“Powerful” and “intense” are words I often use to describe birth. A recent doula client referred to the experience as “epic”. These are strong words! Because birth is a strong experience. Physically and emotionally, there are few experiences that rival birth’s intensity. There are huge shifts in hormone and neurotransmitter levels, almost unfathomable physical changes in mom’s body, and a hugely symbolic transformation of woman into mother.
Women are strong. At every birth I have supported, I have been in awe of mom’s strength of mind and body, of how, if not interfered with, naturally she goes inward, tunes in to her body and rides the waves of birth with power. There is nothing more natural than giving birth, and if women were left completely alone, without any birth support at all, to birth their babies, they and their bodies would allow the process to unfold naturally and instinctively, the way you may have seen a cat or other mammal give birth.
Well, in theory. Part of the reason other mammals give birth so well without teams of professionals guiding them along the way is that no one has taught them to be afraid of birth. Unfortunately, our culture trains us to think of birth as a painful medical event, and this training can lead to fear and stress during labour and birth. This is where good birth support becomes extremely important. Good birth support can contribute to better birth outcomes, as well as more positive memories of the birth experience for the mother.
Stress is the number one enemy of labour. When you feel stressed during labour, your body releases adrenaline and other chemicals which inhibit contractions quite remarkably. Often, when your contractions slow down or stop, maternal care providers get uncomfortable and want to intervene to help move things along. What often results is a “Cascade of Interventions”, increasing the chances of further medical interventions such as epidurals and even cesarean births.
My work as a doula has shown me that good birth support minimizes stress and gives moms a big advantage in avoiding unnecessary medical interventions.
A good birth support person will:
- Trust in the process of birth and know you are fully capable of birthing your baby
- Understand that the choices made during labour and birth are up to you as the mother and no one else. This is your body, your birth, your experience.
- Know the difference between you working hard to cope with contractions and you suffering or panicking. There is a very important distinction! Check out this video of Penny Simkin, Birth Doula for an explanation of the difference.
- Help you to ask important questions of your care providers during birth so you can make truly informed decisions.
- Know enough about labour and birth to help you manage the physical aspect of labour with pain coping techniques, etc.
- Feel calm and grounding to you, able to bring you back to center if you begin to show signs of fear or stress.
- Treat you with unconditional respect and honour your birth choices.
Birth support can come from your doctor or midwife, partner, family members, or your birth doula. It is extremely important to choose your birth support team carefully! Avoid looking for birth support from anyone who’s personality or energy may add to stress or tension in the room. Friends and family members who may not be ideal birth support for you should probably wait to meet your new baby when you’re ready for them after birth.
If you have a mom, sister or friend who you are completely comfortable with and have been able to support you through important experiences in the past, by all means, invite them to help support you during birth. If not, you may want to consider hiring a doula to provide professional birth support to you. 5 Ways A Doula Can Make Your Birth More Blissful is a good article on the benefits of bringing a doula onto your birth support team.
Your partner is another great potential source of birth support for you during labour. I’ve worked with couples where the father truly shined in his role as primary birth support for mama and contributed hugely to her experience. However, I’ve also seen dads struggle a bit with this role. This is really the first time in history when men have been invited into the birthing space as providers of birth support. In a world where people barely talk to women about birth, never mind men, it is difficult for men to know how to be really supportive and helpful during birth. You may want to consider looking at a prenatal class that focuses on ways dad can provide confident and effective birth support and be an important participant in the birth of your child. Birth Takes a Village offers a Dad’s Prenatal Class in Vancouver, BC once monthly. We’ve had great feedback on the class, telling us both parents leave feeling like dad is better prepared to provide really good birth support to mom during labour.
Even if you do have a friend or partner who will be able to support you during birth, it may still be worth exploring your options for hiring a doula. Research has shown that doulas provide more effective birth support than people from mom’s personal life. I was at a birth where mama had her husband, mom and two sisters to support her during labour, and she still felt my presence as a doula made a huge impact on her birth. If you are interested in exploring your options for hiring a doula here in Vancouver, take a look at 5 Tips For Selecting A Doula.
Women remember their births. It has been shown that if you ask a woman years later to describe her birth, what she remembers most is how she was treated during labour:
“Some women have positive, fulfilling, and empowering memories of giving birth. These women feel that they were treated with kindness and their priorities and preferences for care were respected – even if labor was long and comlicated. Other women remember their births with shame, anger, remorse, or resignation. These women feel that they were disrespected, abandoned, or powerless during childbirth, and this negative treatment tarnished their memories of the expeirence.” – From Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn (4th Edition).
Having at least one strong birth support person present for your birth creates a much stronger likelihood that you will remember your own experience as a positive one.