An important part of our work as doulas is preparing our clients for what the birth process can look like. We know that it isn't the same for everyone, but we like to run through the basic stages, explaining how the birthing person might be feeling, what's important for them to remember, and how their partner can support them through each part of the process. Here is some of what we talk about.
When things begin, the person experiencing the beginnings of the birth process tends to get pretty excited, and maybe a little nervous. If you tell your partner that things are happening, they are likely to have those same feelings. They might want to grab the hospital bag and make sure the midwife (or hospital) is on speed-dial. They might want to start timing your sporadic contractions, and telling family members that labour has started.
Here's what your doula recommends:
Don't do any of that.
Yup, go about your day pretending nothing's unusual. You can still go to the grocery store to grab what you need for the week. You can still go for that walk you were hoping to fit in before it rains again. Just take it slow, and pause when you need to. You can still make that lasagna you wanted to have in the freezer for when the baby is here. Play a game. Watch a movie. Take a nap. Until you can't do anything except focus on what your body is doing, don't make it your focus. For first time birth-givers, it's totally normal for the process to take three days. Really. Soak that in for a second. We recommend counting on three days, so that anything shorter feels like a bonus. So, spend that first day eating, drinking, resting, and being active as you see fit. If it happens to be night when things begin, stay in the dark and stay restful. You'll be glad you did.
Take care of yourself, as well as your beloved. Eat, drink, and rest when you need to. Focus on keeping your partner happy, relaxed, and feeling loved. That's huge!
Don't start using any contraction timer apps just yet. If your partner's still talking, and seems their usual selves except for the occasional pause to breathe, roll along as usual. Also, go ahead and get in touch with your doula, so they can reassure you that you're kicking ass, and that they're ready to join you both when you need them.
This is when things get quieter, and possibly louder at the same time. The birthing person may begin to keep their eyes closed, focusing inward. They no longer chat with the other people in the room. During sensations, they are likely moaning, swaying, breathing deeply. The mood is more serious, and now all attention is drawn to the process unfolding.
At this point, it's important for you, the birther, to surrender, let go, open, trust. Trust your body and your baby to do what you are biologically designed to do. Let yourself be open, in mind and in body. Let go of whatever might be holding you back. If you have to speak it first and then move on, go ahead and do that. Any fears, any nervousness, anything you need to let go of in order to surrender. Give up any control you want to have over the process, instead letting it happen as you powerfully work with it. Allow room for any changes; if something that was bringing you comfort before no longer feels good, try something different. Notice what your body naturally wants to do. Allow yourself to "check out", trusting your team to take care of everything while you do the work of opening up and getting ready to bring your baby down. It's important to continue to eat and drink at this stage, as much as you can. Little bites can go a long way!
Tell your partner how beautiful they are. Hand them a drink (with a straw) after each sensation. Help them to relax in between each one: massages, hugs, breathing deeply together. Put on some relaxing music they enjoy. During sensations, follow your partner's lead. If they need to lean on you, be there. If they need pressure on their back or their hips, use your hands to give that relief. You are the one who knows your partner best, you've got this.
Also, call your doula and get her over there. 'Cause you've got this, and we've got you.
Oh, transition. This is the part they like to portray on tv: a woman screaming, swearing at her husband, seeming to want to escape the birth. Don't worry, that's not how it is for everyone! Some people breathe right through this part, as they did the previous stages. However, it is pretty common for birthers in transition to say something like "I can't do this", to yell, to shake, to feel sick and even to vomit. It's a very intense time. What's happening is that the cervix is opening fully, and the baby's head begins to enter the birth canal. This triggers a change in hormones, and is an all-around surprising feeling.
As your doulas, we encourage you to be aware of this stage, so that when it happens we can smile and say, "Here we are. Transition. That means your baby will be here soon!" And we will encourage you to lock eyes with your partner, to breathe or chant or swear or do whatever you need to do. Because even if you feel like you can't do this, you are doing it. You are badass.
Be your partner's rock. Make eye contact with them, pouring love from your eyeballs. Let them scream, yell, lose it. Just be there. Breathe with them. Say, "You are amazing. I can't wait to meet our baby. I'm here. I love you."
They don't always tell you about the rest, but it's pretty special! Often after the cervix opens up and the baby begins to come down, the body takes a rest.
Use this time! Let yourself be still. Breathe deeply and appreciate this break. Let go of all that came before, and gather your energy for what comes next. Tune in to your body, and allow it to lead the way. There's no rush, no need to hurry. Snuggle with your partner and enjoy this quiet.
Guard this time! If care providers are suggesting your partner should start to push, remind them that your partner would like to follow the urges of their body. Put a cool cloth on their forehead if they need it. Give them a drink. Tell them how proud you are of them, and how strong they are.
As the rest draws to an end, and your body begins to work again, it's a good idea to have a quick honey stick, apple juice, or gatorade. Pushing can be quite a workout, so a little boost can be very helpful. Follow your body's urges, and bear down with the pressure when you feel it. Take whatever position feels right at the time, and change positions as often as you like. Some great positions for pushing are kneeling, squatting, and standing. Work with gravity. If you're finding it hard to let go, try going to the washroom. The toilet is a place where you are used to letting go, and that works for birth, too! If you need to rest, take a break. Your uterus will continue to push your baby down. If you want guidance, you can ask your care provider to help you know how and when to push.
Encourage your partner. Give them sips of water or ice chips. Use that cool cloth on their forehead. Tell them you know they can do this (and mean it!). Help them to relax and rest when they need it.
Here comes your baby! Now it's very important to listen to your care provider. They might suggest that you do small pushes at this point, to allow your perineum to stretch slowly over your baby's head. Panting can help, or saying, "Pa pa pa pa". You might feel a little crazy practicing that now, but go ahead and do it. "Pa pa pa pa". Now your brain will remember. Know that the burning feeling is normal, and that allowing it to be there is better than resisting it, or pushing through it. Your skin will stretch, and your baby will pass over it. It's an incredible feeling to reach down and touch your baby's head, if you're comfortable doing that.
Be cool. Or, let fly and bawl your eyes out. That's your baby's head. You're about to see your whole child.
After your baby's head is born, the rest of the baby usually comes with the next sensation. Your belly is suddenly soft, a perfect landing place for your new child. They can lay here as you give yourself a moment to "come back" from the journey you just took. Take some deep breaths and appreciate what you just did. You are incredible. Then, you might hear a squeaky little gurgly cry, and come back to the present moment. That's your baby. Look down, and see that little squished up face. Watch those tiny arms and legs stretching out, after being tucked up tight in your cozy womb. Hear your partner telling you how beautiful you are, and how much they love you. See their tears of joy and relief, as they kiss yours away. Watch your baby slowly taking in the world outside. See how they hear your voice, and your partner's voice, and it quiets them. Notice how they have the natural instincts to crawl up to your breasts, and find their new happy place. Smell your baby's head. Bliss. Feel your partner's kiss on your forehead. Live on this cloud of love, so that your body can use that oxytocin to complete the birth process by releasing the placenta. You did it. You are amazing.