Support in Labour – it’s not what you think

Now three weeks into my third year and the same number into placement, I fully accept and acknowledge that not only have I not seen everything (who has?) but that I’ve only experienced the thin end of the wedge, as it were.

However, I’ve seen a range of family and friends accompanying the labouring woman and this week, after  number of conversations with mentors, midwives, friends, and family, I’ve been prompted to put it on paper. Well, internet, well, my laptop. Well, here.

As all good interview prep will tell you when you’re looking into midwifery – this is woman-centred care (and by that I do not intentionally exclude people who identify as an alternative gender). The word means “with-woman”, don’t rock up to that interview and tell them you love babies. Nuh uh. Don’t do it. Instead you’re encouraged to talk about the midwife’s role in cring for a woman and her family, and one of those “unlearnable” skills is building rapport quickly to start forming a trusting relationship.

It’s important in all the areas of maternity care, but arguably most pressing in the birth rooms – how will you help a woman listen to her body and make the necessary choices if you’re a stranger she can’t relate to? It’s hard work, but doable – it’s much easier to help her focus and calm those manic moments if your voice is one of clear, calming, (sometimes) firm tone.

Now I speak as a student midwife – that’s my frame of reference here, but I’m writing this to address anyone who has been signed up by the pregnant person to be there for her birth. You have a responsibility. You really do. The main part of that is done – you turned up. You’re there! Even if you feel nothing else you do is helpful or of nnote, you met her first request – you’re in the room.

Michele Odent has plenty to say about men in the birth room and how they shouldn’t be there, and in a lot of ways I agree with him, but in one identifying factor, I have to amend it. It’s not restricted to men. It’s applicable to anyone who is present and thinks “I’m helpless here, I’d better do nothing at all!” or “I’m in the way!” or just plays on their phone.

Cut it out, sunshine.

As the old adage goes “anyone can deliver a baby” – that’s true. As the course and NMC requirements go, not anyone can be a midwife. Well with  fat personal debt, and  dissertation on the horizon, and all I hve achieved so far, I kind of hope that not just “anyone” could do it. Makes me feel less special 😀

Not anyone, however, can offer the support wanted by a woman that could come from her husband, or boyfriend, mother, sister, friend – you have that special bond that has elevated you above all others to be asked by her to be present.

If nothing else, get a chair or the birthing ball, or plonk yourself next to wherever she is labouring and just be present. That is all you have to do, I promise! Fulfill her requests for drinks, or something cold, or to bugger off and stop touching her hair, but know it’s not personal. The one thing she should be listening to above all else is her body and sometimes your helpfulness can distract her from that, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you.

The need to soothe the pain of the one you love is overwhelming, and it’s hard to watch, but that’s not something to dwell on – do what you can, don’t worry about what you can’t. You don’t have to solve the problem, you don’t have to mke her feel much better, you just need to be there as required.

Women and potential birth partners should really have more of a discussion about what they want from someone else during their labour, and I think it’s probably something that should be considered by midwives in week 36 appointments, it’s something I’ll be asking women when making notes about their birth preferences.

Next week: social media and phones in the birth room.


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