Birth With A View: A Partner's Birth Story

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I have been to two births in my life, and both were of my children. When it was time to watch the scenes of birth in the childbirth class we attended, I looked away, it seeming so voyeristic. I had no interest in seeing my child be born, and I don't know why. It didn't seem gross, or dirty, and it certainly didn't seem sexual. But thinking about it now, I've always shied away from the insides of things - cuts, sores, even half chewed food on display makes my stomach turn. I did not want my time meeting my child to be muffled by feeling light headed or naseaous. That seemed irresponsible. I was becoming someone's father, passing out seemed like the worst possible way to start that adventure.

When my first child was born, I was amazed by my wife. Sitting at the head of her hospital bed, holding her hand, and watching her battle with every pain and movement my daughter made, swelled the feelings of pride I had for this woman who seemed to think me a worthy partner. I always believed I had "married up," but this moment only solidified how much gratitude I needed to express to this woman, this incredible woman who chose to do give birth as a warrior.

I was anxious. I knew so little. There seemed to be so many ways everything could go wrong. Every time the nurse came into move a monitor, or adjust a tube, or take a blood pressure reading, I would hold my breath thinking she was coming into say it was time to take her back to surgery.

My wife was so angry. Every interruption caused her to erupt. She was in a totally different world, and being forced out of it, even though it was full of pain, made her rage against the people in her room. The nurse's lips would purse over and over, and she kept telling my wife she needed to get off the floor, or she needed to get in a different position, or she needed to breath differently.

My wife ignored her every time.

We had a doula for the birth of our first child. And my mother-in-law was with us as well. I was not sure how to navigate the authority of the nurse with the unmistakable authority of my wife. Every time there was a standoff, without fear the doula would glide over, rest a comforting hand on the small of my wife's back, and talk low and gently. I don't know what was said, but the soon my wife would be moving from the floor to the bed, or from one position to another, with much less fire in her eyes.

I was much less anxious at the birth of our second child, and my wife was even more powerful. She had what is called a precipitous birth, where everything happens very fast, and somehow my wife knew it would be this way. We purposefully went to the hospital before labor began, but she was already a week past her due date. When the midwife came in to discuss induction options, my wife held the midwife's hands and looked her in the eyes and I'll never forget she said, "You may not believe me, but I want you to break my bag of waters and stay with me in the room. This is going to be very fast.”

I do not believe in spiritual or religious institutions.
I am a man of science.
I appreciate facts and spirited arguments.
But I learned something very important that day about my wife - My wife is magic.

The midwife said she would need to evaluate how high the baby was, and that Pitocin is typically the way they would like to get contractions started.

After about an hour of discussion, the midwife was not excited about it, but she admitted that there was no reason she could find not to break the bag if that was what my wife wanted.

I don't really remember exactly what happened, but her bag was broke, my wife turned over so her back was facing me, and the most guttural sound came from the person I love. I didn't look. I just closed my eyes thinking my wife was being ripped apart, and in the next moment, my child was born.

It was the fastest 17 minutes of my life.

I know it is not like this for everyone. I know that we are lucky to have a medical team who stopped to hear my wife and believe her. I know that in any instant the entire world can tilt and tragedy can strike. And I also know that the way my children came into this world is seared in my brain as an unmistakable example of how fierce and reckless our existence really is.

Postpartum Doulas: Magical Baby Mavens

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"What does a postpartum doula do, anyway?"

It's a bit of a magical unicorn position, really. The postpartum healing period has some commonalities that get talked about pretty openly: the lack of sleep, the tender breasts, the feelings.

But the common parts of postpartum healing that don't get talked about are some of the areas where a postpartum doula can help an entire family feel on firmer footing with an infant in the house.

1) Postpartum doulas know things.

Having information is one of the most comforting parts of having an expert in your home. What bottle will your baby like? When could you transition from feeding on demand to a more predictable schedule? How can you help your baby pass gas? These are all right on the tip of your doula's tongue. But the knowledge is even more helpful when you don't know what to ask.

While your doula is dutifully doing the caretaking of you and your baby and task mastering, she is also observing. There are so many worries that come with new parenthood, and your gut instinct is still being calibrated. Your doula will help to identify when, yes, you're right, calling the pediatrician would be a good idea. Let's get that checked out!

2) "Tell me a more about that."

Your postpartum doula may have seemingly boundless information, but that doesn't mean she will overwhelm you with it. Some of the doulas who make lasting impressions on their clients are those who have learned the compassionate art of asking questions. You are the one healing, and your experience is what should be validated. Your doula won't compare or belittle your pain, worry, or emotions. Your doula will want you to feel so safe that you can be vulnerable, leaving all your energy to be used to bond, heal, and experience the fleeting reality of newborn life.

3) A different kind of "friends with benefits."

Some of us have friends that feel like family, and having them around is no work at all. Couple that ease with the utility and charm of Mary Poppins, and you've got yourself a postpartum doula. Simply, a postpartum doula makes your life with a baby easier.

Real Labor: 4 Things Doulas Know

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If you were to get a group of doulas in a room and ask them some of the "realist" things about what happens in the labor room, you might be surprised! We want to share some light on what birth professionals know over years of attending pregnant people in labor and delivery.

Real Labor #1 - It's great to move in labor, but you may not want to.

Many people have a fear that they are going to be "tied to the bed" by the various medical instruments that come with having a baby in a hospital. There are heart rate monitors, contraction monitors, blood pressure cuffs, and IV line, and maybe more depending on the client. But for a lot of laboring folk, moving does not look like the long walks down the hallway and the active dance routines you see in online viral videos. For most people, when a laboring woman is going to the hospital, they are ready to focus, and rest when possible. Both of those things can be done in the hospital bed.

AND the hospital bed itself moves into various positions that can help with positions such as hands and knees, supported squatting, and more.

Key Points: Movement in labor is possible. Even small adjustments and shifts are helpful. You may not be interested in leaving the bed.

Real Labor #2 Not everybody poops, and if you do, we aren't going to tell you.

Another common fear for laboring parents is pooping while being in the 2nd stage of labor: the pushing stage. Pooping is common because as the baby moves through the birth canal, his or her head is physically pushing against the colon, helping to move any fecal matter that is still in the bowel out of your body.

For some people, they have emptied their lower bowel before entering this stage, and there is nothing for the baby's head to move against. For others, some poop may be present.

Surprise! Either way, you get good news! If a laboring person is pooping while pushing, it is a visible sign that they are pushing well and that they are making progress! And if there is no poop, well, then there is no poop!

Key Points: The fear of pooping is common. If you have some small bowel movements while pushing, your nurse is extremely discreet and will help clear it away usually before it is noticed. And, we aren't going to confirm anything if you aren't sure yourself.

Real Labor #3 When they say you can't eat in labor, it's okay because you won't want to.

Having a food restriction is a standard hospital practice. Having access to a clear food tray, or liquids only sound horrible to most people! But when we are talking with our clients, we want to give some reassurance about this fear of not being able to eat - once you get to the hospital, most likely you aren't going to be hungry.

Getting your body ready for labor may mean that in early labor while still at home, you are having nibbles and bites of food that sound good, and keep you energized. As your contractions start getting stronger and closer together, your body goes through a natural shift that begins to open your core and focus your attention and energy into giving birth to your baby. Bites of food can feel like whole meals, tasty snacks can quickly turn unsatisfying and dry.

Staying hydrated starts to become the focus, as does conserving energy in between contractions, and of course, actively managing pain and tension during contractions.

Your body too, will focus it's resources into your uterus, making eating sound unappealing altogether. Nobody wants to eat a cheeseburger while in labor.

Key Points: Hunger during labor can be satisfied with very little and is often not as overwhelming as it sounds beforehand. Once active labor has started, the idea of eating may not be attractive as your contractions get stronger. The first meal you eat after you deliver will taste incredible because of both your renewed awareness of your hunger and because you will have exerted so much energy giving birth

Real Labor #4 - Having a plan for your birth is great, but being connected to the birth that is happening is better.

So much talk about birth plans and how to have a good birth, when really what has been shown to make a difference on birth satisfaction is being supported without judgement, and being able to participate in making decisions during birth.

And not even getting what that person wants, just being included in the conversation.

And this isn’t to dissuade anyone from thinking about options and making a birth plan. Quite the opposite. It’s to allow each family some space to recognize birth is unknown, even in this day and age. Birth is unpredictable. And how a person feels during this unknown and unpredictable time is what should be taken into account even more.

Key Points: You are amazing and how you feel is a priority. Consent and information matters. Having a plan is helpful to learn options. Options can change quickly in labor and delivery.

Oh Baby, Get Me Back To Work

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Sometimes you are with your newborn for 12 weeks, and it is hard but blissful. Sometimes after those 12 weeks, you are so sad to return to work and have anxiety about being apart from your baby. For some new parents, maternity leave feels like a flash in the pan, and it is almost unbelievable that it is already time to go back to work. 

And sometimes, for some parents, it’s not like that at all. 

Returning to work may sound like the best idea anyone has had in a really really long time.

12 weeks glued to another human who needs everything to be provided for them means one thing in theory, and feels totally different in reality.

Being with an infant is exhausting.

It is a time warp, and time seems to function differently. Having autonomy to care for yourself is almost universally put in second place to the needs of your child.

And it can be a scary thing to realize you would rather go back to work than be with your child. 

But if that is you, it doesn’t mean you hate your baby.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good parent.

It doesn’t even say you regret having this new person in your life.

But it can mean that you need work to be a good parent. 

Or in other words, it's okay if you need to regain a part of your identity to be healthy and have the ability to be present with your child.

Every single family is going to have conversations about how they want this crazy ride to go, and when they need to get off for a little while. Really common questions can be: How will you take breaks? How will you stay connected to your partner? How will you learn about what being a parents means? And when to go back to work, if at all?

Work for many people isn’t just a source of a paycheck. Work can be social stimulation, personal growth, or a creative outlet. Wanting to have a little bit of your “normal” back after so much change makes a lot of sense when we consider how much is thrown at new parents and especially those parents who give birth.

So if you are psyched to trade out the burp cloth for your laptop, know that in doing so you are not a bad parent. For many, going to work means you can take a big breath when you get home, and jump into caring for you child without resentment, because you might just find, you missed her while you were away all day.

Who Does What: Increasing Equality After Baby Arrives

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New Baby, New Frustrations

With a new baby, there are great intentions about sharing responsibilities, but a reality that is just starting to get more attention is that two-parent heterosexual households are still not equal.

With having a husband being shown to add 7 hours of housework to a to-do list, a big worry of women is how they are supposed to take care of a baby and do everything else?

The answer is that women aren’t. So the way to make that happen is starting hard conversations. Conversations that have probably been long in the making. And talks like these are scary because they can go wrong so quickly.

Wanting to change the dynamic of a household means something, but change can’t happen unless everyone is on board. Sure, somethings can change without having conversations, but that is usually a short term battle of passive-aggressive choices to leave tasks undone, and postponing the inevitable - talking it out.

Some Language

Experts agree that discussing how you are feeling is more productive than blaming a person for not doing a task or attacking their character.

"Tell them you feel anxious, trapped, burdened, worried, alone, ignored, invisible, unappreciated, sad, or distant when you do it all and how you really don't want to feel that way," she said. "If you get your communication right, your partner will respond with empathy and compassion." - Alicia H Clark

Stop doing things. Not passive aggressively - but stop doing things compulsively. There is usually an "over-functioning" partner that compulsively attends to the task. It can be just as hard for this partner to learn some things don't need to be done, as it can be for the other partner to start doing more.

"This new baby is amazing but also really difficult. We both want to be connected to the new life that's joined our family but also be connected and stay sexual beings with one another. Let's be in this soup together; you and me against the world." - Laura Silverstein

Invisible Task List

One of the many direct conversations that have to happen is defining what the tasks are. And that is one of the problems. It is easy to agree that the obvious tasks with a new baby will be feeding, changing diapers, burping and holding, but if that were the problem alone, this would be an "easy fix."

However, life doesn't stop.

  • Who takes out the garbage?

  • Who makes sure there is toilet paper?

  • Who RSVPs to parties and events? Who cooks?

  • Who washes and folds laundry?

It's the entire life together that gets rearranged, and maybe you need to make a checklist. Perhaps it needs to be ridiculously long so all the jobs can be seen, at once, on paper. It may be the first time your partner can begin to understand what your day to day life looks like and vice versa.

Once the list exists, each person can have clear expectations of what each person is responsible. Also, for situations about preference, such as water glasses should live next to the sink and not in the middle of the counter - well, there may be some give and take. The important part is that you have started talking about it all.

Sleep Like A Baby: Why We Insist On 8-hours Of Care

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 Every family is different, but when we receive a call for nighttime support, one policy we insist upon for everyone is our shift minimum — 8 hours with a Maine Doulas professional in your home, helping your entire family sleep. 

If we are asked to come into your home for one night or 50, we know we are going to be a part of some of your most vulnerable moments.  For those who have already experienced nights awake with your baby, you know there is a combination of surreal awareness of how quiet and calm the rest of the world seems, and a deep aching to find a way to help your baby back to rest.  Minutes seem never-ending.  

We know that sleep is one of the most important things a family needs to function well. However, it may be difficult to understand how far reaching the effects can have.

Sleep promotes healing 

Your body can produce more white blood cells while you are asleep than when you are awake.  Being in an unconscious state also allows your brain to take stock of your bodies needs and respond by releasing hormones that can repair tissue and blood vessels.   When you are not getting enough sleep, your immune system is not able to properly heal from current damage, or protect you from potential infection

Sleep offers your whole body a break

 When you are sleeping, the demands on your heart decrease and your blood pressure will naturally lower.  Hormones released while asleep also trigger slower breathing and deep muscle relaxation that cannot happen while awake, allowing for your entire body rest.

Sleep helps with mood and outlook

When asleep, your body has fewer demands placed on it, so your body and mind participate in restorative tasks.  After waking from a restful sleep, your body, mind, and stress levels have been adjusted, allowing a refreshed outlook on situations that may cause overwhelm.  Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are a common part of recovery from birth, and one of the ways to take an active role in your recovery is to be committed to getting at least 7 hours of restful sleep each day.  

When we receive inquiries for overnight help, we want families to know we are committed to their long term success. 

So long term success means being committed to rest.  It may not be possible for everyone to have a doula help with night parenting and emotional support through tough feeding sessions for months at a time.  However, we are committed for whatever length of time we are with you, and for that reason, we insist on overnight support lasting at least 8 hours.  

We want to understand your concerns, help with multiple feedings, and then settle you and your small child back to rest to allow your entire household the opportunity to get a long stretch of restful sleep.  

Our policy isn't about us. It's all about you.  Let us know if you are interested in help for your household to wake rested and well cared for.  

Power Positions: Standing in Labor and Birth

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If you are a person looking for options to explore for your upcoming birth, let's take a minute to talk about the power of standing up.  Yes, even for pushing!

Standing and being upright during the first and second stages of labor, while it can limit your provider's view and access to your baby during birth, has long been a traditional position for women and laboring persons to take for as long as babies have been born.  

When contractions start to come more regularly, and you creep toward that focused mindset being upright is a huge benefit.  Laboring while standing offers practical and physiological advantages over laying down.  The pressure of your baby, uterus, and organs is not resting on your back muscles and spine, so there is more blood flow and comfort.  And your hips and pelvis can ambulate in any direction, allowing for your baby to more easily enter and turn in the pelvis.  

Beyond comfort, studies conducted also show laboring persons without an epidural also had "a lower risk of abnormal fetal heart rate patterns, ...,  and less use of vacuum/forceps and episiotomy."  

One of the things that Maine Doulas hope our clients explore has nothing to do with a specific decision, position, or delivery method.  What other doulas and we know, and what we hope to model and support, is the process of families exploring what it means to make decisions that are best for them can help them to have a more satisfying birth experience.  

And one of the choices a family can explore is the choice to put your body into positions that traditional western medicine tends to suppress.  

"...Most people who give birth vaginally in U.S. hospitals report that they push and give birth lying on their backs (68%) or in a semi-sitting/lying position with the head of the bed raised up (23%). A small minority push and give birth in other positions such as side-lying (3%), squatting or sitting (4%), or hands-and-knees position (1%)."  (source)

A few reasons so many don't explore options for different positions: 

  • they think they have to ask to move

  • they think if it were an option, someone would tell them

  • they don't know anything but how birth is presented in media

  • to some, the idea that standing would make delivery "easier" doesn't seem logical and the big one...

  • western medicine didn't allow women to birth in any position but on their back for decades.  

And what we mentioned above about standing while pushing - that is an option some explore for their birth.

There is evidence to show gravity is in favor, perineal tearing may be reduced, and pain is reported to be less acute. While standing is rarely used in a hospital setting, other upright positions, like squatting and hands and knees, can offer the same benefits. 

So when thinking about how you want to have your baby, we hope you expand your vision of delivery to include any movement you are curious to explore.  When in the moment, you may be struck to follow your body's urge to move away from the standard inclined lying portion, and to that, we say, yes!  You can do it.