It’s an all too common scenario on the Central Coast. New parents are inundated with family and friends visiting for the first 2-3 weeks after the birth. Their ‘great sleeper’ of a newborn is passed around, and people even bring food! Then Dad goes back to work. The steady stream of visitors dwindles to a trickle, and then dries up. Mum is on her own… and that sleepy little newborn wakes up.
The Coast is a brilliant place to live, but once you’ve been here for a while, you’ll notice there are a lot of people who have no extended family close by. This familial isolation is usually easy enough to deal with, but after the birth of a baby, the isolation can feel like a giant chasm. Trying to adjust to life with a newborn in an environment where you have little or no support can be like living on a knife-edge, teetering between coping and not coping. Getting the right support is crucial at this time, and providing the right support is our passion.
Many mums have never really had a lot to do with babies, so suddenly being left alone with theirs isn’t as ‘natural’ as some would have hoped. The constant roundabout of questions & second-guessing the choices already made can be maddening. How do I know if I have enough milk? Is it ok to rock my baby to sleep? How do I stop using nipple shields? Is this the right formula for my baby? Is it wind? Is it colic? Is this Mum thing really for me?!?!
When we first set up The Nurtury, our aim was to ‘fill the gap’ for new parents by going to their home and offering whatever support they needed, and leaving them feeling empowered, confident in their ability to nurture their new little one. Just being that extra set of hands, that listening ear, that voice of wisdom, fount of knowledge…this is what we feel called to do. This is still our primary mode of care, however, something unforeseen by us has since evolved.
The beautiful Deb, from NurtureMe Massage in Berkeley Vale, has collaborated with us so that we can offer her baby massage graduates the opportunity to continue meeting together by attending our Early Parenting Classes. Deb has always had a passion for supporting new parents, and after bonding with her clients and their babies over 5 weeks in the ‘First Touch’ Infant Massage program, she always lamented the fact that they wanted to keep coming and meeting together in her lovely massage room, but she had nothing further to offer them.
Now, they (and any new parents from the Central Coast community) have the opportunity to continue for another 5 weeks, further developing their burgeoning friendships whilst discussing a different topic each week. It’s a safe space to ask questions, share concerns or brainstorm strategies for dealing with some of the challenges a newborn can bring to the fore, and it can make an enormous difference.
A recent client, a third-time mum, summed it up beautifully. “Let’s be real, I didn’t need to come here; I chose to come. What you’re doing is really special. You’ve createdcommunity, and that’s rare.” And isn’t that what we all need? Community? Support? A tribe? We think the answer to that is a universal ‘yes’, and perhaps never more so than after the birth of a baby. Being able to offer a service that can facilitate you finding your tribe, as well as the option of in-home support is really important to us because, after all, it takes a village…
I do need to repent of my midwifery sins of long ago. Taking a photo of a dad when he had fainted during his wife’s labour before running to his aid probably wasn’t my finest hour of compassion. His wife found it highly entertaining though! Once that epidural is in, the cheeky personality of mum (and midwife) can really come out!
I actually do have a real desire to help dads feel valued and useful during labour, as their role really is pivotal in the birthing experience.
Often dad can feel apprehensive about what is lying ahead as he prepares for the birth of his baby. Most dads are wanting to support their partner, but are not sure of the best way to go about it. So many dads comment on the fact that they “felt useless”, “powerless to take the pain away”, or “didn’t have a role” during labour.
Here are my 9 top tips for dads during labour:
- The most valuable role for dad is to be emotionally available. Unfortunately, I have seen dads sit on their computer in the corner getting work done whilst their wife bravely breathes through contractions. The most disheartening situation I witnessed was a mum labouring in our birthing unit corridor so that her partner could have a sleep in the birthing unit bed. This is not okay! To simply hold your partner’s hand, hold a heat pack on her back, rub a tennis ball on that painful lower back area, remind her to do her slow, deep breathing… these simple tasks are emotionally and physically invaluable.
- Have a good idea of your partner’s desires for labour regarding pain relief, baths, music, massage, etc., before the labour begins.
- A doula is a beautiful support to you as dad. She will help you be the supportive partner you need to be. She will advocate for the both of you with hospital staff. She will remind you of helpful actions you can be doing for and with your partner – running the bath, offering sips of water, placing a cool cloth on the brow, deep breathing, massage (note that some mums love massage during labour, whilst others don’t tolerate it), etc.
- Heat packs are highly valuable during labour. You will quickly become familiar with the birthing unit microwave!
- Try not to ask your partner questions during her contractions. Helpful talking is to count a slow breath in for 3 seconds and a slow breath out for 5 seconds – in through the nose, out through the mouth. Your partner needs to be concentrating on her breathing during a contraction; to ask her questions during a contraction will change her mindset from focus to confusion. This will often result in stress and an increase in contraction pain. A soothing, calm voice from you makes the world of difference.
- Be super encouraging after a contraction.
- Try not to eat a beautiful meal in front of your partner without her permission. It is not wise for a labouring woman to eat too much during labour as she will often vomit it straight back up again. Just offer her sips of water, electrolyte drinks and a small chewy lolly between contractions. For those keen on gut health and energy, a bone broth can be great to sip on during labour.
- Be proud of your partner no matter how her labour turns out. She has carried and birthed a miracle. With or without medical intervention, this is an incredible achievement.
- Look after yourself during labour. It can be a long process and it’s a good idea to have a handy stash of muesli bars, water, fruit and coins for a coffee. After all, you wouldn’t want a midwife taking your photo in a compromised state due to your low blood sugar level! 😉
“Birth is natural”
“Thousands of women have done it before you…”
“That happened to me, and I got over it”
“Everyone’s got a story”
Perhaps it’s that last comment, meant as a throwaway “your story is nothing special”kind of way that really makes me feel sad. Yes- everyone does have a story. And every story is important.
Unfortunately, whether your birth experience was good, bad or downright harrowing, sometimes you’re made to feel like you should just ‘move on’. As if the only outcomes that matter are that mum and baby are alive. Let me tell you, as a postpartum doula- I’ve heard many a birth story from a mother who is ‘alive’ in the sense that she’s breathing, but her heart & soul have been crushed by an experience she never could have imagined.
Sometimes it’s the result of a genuine and rare medical situation and it’s only by the grace of God and modern medicine that she’s alive to tell that story. Other times, tragically, it’s the result of a jaded midwife, or overworked obstetrician who’s said or done something, no doubt inadvertently, but it’s scarred mum in a way that can’t be seen but is immeasurably felt.
Sometimes, it’s been a situation where mum was left feeling like she had no voice, therefore no choice. Things may not have been explained clearly enough for her to interpret between contractions. It’s not always possible to make informed decisions in a state of utter exhaustion. Sometimes I feel that the ‘everyday-ness’ of the job for the medical professionals means that the miracle unfolding before them gets forgotten. It might be the 4th baby they’ve seen into the world that shift…but it’s the first for the couple in the birthing suite. That is a sacred time that should not be rushed, interrupted or taken for granted.
Then there’s the other side…
If you had a wonderful birth experience, I am genuinely excited and thrilled for you. And you definitely have the right to share that positive experience- quite frankly, not enough positive birth stories get told. BUT (there’s always a but), be mindful of how you share it. If you have a friend who had a tough, or even traumatic birth experience, there’s no reason why you can’t refer to your own positive experience so long as you listen to her first, then empathise with her… and finally, with kindness and compassion, ask if there’s anything you can do to help her change that next time around. Can you recommend a particular mode of pregnancy care? A wonderful practitioner? A beautiful doula? A talented birth photographer? A great hospital or birthing centre? An experienced chiropractor, massage therapist or acupuncturist?
Either way, whether your experience was really positive or quite the opposite, if you don’t debrief about it at some point, it will resurface and need to be worked through (often more so if it was a negative birth experience). Many mums find that they can stuff those feelings away and just ‘get on’ with the full-time role of being mother to a newborn…until they fall pregnant again. Suddenly, the thought of giving birth again can paralyse them. With the right help, this can actually be a catalyst for making different decisions and setting up a great support network for birth preparation, the birth itself and the postpartum period.
Some mums find that their birth experience was so traumatic that they actually can’t be the mum they wanted to be. They can’t bond with their newborns, often experience feeding problems and sometimes, are in such anguish mentally and emotionally that they actually can’t look after themselves, let alone their baby. So whilst it’s often enough to just debrief with a friend, there are definitely situations where professional help is needed.
Here at The Nurtury, we offer birth debriefs as part of our Early Parenting sessions as well as in a more intimate home-visit setting. Sometimes, gaining insight from a midwife or doula (people who know birth), can help explain why things happened the way they did. This can offer some closure for mums who perhaps feel disappointed that their birth didn’t go according to plan. Sometimes they’ve come to terms with how things went, but would like some tools to empower them for next time.
We see the benefits of a good, safe debrief so often. We have quite a number of mums who say “I wasn’t going to come today; I haven’t been able to talk about my birth because I cry every time I think about it”. And yet, it’s these mums who, after talking, walk away from that session visibly lighter. It’s truly amazing. But what makes me sad is thinking about all the mums who don’t get to safely debrief about their birth. Who don’t get to have their questions answered. Who think they just need to move on… until they find themselves faced with birth again and they realise they haven’t. Or who spiral into postnatal depression, because the pressure just builds and builds.
Processing your birth is the first step towards loving & nurturing yourself, so that you can nurture & love your family. Although we all know that having a healthy baby is the desired result, how that comes about does matter.
Please, don’t underestimate how important it is to talk through your birth experience; or indeed- to listen to that of another woman. And if you or someone you know needs a little help from a professional, don’t hesitate to call us here at The Nurtury. We can arrange a birth debrief with you, or put you in touch with a counsellor with experience in working through trauma.
About the Authors:
Jen is a midwife with almost 20 years experience in a Sydney birthing unit. She now lives & works on the Central Coast, supporting new mothers as they transition into motherhood.
Ingrid is a birth & postpartum doula, living and working on the beautiful NSW Central Coast.