Hope in giving birth during unsettling times
I wanted to offer a little good news this morning, in response to all of the bad news going on nowadays, especially for pregnant women like me. I read an article recently, where Betsy Howard said, "Five weeks from my due date, my expectations for what my baby’s birth will look like are being stripped away, one at a time."*
Oh sister, I have been wondering about that myself and for several friends of mine who are currently pregnant. Whether we are considering a home birth or a hospital birth, the upcoming births of our babies can seem scarier now than it seemed a few months ago. I wanted to offer some unchanging hope to all you pregnant woman, your partners and doulas.
Most importantly, the Creator of the Universe is not surprised by the pandemic of Covid-19. He knew what these months would hold long before any of us living through it were born. And He knew that I would be pregnant and that Betsy would be pregnant, and He has a plan for our births. I don't know what those plans are, and of course I cannot say that they will be perfect, without complications, and result in healthy babies and healthy mamas. But I can say that God is in control. I believe that with every fiber of my being (though, I admit, I often repent of my doubts); however, God is unchanging, and He is good and kind. Therefore, He is good and kind during this pandemic, and He is my most constant hope.
Secondly, for those of us who have husbands or partners that will attend our births, let me offer some hope-filled advice. Your baby mama NEEDS you. Birth is always an intense time, even in perfect situations. And you are one of the people who loves and knows your woman the best. You are a vital support in that birthing room. You need to know that and own that. I've had an unofficial doula at each of my births, and though they were vital to my experiences, my husband was the most necessary. He made me feel strong and brave. He didn't do everything perfectly, and he is still afraid of this upcoming birth, bless his heart, but he was what I needed. I love you my Beezy.
Here are some of the things your lady will need from you:
1. She needs your full attention - She doesn't need you calling your best friends on the phone or watching the ESPN results (sparse as they may be nowadays). She doesn't need you sleeping on the couch, unless of course she is trying to sleep as well. She needs your eye contact and your encouraging words and the reminders that she will soon meet the child in her womb.
You can tell her, I'm here with you. I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to help you this whole time.
2. She need you to validate her pain or the intensity she feels - This will help her not to feel weak or unable. She needs you to affirm that each contraction is getting her closer, that she can relax during the breaks in-between, that you think she is strong when she is moaning.
You can tell her, I know this sucks, but you're killing it! You are so strong. I am so proud of you. You've come this far, and you're so close to meeting your baby. Those are good moans/breaths - release the pain.
3. She needs you to remind her to pee, change positions, breathe and relax - A woman in labor should pee at least once an hour, and she may need your help physically to get to the bathroom or stand up from the toilet. She needs reminding to change positions every 30-60 minutes to progress labor. She may not want to, but you need to help her. Mostly, she needs you to remind her to breathe deeply and effectively, especially if she is pushing. Remind her to focus less on screaming or yelling at you (if she is doing that) and more on her breathing. She needs to continue getting oxygen to her baby and giving herself the oxygen she needs to effectively push. She will absolutely need you to remind her to RELAX. When tense or in pain, we often clench our hands or scrunch our face muscles, which exacerbates the pain. You need to remind her to relax her shoulders and unclench her fists, to relax her jaw (relaxing the jaw correlates exactly with relaxing the pelvis!) and her forehead. You can touch the parts of her body as you remind her to relax them.
You can say, Let me help you get up to pee. Let's try a new position; I know you don't want to, but it could help baby come sooner. Big breath in, hold it, big breath out. Focus on your breathing. Breathe out the pain. Relax that jaw (want a kiss to help??). Loosen your shoulders.
4. She needs you to affirm her - How this looks will vary depending on the woman, and since you know her best, use your knowledge and your intimacy to encourage her in the best way she needs. Some women need to be told they are beautiful and strong and can do this. Some women need you to pray over them. Some women need you to silently hold her hand. Some women need you to turn on Ridiculousness to laugh through the pain. You know what your lady needs, and you need to give her what will most encourage her to push (literally!) through the pain.
5. You need to know that you will feel helpless - There is a time during the birthing process, especially for a first baby, where you most likely will feel helpless. You may be worried about her pain or her health or the outcome of the baby. You may be exhausted from a long labor. You may be nervous that you are her only support and aren't doing a good job. Your presence is enough. You are enough. Despite what I have said earlier, you being present and you trying will mean more than you will ever know. Believe in yourself too. Labor and birth is very intense for partners and husbands. Know that beforehand, and it will help.
You can take a break during early labor; take a quick walk outside or in the hallway. Call your mom or best friend for a little encouragement yourself. Hand off your lady to your doula for a few minutes. And eat - make sure you are nourished because you yourself will need lots of energy for the active labor. Of course, sometimes labor is very fast, and you won't get a break. You will be okay, I promise. The baby will come, and at some point, you'll be able to get some sleep :)
6. You need to know that you can fight to allow a doula to attend the birth - Even though there are restrictions on birth attendants right now, as there should be, several organizations are urging hospitals to allow doulas to attend births as medically necessary personnel. The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal advise the following regarding doulas and Covid-19:
“AWHONN recognizes that doula services contribute to the woman’s preparation for and support during childbirth and opposes hospital policies that restrict the presence of a doula during a woman’s active labor.
“Doulas are not visitors and should not be blocked from caring for patients in the antepartum, intrapartum and postpartum period. Most doulas have been contracted by patients weeks to months ahead of time and have established provider relationships. They are recognized by AWHONN and ACOG as essential personnel and part of the maternity care team" (bold mine) (Nancy Travis).**
I hope that these encouragements did just that, encourage you, as a pregnant person, as a partner, and perhaps as a fellow doula. I have been so encouraged in reading about the responses of medical professionals and our community. Did you know there are several people on Facebook Classified right now who are offering free dinners to people who need it in our community? Did you know the Meals on Wheels is still functioning and serving food to the disabled and needy in Casper? Did you know that there are whole groups of people who are spending full days buying hard-to-find items, like toilet paper, and diapers and wipes for the at-risk people in our community who aren't able to go out and find these things?
Though times are uncertain and even depressing right now (I know all this staying at home has been hard for my morale), there is so much hope for us all, pregnant women, newborns and all.
May you all be blessed and encouraged today. See below articles for more information on cited quotes.
* Howard, Betsy Childs. “Pregnant in a Pandemic: Coping and Hoping.”The Gospel Coalition, The Gospel Coalition, 3 Apr. 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/pregnant-in-pandemic/
**DONA Intl. “COVID-19 & Doulas - DONA International Recommendations.”DONA International, DONA International, 23 Mar. 2020, www.dona.org/covid-19-and-doulas/