Walking the Path. Are you a Fixer or a Facilitator?
By Sophie Fletcher
Are you a fixer? Most of us are, when someone seems to be struggling, we all want to jump in and rescue them, we never want to see people we love in pain or suffering. Isn’t it our role to help those we love share burdens, to take as much of their load as we possibly can?
This is especially true when that burden may seem greater than we know, or is something new and different. The terrain is unfamiliar not only to them, but also to us; the path ahead hugged by a forest, or darkness, the path meandering between hills and mountains. Just as they can’t see where that path is heading, we too cannot see or know where that path will go. The unknown may hold unimaginable fear; even the benign promise of an exciting adventure into the unknown may hold fragments of apprehension.
When in this place, we must always remember that it is not our path, it is theirs. If we crowd them, they cannot have the space to focus on their steps, to make firm solid, steady steps that keep them centred and present. If they are crowded and distracted by too many interruptions, their focus may shift, they may become unsteady and they cannot connect deeply with their path. Not doing things but being there, allows someone the space for their own feelings, for their thoughts to come to surface, for them to feel safe and held in that process of transformation.
Our role as family or friend in times of transformation and change should be not be as fixers, but as facilitators. We can lay a chair quietly by the path so they can rest, if they choose, walk silently beside them in the darkness, carry nourishment so, if they need it, it is there. Our role is to listen, to be beside them, to show loving kindness and warmth but not to carry them or walk the path for them. We cannot do that however much we may wish to.
Birth is a journey, an unfamiliar path, we do not know where that route will go, how our journey will pan out. A birth partner cannot fix things, but they can facilitate. Being present doesn’t mean doing, it means being. Being there without judgment and without allowing our own fears to overwhelm them or us.
Learn from your own responses. Are you trying to fix the situation, to ‘fix’ the unfixable? Or are you trying to make yourself feel better by doing something. These are challenging questions. Do you need to look deeper at your own fears and feelings? Be curious, look beneath the reasons why you feel the urge to fix, is it because you cannot bear to see the person you love in pain? Are there other reasons? Sometimes fixing is about making ourselves feel better rather than actually helping the person. Look beneath your surface and learn about yourself, be interested, do not judge, this journey can also teach you many things about yourself.
As a partner you can only interpret what you see, based on your own fears and experiences. You cannot know fully, what that person is really feeling, what they really need, and what you don’t know you can’t fix.
As a woman walking the path of birth, comfort arises from the sense that someone is beside you, knowing that people you love are there if you need them, but also that you are discovering something extraordinary about yourself. However challenging that may be, it is transformative. As a partner you can facilitate this experience. It’s like Jung’s hero myth, the hero sets out on a journey that is tough and challenging yet the journey ends in a form of consolidation, a reunification of the person, in which wholeness is re-established on a higher level.
“On a deeper level…….the pregnant woman is undergoing an archetypal experience. She is undertaking a rite of passage, an initiation. Like the Hero in myth.” – Benig Mauer
One of my favourite quotes from a mother is this quote taken from Mindful Hypnobirthing:
“It was most amazing experience I have ever been through. It took me to a deep place and made me realise who I really am and what I am capable of . I now know that I have spent the last 37 years working at 75% of my true potential but giving birth has shown me what I and truly capable of.”
So what can you do as a partner to facilitate not fix?
- Statements such as “I love you, I care for you, I am here for you” can be much more powerful then “do you want pain relief”
- Being gentle and quiet, set aside chatter
- Be present, not distracted with electronic equipment
- Be mindful, learn mindfulness techniques that can help you observe your own feelings
- Instead of moving around restlessly e.g. pacing be still
- Try not to suggest things. Instead, listen and reflect
- Be kind and loving, a warm hug and a smile give strength and reassurance
- If you feel anxious or upset, ask someone to stay with your partner while you leave the room and re-centre yourself. Fear is contagious, far better that you nip out for a ‘drink’, or to the ‘loo’ than allow adrenaline to mount.
Have a home birth!
by Sophie Fletcher
But apart from my birth I had never seen it play out until I became a doula where I really began to observe the difference between a home birth and a hospital birth. In my class I always support mums to birth where they wish, making a home birth or a hospital birth as familiar and comfortable as possible at an unconscious and conscious level. I’ve never been openly pro home birth or pro hospital birth, because I think that the parents should make an informed choice based on what is right and wrong for them. In fact, even I thought a home birth was a bit ‘out there’ before I trained in hypnosis for birth and discovered this whole new/old world of birth.
Now after hearing so many stories recently of women having a normal labour only to be told “his head just wouldn’t come down” or “I was so exhausted, I hadn’t eaten in hours, they said I was too tired”, “they said it was too long even though I was fine and he was fine” “my contractions slowed down so they put me on a drip” “come into the hospital so we can check that your waters have broken, then they induced me”.
The amount of women I have heard say they went into hospital, had a perfectly fine labour and are told at the last minute they can’t do it ending up with a forceps or ventouse seems to be escalating. In the US sections have risen from 5% to an average of nearly 40% in 30 years. What is this about? Maternal death according to Ina May Gaskin is increasing after unnecessary interventions. Assisted births average at around 12% in the UK, increasing to 21% for first time mums. What is going on? Are the Doctors saying that 20% of us can’t birth our babies without help? Of course we can. But we need time, patience, self-belief and inner strength. Not doubt and fear.
These women are fine, their babies are fine, why are the doctors intervening and traumatizing these women unnecessarily? The women that I hear from, are women who have read the books and done the classes about normal birth. They’ve learned that if everything is fine and baby is fine, do nothing. These women are excited, prepared, ready and confident in their ability to birth. Yet they are being filled with fear and the message they can’t do it, quite literally at the final push. I’m sure that if they had had a home birth things might have been very different. Call be cynical, but it feels as if they have a better chance or a normal birth at a home birth.
During my last birth, there was an exchange between the consultant and a midwife in another room, she had the door slightly ajar, not letting the consultant in, and she said to him “leave her alone, the CTG was normal, she doesn’t consent” “the consultant trying to force the door, said “I just want to make them aware of what I think”. This midwife shut the door in his face. Another midwife may have let him in; he may have scared the mum who may have consented to unnecessary interventions. As it was I heard the lusty cries of a healthy newborn a couple of hours later.
I always knew that a father or birthing partner’s role was hard, just how hard it’s become I didn’t realize. Any deviation from what the hospital consider the norm (hospital policies do vary, which tells you something in itself) and the pressure becomes intense, often it seems these parents are told things that are just not true, information is withheld on risks of interventions, or risks associated with a parents choice to do nothing exaggerated, based on the clinicians own distorted view of birth.
These women are not given the time they need, many doctors do not seem to trust that women can birth normally (one consultant said to me, “first time mums find it very difficult, they very often have to have help, birth isn’t a normal event”). This approach tends to reverse at a home birth in the care of midwives who are experienced in normal birth.
If a woman is exhausted, honey in hot water can help her at the last moment, not telling her she’s too tired to do it while preparing the forceps or ventouse. If she’s told she’s got ketones in her urine and she hasn’t got the energy, read Odent’s work that says high levels of ketones are normal in birth and show that women during labour do have higher ketones as their smooth muscles in their uterus are working rather than skeletal muscles and that these muscles can more easily process fatty acids as fuel.
Of course I’m not going to advise you, you can make your own choices about wether a home birth is right for you. But if I were birthing again this is how I would do it
- Have a home birth, I wouldn’t go near the hospital unless I had to.
- If my waters broke before labour started I would take my temperature, and monitor baby’s movement knowing labour would almost certainly start within 48 hours.
- I’d eat if I were hungry or before active labour started.
- I would do anything to avoid a CTG monitor, choosing instead to have regular listening in with a Doppler.
- I wouldn’t have any vaginal examinations, certainly if I sensed I were further along, I wouldn’t want to be on a timer for second stage.
- I would choose the position I wanted to be in at any point.
- If I were told that they were concerned about something, I would ask “is this something you are concerned might happen or is happening”. Lots of intervention is prophylactic (preventative) based on a midwife or doctors own interpretation of what could happen.
- I would allow time.
But this is hard to do when you are told that your baby is at risk because you have been in second stage too long, or the baby’s heart is showing some decelerations, (some decelerations are normal, other’s aren’t – do you know the difference?), you may be at risk of infection, or your labour has slowed down. I knew of a mum recently who was scanned at 42 weeks and told she was having a huge baby (over 11lbs), they wanted to give her a caesarean and gave her a detailed and traumatising description of a shoulder dystocia reducing her to tears – this mum went on to have a very fast normal labour with no intervention at all and a 9.10lb baby 1 day later.
So what to do? Err on the side of normality. Read ‘Birth Matters’ by Ina May Gaskin, “Heart in the Womb” by Amali Lokugamage, “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering” by Sarah J Buckley, particularly be aware in Ina May’s book of the birth stories – women that are tired that have been having a long labour, but are supported by strong women to find those reserves within them, without a doctor twitching in the room. Perhaps even consider a home birth as an option and ask your community midwife about home birth.
Having a home birth in the hands of experienced midwives, preferably a few independents that I know and love would be my choice, with no doubt and no fear, but lots of laughter, strength and self-belief.