My first experience as a Doula really taught me how it is to be a birth partner.
By Sophie Fletcher
I’ve been teaching antenatal hypnosis classes for nearly 7 years now, and designed the Mindful Mamma class with my friend and colleague Mia Scotland. So I’ve learned a lot, read a lot, worked with hundreds of couples, but my first birth as a doula was a new experience and taught me much more than I could ever read from a book. It taught me what it’s really like for the birth partner.
For the weeks running up to my first birth there was a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I didn’t sleep much for the 4 weeks I was on call (my client had her baby at 42 +2), jumping at every moment thinking it was my phone. At one point I thought ‘what have I done? Do I really know what I have to do, how to be?’. Then it suddenly occurred to me this is how the birth partners must feel – the first experience of the responsibility of being a birth partner and being there for her in a moment had suddenly dawned on me. In fact is was exhausting and by week 42 I had already learned to just trust that I would wake up, even in the deepest sleep, and with relief had 10 hours of sleep!
For a dad it must be even harder – at least I knew theoretically what was happening and I knew that birth is safe and normal and I trusted that the mother would know what to do. What must it be like for a birthing partner who hasn’t attended the ante-natal classes, or who doesn’t feel connected with the intuitive and unconscious process that a mother is going through? It can also affect those around supporting the couple. A grandmother I knew, who was going to look after her grandson when her daughter went to labour, confided in me that she was unable to sleep properly and had her phone under the pillow.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, we watched for signs like hawks, me second-guessing, is this it, there were twinges and changes my mother reported reminding me to keep glued to my phone. In my step class I even had it under my box, ring on extra loud!
Then as she went in to labour, at 4 am, I woke up on the first ring and I tried to trust my instincts and let go of everything I had learned and read. Yet couldn’t help, while I drove to the hospital, playing over in my mind everything I know and teach about environment, the birth space, the role of the birthing partner.
Having only been in that hospital myself as a birthing mum, not as a birth partner, I couldn’t quite remember it and trying to go through it in my mind was very difficult. I was going into an unfamiliar environment, I couldn’t really prepare for that sense of unease I felt about going into a space controlled by someone else. I used the hypnosis techniques I teach to keep myself calm as I went into the hospital, knowing that my adrenaline needed to be near zero, passing through reception, another reception and the room with my client and her husband in. All of these gateways to the unknown and gateways owned by and controlled by someone else. I began to imagine what that’s like for the parents, especially the birthing partner whose job is to look after and support their wife or partner whilst at the same time adapting themselves to new and unfamiliar surroundings.
I’ve always taught couples to make the space their own, the job of the birth partner for example is moving the room around a bit and getting the bed up against the wall. A bed in the middle of the room screams “lie on me, go on lie down…” even though it’s midday and you’re not ill. Yet faced with the act of moving the bed to create more space to move around, I felt paralysed. How do you do it? The Midwife was in and out and was obviously busy so it was hard to interrupt her.
I felt like a naughty child that wasn’t allowed to move the bed or had to put my hand up to ask a question! I’m not backward at coming forward, and am friends with many midwives. She was a lovely midwife too, so this was interesting for me from a psychological perspective. There was an inbuilt sense of proprietary being in someone else’s space and a nod to the authority of the system that we inadvertently are taught to be deferential to.
I asked for a diffuser with lavender oil in it, it never materisalised, the midwife forgot, she was busy with another couple, the CD player wasn’t in the room, and didn’t seem to be forthcoming. The light from the resus unit in the room was glowing like a beacon of distress with all the other lights turned off and amidst it all was my client, over a ball that didn’t move (health and safety reasons).
As this moment I realised how difficult it can be for the birth partner make that room your own, especially if you have followed my advice and stayed at home as long as possible. If you have waited and left it until the last minute, mum is likely to be at the end of the first stage of labour or moving into second stage (as my client was, but who told me she “had ages and ages to go”) and not to be thinking consciously about the room.
I dropped some lavender oil on her pillow (it had been anchored), turned all the lights out including the resus unit, put the background music to our cd on via my iphone, and starting counting her down with each tightening – interweaving the numbers with some positive suggestion, with no intent for conversation. The room changed instantly, dad said it was as if I had waved a magic wand over it. Baby was born smoothly in around 2.5 hours.
So my first birth. I learned so much about what it’s like for the birth partner, and had a great experience, in fact it was a amazing to see the techniques we teach work so well. The most important thing I learned was keep it simple, don’t create too much work for yourself, prepare well using hypnosis so you react unconsciously in a positive way to triggers such as aromatherapy and music. You don’t have to rearrange the furniture if it makes you feel awkward (or if you feel your partner needs you more than she needs the room being moved around), and you won’t always get what you ask for straight away if the unit is busy – but do ask.
Tips for a birth partner
These are the three things that I now always do straight away on walking into a hospital room that mum and dad are unfamiliar with.
. Turn all the lights out, perhaps apart from a little lamp/reading light turned towards the wall
. anchor a smell such as lavender to feeling calm, confident and focused, just drop them on the pillow if hot rocks or diffusers aren’t forthcoming. You don’t need to have to buy equipment.
. make sure that your music or hypnosis mp3s are on your phone or your own equipment to play. Put this music on straight away.
These three things, provided mum has practiced her hypnosis techniques, everyday, will mean that she will very quickly respond physically and emotionally going into a calmer space. Giving the birthing partner time to get on with other things or to just be there with her, whispering words of encouragement. It really is as simple as that to create the right space for birth.