Now we get to the other, crucial task of the partner. And honestly, if you manage to implement just part 2, you'll be light-years ahead in the labor room. But let's take it further. (Yes, there's more!)
If a partner is NOT a coach (or a bouncer or a doctor or a doula or a bystander), what else can he/she do to actually get through this ordeal of birth? How can the partner be present and supportive? While the partner is not giving birth, the partner IS becoming a parent on this day. Whether a father or an other-mother, that role is one of the most important to assume through the birth.
It's easy to get caught up in the supportive role and forget that you are also becoming a parent. But taking a step back, you can choose to enjoy this unfolding of the birth process, remember that your experience of the birth is unique and allow yourself to be supported, too.
Enjoy becoming a parent
This is a HUGE day (or two. or three) for you. Of all the days we live, the day we become parents is one of the most memorable and joyous. Not only is it significant because you will finally meet your child, but you will also experience a swath of other emotions and physical sensations. You are ALIVE today.
And there is a conscious choice to be made. I attend many births, and the emotional approach of the couple can set the tone for the labor experience. Is it one of fear and vigilance? (If so, it might be helpful to revisit your choice of birth team.) Is it stress over getting everything “right”? (Maybe go back and read part 1 in this series. Let yourself off the hook.) But this attitude is a choice! Bring some intention to how you want to move and be through this rite of passage.
You can choose to enjoy the process. This “birth story” is one you will likely retell to many curious loved ones. What will yours be? How can you bring intention to your role in it?
What you can do:
1) Many couples realize they can truly enjoy the process of birth more if they do all of their homework ahead of time. Have some good conversations with your lady about the place of birth and the choice of care provider. Do you trust this person or group of people? Do their philosophies of birth line up with yours? Do you feel safe and relaxed with them? I have written a 16-page workbook to help you uncover your own beliefs and expectations of birth, so you can intentionally choose your birth locale and provider. Once you solidify this decision, you are free to relax into the role of lover and parent. Allow the staff to safeguard the medical journey.
2) Take notes or journal through the birth, including the events and your experience of them: “At 5pm the midwife showed up. She smiled when she came in. Your mother was so grateful and I felt excitement that we were moving along!” The partner is present for the entire journey, unlike the care provider, nurses or even the doula. Creating a record of these little moments grounds you firmly in your observation and enjoyment of the story. It is also a priceless gift for the mother and baby. (However, the mother's experience of the labor will be her own. She may want to take some time to integrate her own version before reading yours.)
3) Ask someone else to take a few pictures of the three of you after baby arrives. I see many partners become the photographer when the baby is born. However, the cost of this task is that you are not able to be close and present with the baby and mother as a part of the family. Being IN at least some of the pictures gives you a concrete reminder of your journey into parenthood, too.
4) Plan ahead of time how you would like to handle technology in the labor room. It falls to many partners to field texts and calls from loved ones. Some partners are happy to be the gatekeeper of communication, but some are frustrated by the distractions. Come up with a plan for who you will notify when in labor and how much you will be in contact.
Recognize your Unique Role in the birth room
Partners have a role unlike anyone involved in the birth. The mother is going through the labor as the patient and birthing woman. Most of the other people who are involved are doing so from a medically or emotionally supportive place. The partner is experiencing the entire journey from both the outside AND the inside. Your are taken on the ride of this birth both as a passenger and as an observer.
This unique position as witness to the birth is very sacred. You are intimately a part of it but also holding the space for it. Some partners get emotional whip-lash from their various perspectives. This is normal.
Also, on this day you will be bearing witness to one of the most intense moments in the birthing mother's life. You will be watching this person whom you dearly love experience an enormous complexity of exhaustion, pain, joy, anxiety, fear and excitement and you won't be able to fix it. I can not state strongly enough the intensity of this one unique aspect of the partner's perspective. This is what you will be coping with through the journey.
What you can do:
1) Begin to think about your own coping during labor. What do you do now to get through challenging times? When you're stuck in traffic or dealing with physical discomfort, what helps you? Imagine how those tools will assist you during the birth process.
2) Plan ahead if you are squeamish about the blood, the birth process or medical procedures. I have been hired as a doula by couples solely because the father was a puker or a fainter.
Allow yourself to also be supported
To be able to enjoy the experience and embrace your unique role during the birth, recognize that you will also need support. A hired doula can be just that for you – ensuring that you are not alone in supporting the mother through the labor, but also helping to take care of your needs. If a hired doula isn't a possibility, then you can talk with the mother about an alternative. Do you have a trusted, close person who can be present through part or all of the labor to help you both?
Additional support for you may be physical: taking naps, getting food, a second body to help with labor support positions. You may also need emotional support: someone (aside from the mother) to chat with about the birth, someone to reassure you that things are normal.
Do NOT fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be, say and do everything alone for the laboring mother. The birth of a baby takes a small village. It is ok if she gets support elsewhere or if you take a break.
What you can do:
1) Imagine through different parts of the labor what your own needs might be. During early labor, when you are likely still at home, what logistics need to be covered? What will help you sleep and rest while you can? Once at the hospital, what comfort items can help you? Your own house-shoes, an extra pillow and some snacks can make you feel human after a long night.
2) HIRE A DOULA. Interview several and pick one you both like. Remember this person will be with you for a long stretch of time (probably), so go with a personality fit. If there are financial constraints, reach out to one or two experienced doulas in the area for recommendations. Some hospitals also offer volunteer or low-fee doulas (who are often compensated by grants or donations).
3) If birthing in a hospital, take the tour together. Ask what is available for partners for comfort: a place to sleep? Snacks/cafeteria? Pillows? These questions apply to both the labor floor and the postpartum floor.
4) During labor, accept help. Take bathroom breaks when the mother is sleeping or has another support person present. TAKE NAPS, especially early in the labor. Eat as needed (but not in front of her), being mindful to choose foods she won't mind smelling on your breath.
I hope this ignites excitement and relief in you. As an observer of birth, I'm also an observer of humans. It is one of my favorite aspects of the doula job, watching partners become parents. And when they first meet their baby, then look back in awe at the mother, the new family is born.
How are YOU preparing to become a parent? What are you most looking forward to in the birth process?