"I just don't know what to do for her."
The pain in his voice was palpable. I felt so bad for my client's husband as he described how bad he felt for his wife. He continued, "I can't do anything right. Everything I try to do for her is wrong and frustrates her." He looked at me with sadness and fear in his expression. "Do you have any ideas?" he said.
Do I?! We began a thorough conversation about the current pregnancy complaints my client was having. Nausea, insomnia and backache. I asked him what he had tried, and as he talked, I could see why his wife was frustrated with his attempts to help. He was so well intentioned, but lacked some knowledge and understanding. As I made suggestions, I could see relief flood through him and suddenly, he was a man with a plan- instead of a (sweet) guy without a clue.
Doulas provide emotional, physical and educational support... not just to laboring women but to their families as well.
Once I was at a birth and mom was close to the pushing stage of labor. The baby's heartrate was dipping during surges and staying down after the surge was over. The team was working to keep mom (who had an epidural) in a knees/chest position to keep pressure off the baby's umbilical cord and help bring the heartrate back up. I could tell the OB was considering whether or not a Cesarean birth would become necessary- suddenly extra staff came into the room and started organizing things for a quick transfer if needed. I was on one side of the bed, helping stabilize Mama and talking to her to keep her calm. As I looked up at Dad on the other side of the bed, I could tell he was figuring out what was going on and was starting to panic. The medical staff was doing their job, preparing for whatever was about to happen next, and they simply didn't have the time or the awareness to reassure Dad that things were good for the moment. Immediately I reassured him saying, "It's ok, Baby and Mama are safe right now. His heartrate is dipping, but it's coming back up, so we're in the right place. The doctor is going to let us know if we need to change gears, but your baby is safe and has everything he needs. It's all good, we're doing good right now." Dad wiped away a tear and took a deep breath, obviously relieved. The next thing I knew, Mama was pushing and had that baby out in 20 minutes... an awesome feat for a first time mama with an epidural. Because her hubby knew what was going on and stayed calm, he could encourage her and help support her effort and it paid off- they had a quick vaginal delivery and a healthy happy baby boy. It was awesome to watch it unfold.
Another time, during a prenatal appointment, a dad shared his fear of all things medical and said he did not think he would be able to cut the umbilical cord as daddies often do. I reassured him, saying that dads often feel that way early on, but when the moment arrives they get caught up in the magic and emotion of it all and have no problem cutting the cord. To make sure he understood what to expect, I explained that cutting a cord feels like cutting through a bunch of rubber bands all twisted together and it may ooze a little blood. I went on to say that if he really didn't want to cut the cord, it was not a big deal and he didn't need to feel obligated to do something he was uncomfortable with. Of course, when his moment arrived, this Daddy excitedly grabbed the scissors and severed the line that had connected his wife and their son, crying happy tears with his new family. Other times, though, a father has decided not to participate, and I have had the honor to make the cut, so to speak. And that's great, too.
One of my favorite parts of supporting laboring couples is giving dads the opportunity and freedom to take care of themselves during labor. Remember the last flight you took, how the flight attendant explained how in case of an emergency you need to put on your oxygen mask before you can help anybody else? Well, it's not so different in labor. Of course, most of the time labor is not an emergency, but the same rules apply. Dads need to take care of themselves in order to take care of their laboring partners. I was at birth recently and Mom was in the tub, enjoying the benefit of the warm water while she labored along. Dad and I were perched on the side of the tub, providing verbal encouragement and some physical comfort and touch. I looked at Dad and noticed an almost imperceptible rocking back and forth in his posture. "Need a break?" I said.
"No, no." he replied.
A minute later I asked, "When's the last time you ate?" to which he said, "I grabbed a granola bar half an hour ago."
"OK." I said. But as I continued to steal glances his way I could see his discomfort. "You know it's ok to step away for a minute if you need to. Mama is really comfortable and I got this if anything changes." He looked at me for a moment and then exclaimed, "I really need to pee!" as he jumped up and dashed to the washroom. Mama and I giggled as he left. His need to be his partner's EVERYTHING during labor was causing great distress! All he needed was permission to leave her side for a few minutes to take care of business. I always encourage Mama's partner to grab a break when they can. A breath of fresh air, a coffee and a quick sandwich or a bathroom break are essential to endure a lengthy labor. Even a nap is encouraged if there is time, maybe Mama has a epidural and is napping, too. Get the rest while you can!
Of course, taking a childbirth education class will hope both parents understand the process of labor and childbirth, and give them a sense of knowledge and confidence as they approach their baby's birth. Click here for information about the classes provided by Mother's Friend.