"The best labor support will protect a woman's privacy and insure that she is not disturbed so that she can tap into her inner wisdom and dig deep to find the strength she needs to give birth."
Oxytocin - the love hormone - plays a major role in childbirth. A birthing mother is often supported by a loving partner or family member and this person has a key role to play in the birth because they hold the Oxytocin - Aroha - Love. This support can be freely given to the mother when her support team understand the birthing process and trust the lead maternity carer/midwife.
Through my Childbirth Classes I teach birthing partners how to provide this support - so that they feel confident in their role as birth companion. Sammie and Stephen Murray's birth story talks to how key this role can be - I was lucky enough to support Sammie and her partner during the birth of their first baby. However, this role can be filled by any loving family member, sensitive partner, friend and of course - your main support person - your midwife.
Sammie says "everyone needs an Erica. Let me be more specific: Everyone needs a calm, trusted, reassuring person in their birth space. For us, that person was Erica. She was calm, supportive and empowering throughout the entire process."
"Everyone needs a calm, trusted, reassuring person in their birth space"
How can you be a trusted birth companion?
A trusted birth companion listens. In the weeks leading up to the birth, I spent some time with Sammie and Murray, learning about their birth choices, and listening to their wishes, hopes and fears for the upcoming birth. When Sammie went it to labour, it was a long process taking over 4 days to get into established labour. I would visit her and check in with her frame of mind. We talked about the frustrations of the labour not progressing quicker and the fear that this may mean a hospital transfer. I assured her that she was doing an amazing job coping with this uncertainty and to keep up her work on affirmations/mantras to keep in a positive frame of mind. Sammie says that this calming relaxation and Mantra work immediately put her at ease.
A trusted birth companion gives time. I have a fantastic resource that I refer to often, it has a series of suggestions for supporting women in labour and the one thing that gets repeated over and over again is "give more time", "give more time", "give more time". Sammie's birth is a great example of this. As long as the midwife says that the mother and the baby are healthy, then we can allow birth to take the time it needs to take. The more we hear this message from those around us - our midwife, our birth companions, our partners, our family - the more at ease the birthing woman can be.
A trusted birth companion stays positive. I was truly amazed by Sammie's ability to keep in a positive birthing mindset. That is not to say she did not get upset at times, but she worked hard to prevent her mind from worrying about the future and to keep in the moment. It was essential for Sammie's support team to also offer this confidence to her and to make offers of support. Sammie had surrounded herself with birthing mantras on her walls, which we referred to and reminded her of. We also encouraged Sammie to change her scenery from time to time. I have a vivid memory of her walking through her backyard in a beautiful robe, simply feeling the fresh air. The length of her labour meant that having fresh support was important, as it would have been easy for Murray to get despondent: "I loved how my husband and Erica worked together as a team to support me while I went off to labour land. She was a woman and a mum and she knew what was happening and I cannot even begin to tell you how empowering that was for me. She was someone to talk, laugh, and even cry with."
A trusted birth companion gives space. There is nothing worse than feeling as if you are being watched during labour. As partners and companions we need to listen sensitively to the birthing woman. At times I would leave Sammy and Murray alone to cuddle and rest. At other times Murray needed time to rest and reset his own frame of mind so I would step in. Through-out, Sammie's midwife would come and quietly to listen to the baby's heart beat. If you were looking down on this birth from above, the labouring woman would be in the centre and you would see her birth support team migrating closer to her to give comfort and then further away to give privacy. A sensitive birth companion understands this dance: "Erica knew when it was time to engage and time to step back. She was just the right amount of everything. I laboured with my husband and I laboured with Erica."
A trusted birth companion does not judge. As a birth companion you also need to know that your role is a passive one. There are times when a birthing woman needs a companion to be more hands on, or to remind her that she is strong and that she can do this. However, this is always in response to a need - not because of imposing your idea of what birth should look like. As birth companions our role is to be of comfort to the labouring woman, not to try to analyse the medical side of the birth. This is why we need absolute trust in our midwives and medical teams. As birth companions, we also need to trust in the mother's ability to give birth without intervention unless proven otherwise. The birthing woman will be sensitive to whether you are at ease with the process unfolding or not. Sammie says: "Erica's approach to labour and birth gave me the permission to move and feel with freedom and without judgment."
A trusted birth companion brings trust and aroha. Any loved one who has trust and confidence in the birthing process and midwife can be a wonderful birth companion. This trust and confidence will provide a cocoon of safety around the mother and baby - it will bring the aroha into the birthing room.
Much gratitude to Sammie and Stephen Murray for inviting me into their birthing space and for sharing their experience.
I am a mother of three living in Lyttelton, NZ.