Do you want to have a natural birth? If you’ve been following this short series, you read this post a few months ago and hopefully have begun educating yourself on the beautiful process called birth.
At your core, you the innate ability to give birth to your baby - every woman does. As Laurie Stavoe Harm eloquently says, “There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that childbirth is painful, it’s that women are strong.”
But there is no denying that birth is generally intense, hard, soul wrenching work. In light of that, it’s best to prepare yourself in a variety of ways if you really want the experience of your dreams.
Last time we talked about the necessity of knowledge; today we’ll talk about your support system. Specifically: do you have a labor dream team? In order to explain this system in an easy, mainstream way, Unbiased Papa suggested I use a baseball analogy. So let's call the people who will be with you on your labor day your line up.
Your line up is a group of people you have chosen to surround you on your big day and help you knock it out of the park - aka achieve your best birth. At its most basic level, a labor line up generally includes your partner, your nurse and your primary care provider. However, sometimes you need or want a few more star players on your team such as a friend, mother, doula or childbirth educator.
Let's jump right in and take a look at our super stars!
First up is rookie of the year! Since the 1970’s, men have been accompanying their wives in labor and have been expected to actively participate in the birth of their child. Traditionally, this has often taken the form of labor coach. Today, we are beginning to rethink this expectation, considering how stressful it might be for a man to assume full responsibility for your comfort and support, especially because he is not a trained professional and is just as new to this experience as you are.
So what roles do men play? According to current research, there are three roles that fathers can take: coach, teammate and witness. As the name suggests, a “coach” takes a major, active role in leading and directing you through labor, a “teammate” helps you with guidance from a doula or nurse and a “witness” observes the process. Every partner will have varying levels of comfort with each of these positions and you should talk to him about what role you each want him to play.
So, in a nutshell, your partner does provide:
- Emotional support that no one else can equal
Comfort measures for you, depending on his level of comfort
Advocacy. Again, depending on how comfortable he is in his level of involvement with the birth, he can help advocate for you when you need a voice
Decision making. While no one else on your birth team can help you make decisions about your birth, your partner can
He bears witness to this incredible event in both your lives
But he does not provide:
The same kind of support that a female companion does, nor does he have the instinctual knowledge of how to help you. Depending on the level of involvement he wants with the birth, he probably should not be your sole source of support
He is not a trained birth professional and is under a lot of emotional duress. Chances are that he does not have the knowledge to help and support you on his own
You might be inclined to think of your nurse as a coach , but she's actually more like an umpire. That is, it's her job to make sure everyone plays by the rules and make sure that your labor runs safely and smoothly.
According to some studies, many people think that their nurse will help them through labor with information, physical touch, emotional support and technical nursing care. Sadly, in today's hospital set up, more emphasis is placed on technology than supportive care. As much as a nurse might want to help support you, chances are that she will be too swamped with other tasks to give you as much help as you may want or need.
Your nurse does:
Start IVs if they are needed for Pitocin, fluids or pain medication
Can provide some comfort measures or support depending on her workload
Can help to induce labor
Monitors baby’s heart rate, your blood pressure and temperature
Times your contractions
Helps to identify and assist with complications and notifies your doctor of them
Helps administer medications
Monitors cervical dilation
Your nurse does not:
Always have time to spend doing supportive care
Assume a labor coach’s position
Whether an obstetrician, midwife or general practitioner, your care provider is someone you have carefully chosen to care for you during your birth and is most like a team manager. You have hopefully built up a relationship with them over the course of your pregnancy and trust them to give ensure that you get the best care.
However, you need to consider a few things before you throw all your trust and hope into your care provider. Number one: they will not be there with you through the whole labor and birth journey. Many care providers don't come until it is close to time to push. This can vary from provider to provider, so be sure to ask them about when they typically arrive a birth. However, your care provider does provide a level of comfort and confidence that no one else gives you because you know and trust this person to oversee the process and take excellent medical care of you and your baby.
Your care provider does:
Stay updated on your progress
Will be there to “catch” the baby
He/she will perform any major interventions if needed
Explains risks and benefits of proposed procedures
Your provider does not:
Help coach you through the whole labor process.
Depending on your provider and what their approach to birth is, they may not perform any supportive measures (midwives tend to perform supportive measures more than doctors)
And there you have it: the typical labor team, at its most basic. Depending on your personal preferences, you may extend this team to include a childbirth educator, family/friends and a doula. Let's take a look at what these positions entail.
Family and friends can take on any role you want them to. You can bring a friend to take a backseat position as an errand runner (like an equipment manager!) or even take pictures. You could have your mother or sister there for emotional support and as an extra pair of hands if your partner gets worn out! Most family or friends are glad to help if you ask. Whatever you decide on, it's a highly personal decision. Some women can't imagine giving birth without being surrounded by friends. Others are horrified at the thought of anyone but their spouse and medical professionals being with them.
A childbirth educator takes on the role of a trainer. She helps to prepare you for the birth process by providing you with education, options and support before labor day arrives. She walks you through the physical process of birth, teaches you to recognize signs of labor, guides you through different comfort measures and positions you can utilize for your labor, discusses the pros and cons of medical interventions and covers basic postpartum and breastfeeding information. A quality birth educator will also help a partner find his confidence and develop his skills to provide physical and emotional support during the birth.
Last but not least, you have the doula - a utility player of sorts. A doula is a highly trained birth professional. She knows a wide variety of comfort measures for various labor scenarios. She can help remind your partner how to use these techniques in case he forgets what he learned in birth class; she can guide him if he gets scared or confused. Apart from your partner, a doula is the only one in your room who works solely for you. She is not overly burdened to follow protocols set forth by the doctor or hospital. Her focus is you.
Recognize birth as a key experience the mother will remember all her life
Understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor
Provides emotional support, physical comfort measures and an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the woman get the information she needs to make informed decisions
Facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and her clinical care providers
Allows the woman's partner to participate at his/her comfort level
She does not
Provide medical guidance
Perform clinical duties such as cervical checks and temperature monitoring
Make decisions for you
Provide complete childbirth education
And there you have it: a complete labor team. What you will want for your own team is a highly individualized decision. If you are one of those people who doesn't even want to think about anyone but your partner and nurses being there with you on your big day, carefully consider the implications of this decision. Likewise, if you are a person who wants to be surrounded by family and friends, take a moment to think about how that could impact your birth before you decide for once and for all. With time, thought and preparation, you will come to the best decision for you in your own circumstances, will surround yourself with a perfect line up and hit the ball out of the park.