re feeling.

Besides, your role is a bit different.  When you’re helping to deliver a farm critter, you’re the “medical staff”.  When you’re helping the woman you love birth a baby, you’re her support person.  It’s not the same thing.

Finally, before you open your mouth to explain “I’ve been pulling pigs since I was eight”, put yourself in her shoes.  Whether you mean it or not, it’ll come across as equating her a pig (or cow, or goat, or whatever).  I don’t think she’ll like that.

So, to recap:  humans aren’t the same as the farm critters you grew up helping deliver, your role in the birth is going to be much different, and that woman you love won’t like feeling like you’re calling her a cow.

(To end on a bit more positive note, what you’re probably trying to communicate with your farm experience is confidence and competence.  Instead of leading with your farm experience, try something like “I’ll be with you all the way through this.  You can count on me.”  She’ll appreciate that much more!)

This one is for the moms-to-be.

When you become pregnant, your body starts to undergo a lot of changes so that it can successfully grow a person.  Some of those changes combine with your knowledge of what’s going on (i.e. that you’re growing a person and relatively soon will have a baby to take care of) to lead to emotional effects.

In short, mother-to-be, you’ve got a lot going on right now.

And at some point as this is going on, you look over at dad-to-be, and you think to yourself “he’s just going on with life, hasn’t had a single day of morning sickness, his belly’s not getting any bigger, and he certainly isn’t feeling compelled to ‘nest’!”  Without meaning to, you get a bit grumpy with him.  “It must be nice,” you think, “to not have to go through all these changes.”

Yes, yes it is.

Do you think that not having to go through those changes means he’s free from having to make adjustments?

Well, everyone is different, and some men don’t make adjustments until very late in the process.  Most men start experiencing some sort of change-related stress early on.  Usually, though, they don’t talk about it.  They realize that you have a lot going on, and so they deal with their changes while (hopefully) helping you deal with yours.

Some of the changes and adjustments a dad-to-be might experience include:

  • Realizing the responsibility of being a dad and having to provide for a baby
  • Realizing he has no idea how to be a dad and hoping he’ll figure it out
  • Watching you go through morning sickness, experience other various aches and pains, and not feel like he can help
  • Giving up (or planning to give up) activities he enjoys for baby-related reasons (e.g. preparing the nursery, or realizing that you can’t go cliff diving with him right now)
  • Dealing with pressure of keeping up with his normal tasks, adding any normal tasks you’re not able to do (cooking is a common one during scent-sensitive periods of pregnancy), and adding any baby-preparation activities.

That’s just some of them.  Each guy is different and will adjust differently.

There are two things you can take away from this, mom-to-be, that might be helpful.

First, realize that he’s making adjustments–mostly emotional ones–and even more than usual, he’s not going to talk about those feelings much.  He knows you have a lot going on.  If the time is right, you might be able to have a great discussion with him about it, but don’t expect him to bring it up.

Second, when you ask him for help (and that’s a reasonable thing to do), be assertive and not controlling.  “You need to get the nursery painted this week” is controlling.  Not cool.  “The baby is due in a month, and we’ll need some time to get furniture assembled after it’s painted.  I would feel much better if we got the nursery painted this week” is assertive.  He wants to make sure everything gets done, he wants to make sure you’re taken care of, he wants to make sure the baby is healthy–but he also needs some time to process all of this.  He may not understand that in the moment, and may not be able to articulate it, but if he seems to resist doing something, the need for time to process may have something to do with it.  Assertive requests take less effort for him to deal with than controlling demands–besides, it’s good relationship advice anyway.

Understand that he’s making adjustments.  Be assertive (not controlling) when you ask him to do something.  Those two things will help you both get through pregnancy with a stronger relationship.

(And, believe it or not, that by itself could help you have a better birthing experience!)

(This post is lightly edited from the “Surgical Birth – C-Section” chapter of the Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 33% of the births in the U.S. in 2012 were c-section deliveries.  You may not ever experience being a birth partner through a c-section delivery, but you should be prepared for the possibility.

A c-section is major abdominal surgery.  The doctor makes an incision in the mother’s abdomen and pulls the baby out through the incision.  Typically, the mother is awake during the procedure, with only regional anesthesia to block pain sensation.  Occasionally, general anesthesia (the “knock you out” kind) may be used for specific reasons.

To review:  in a c-section, a doctor will cut open your wife’s (or girlfriends, or…) belly, and pull out a baby while she is awake.

Usually, you will be able to stay with her during a c-section.  In some emergency situations, it might not be possible.  But usually, you will be allowed to dress in scrubs and take a seat by her head.  The surgical team will place a screen around the mother’s belly for two reasons:  to avoid infection and to keep the “audience” (you and her) from seeing too much of the cutting.

During this whole process, the mother  may need extra support and reassurance.  All her feelings of control over teh process are gone.  If the c-section is due to a problem with labor (maybe dilation stalled too early), she may have feelings of failure or inadequacy.  She might be tired.  So just like the pushing stage of labor, you need to be the voice she listens to and her encourager.  Tell her how well she did, or how close she is to holding her baby, or how much you love her, or how proud you are of her, or any other encouraging, loving words you can to help her.

In between all those words of reassurance, encouragement, and love, make sure to distract her.  Talk about something that interests her and that will draw her into a conversation.  As soon as you find out a c-section will be necessary, start thinking of distracting topics.  The anesthesia will keep her from feeling pain, but she will still be able to feel pushing, prodding, tugging, and other sensations inside her belly.  The distractions might be necessary to keep her from fixating on what is happening or freaking out.

As you support, encourage, and distract the mother, make sure to observe how she’s doing.  If something seems wrong, bring it to the attention of the medical staff.  If it seems like she is emotionally losing control, physically having trouble, becoming unusually anxious, etc, make sure the medical staff knows.  This is part of being her advocate.

Depending on the circumstances, the surgical team may lower the screen so you can witness the moment of birth.  While the obstetrician delivers the placenta and begins stitching (and/or stapling) the incision (the closing-up process can take quite a while, as there are several layers that need closing), another member of the medical staff will examine your baby.  If you can, take a couple of pictures of your new baby and show them to Baby’s mom while the examination is still going on.  If everything is okay with Baby, the medical staff will hand the baby to you–not to the mother.  Hold Baby close to mom.  She’ll want to see, kiss, and touch Baby, even if she’s not allowed to hold him/her yet.

Now, if there’s something that concerns the medical staff, Baby may need extra attention.  If that happens, someone will tell you what is happening.  If the baby needs to leave the operating room and it is possible for you to go with, quickly ask your wife (girlfriend, etc) whether she would prefer for you to stay with her or with your baby, then decide–very quickly–what you will do.

After everything surgical is finished, the recovery process will begin.  The medical staff will keep a close eye on the mother for a few hours.  At some point, they will give the okay for her to hold Baby and to try breastfeeding.  The timelines depend on how mother and baby are doing–feel free to ask the medical staff, once any emergency situations have passed.

After a c-section, which as a reminder is major abdominal surgery, your wife (girlfriend, etc) will have some serious restrictions on physical activity.  Your task will be to do the things that she can’t, cheerfully and lovingly.  If you do your task well, with a good attitude, it will help your relationship with both your baby and your wife (or girlfriend, but at this point, you get the idea).