Holding Space for a Laboring Mother
If you have been entrusted with the responsibility of attending a birth as a support person, understand that your responsibility goes waaaaay beyond cold wash cloths and back rubs...
You have been asked to stand with her in that time when the veil is most thin, and when her heart and body are most vulnerable. You will see her at both her weakest and her strongest (pro tip: they're the same thing). You are being asked to BE with her...WITH her. Really. With. Her. Really be with her.
Our culture has a name for this now: holding space (google if it's unfamiliar. It's good stuff).
It means you will be pulled into the birth vortex, where time stands still and the only thing that exists is this family, this labor, this person. It means you are part of the atmosphere...the vibe...the culture of the room. In the birth vortex, everything revolves around the one in labor. Everything IS the one in labor. It is 100% about the one in labor. There's no room for ego.
You don't get to direct or coach her. You don't get to judge her. You don't get to decide what's best for her. You don't get to manipulate her. You don't get to draw attention to yourself. You don't get to be negative.
If you're scared to death of her birth plans, find another way to be helpful. If you think her practitioner is a quack, gently and lovingly decline. If you think birth is scary or ookie, offer to keep her older kids and let someone else be in the birth room. If you're worried about the carpet being stained, remove yourself from the situation.
See, here's the thing: She not only has to FEEL safe with you. She has to BE safe with you.
If she has planned an unmedicated birth, and you are just waiting for her to "wimp out" and want an epidural....she's not safe with you. Your judgement gun is already loaded. Not allowed in the birth room. Sorry.
If you're a nervous wreck and obsess and question everything that comes up...she's not safe with you. You will be making it about yourself. Not allowed in the birth room. Sorry.
Birth is organic. It's biological. We can intervene in certain situations. We can stimulate things or suppress things, but ultimately it is a force beyond all of us. We can't predict how a birth is going to go. As the labor progresses, she will have to make decisions and navigate this journey. What we can do is provide options and support.
Someone who is planning a home birth or out-of-hospital birth may be doing so because she wants to start at the place of least intervention. To give herself as many options as possible to work through her labor without medical intervention. Being out of hospital allows for this. She can move around, eat and drink, rest in her own bed, get in the water, make all the noise she wants, be surrounded by family and a familiar atmosphere. It's a viable option, and not unwise. If a complication comes up or she needs pain relief, she transfers to the hospital. Simple as that. She's not trying to show anyone up. She's not trying to prove a point. She's providing herself with options.
By the same token, someone who is planning to be in-hospital may want to have access to medical intervention in as many forms and as early and as quickly as she may need them. She's not trying to make a point. She's not trying to rub anything in anyone's face. She's providing herself with options.
So your dear friend or family member who is considering having you with her during the birth has made a birth plan based on what she wants or needs, what's going on in her heart and mind, what's going on with her pregnancy, and what's available to her. As well as you may know her, you will never know everything that has gone into this decision. You have to trust her. You have to not judge her.
So here's what you do do.... -Support her decisions. 100%. She decides what is right for her. You support those decisions. -Acknowledge and be comfortable with her emotions. Hold her if she needs to be held, give her alone time if she needs alone time. If she has big emotions to go through, let her go through them without making her feel like she needs to stop or suppress her feelings. -Treat her like royalty. I'm not talking about babying. Babying is dis-empowering. We don't want that. We want to empower and support and serve. Here's where the wash cloths and back rubs come in. Feed her beautiful fruit. Rub her feet. Anticipate her needs and meet them as best you can. -IF you see a care provider behaving unprofessionally or inappropriately, record the incident and speak up. Yes, it is appropriate to be her advocate. -See the beauty in all of it. Her body will be exposed; her emotions will be unfiltered. It's all perfect. It's all beautiful. -Celebrate her. Tell her how amazing she is. Over and Over. And over. For forever. -Celebrate her baby. Tell her how beautiful and smart and adorable her baby is. Over and over till they grow up.
Hold space for her. Be her companion. Be her supporter. Be her advocate. Be with her.