Women have been birthing since the beginning of time. Their bodies knows exactly how to birth. But fathers were never at births, not in any culture. This is incredibly new.
Fathers don’t have a genetic reference point to pull on when it comes to being present and knowing how to support and birthing mother. This means it’s important for you to work through all the fears that come up around the birth and around fatherhood before she goes into labor.
The most important thing that your partner needs from you is safety. The more you can hold a rock solid space of trust in her, a deep knowingness of her ability to birth and a reassurance that you have got her no matter what, the easier it is for her to surrender into this powerful rites of passage. She needs you to be so deeply trusting in her and in the process of birth.
This may take some work (for both of you) as it’s been more than a few generations now that women have been disempowered and pushed through abusive birth scenarios.
ADVOCATING FOR HER
Make sure that you have both equipped yourselves well so that you are able to make the most empowered decisions every step of the way. Discuss every possible outcome together beforehand and what decision you will make in all possible situations as you will be the one speaking these decisions. Hopefully her left brain is totally turned off as it should be so that she can labor, but this means she can’t access the ability to think or speak, this is your place. For instance if you are being given time pressure you could ask, “Is babies heart rate OK and are my wife’s vitals good? Then we have both decided that we are going to continue to labor without intervention.” These prior agreements anchor a deep place of safety and trust for her!
Labor is so unique to each woman, we never know what she is going to need at what stage of labor, but what we can do is fill up our toolbox and integrate a great repertoire of position ideas, ways to touch and ways to gently engage.
SIGNS OF LABOR
Sensations – Surges can come in many different forms. Period type cramps in the lower back or belly, a tightening up the sides of the belly or a stretching or sharp sensation in the cervix are the most common. Sometimes these sensations are very light and irregular for a while, even a day or so. Sometimes they can start for a few hours then stop again for a day (this can happen more than once). When the sensations are regular and immobilizing (she has to be still and be in a supported position during the surge) for hours in a row things are getting going. Even so, if a women is in full labor it can stop completely if she experiences a strong sudden stressful experience (this often happens to women as they step inside hospital doors).
Mucous plug – The cervix has a plug of mucous to prevent bacteria from getting into the womb. When the cervix begins to dilate the mucous plug often falls out. It looks like a blob of pinkish mucous. This is a sign things will start in the next day or so.
Water breaking – If the babies sack breaks (it doesn’t have to) you sometimes see a flood of water and sometimes a trickle down the leg. It will be clear or pinkish. After this happens it can still take a few days before labor actually starts but you do need to notify the midwife immediately. If labor doesn’t start then the baby is now exposed to the vaginal canal and therefore outside bacteria. This means no sex and no fingers in the vagina. She should keep her panties on and maybe wear a pad with colloidal silver on it to kill off any bacteria that may wonder by. It is safe for Mom to go 3 days without being induced. Therefore you really want to do everything possible to get labor started. The most effective ways include orgasm.
Diarrhea – At the beginning of labor it’s not uncommon for the bowels to do a big clear out. If you see her going to the toilet over and over again in the period of an hour then things could be hotting up.
Constant Sleepiness – A clever way the body begins labor is by making the mama sleep loads to store up energy for the upcoming affair.
Overwhelming Emotion – If she suddenly gets deeply upset about something irrational or something small, or she just bursts into tears for no reason then her pregnancy hormones could well be dropping off and making way for the labor hormones (there is a massive shift at this point and we know hormones and emotions can’t be separated).
Nesting – If she starts hanging the curtains at 2am you know something is up. It’s a beautifully primal urge that women have just before the baby comes – they need to make everything just right in the home. It needs to feel like a cozy nest for both mama and baby. This feeling of comfort and security also allows Mom to drop into her labor hormones. So if she says something needs changing or fixing best you do it!
Your Animals Act Weird – Animals are an amazing barometer for upcoming labor. They often know when things are about to begin and they hover around and act a bit weird. If they are in the house during the labor its interesting to watch their behavior as it may give you an idea of where the mama is at and what she needs. Strange but true, especially with cats.
Honor the Sphincter Law – The cervix has the same nature as the various sphincter muscles in your body, it is circular and it will close up if there is any sense of invasion (someone she is not comfortable with enters the room, or she is forcefully given an internal exam when she doesn’t want it, etc), emotional imprisonment (there is no space for her to let her emotions flow), or she simply does not feel safe to birth. This is the most important rule of birth, the body will not let the baby out if she does not feel safe. As all mammals, she will rather want to relocate or change the environment, before she carries on relaxing into birth. The cervix can easily close up by 3cm if from her perception, the environment changes from safe to unsafe. Remember this is the most vulnerable moment of her life, her idea of safety is on a subtle level far and beyond ours. Talking of sphincters, women tend to poop during labour, sometimes early on, sometimes just before birth, and all the enema’s in the world seldom clear the passageways. It is just a fact of labour. So if you are not comfortable with your wife pooping in front of you, best you get your head around that now ☺
Let her Monkey Self do it – When she is totally relaxed into the labour process, the left brain completely shuts down, the primal brain takes over and her world becomes an abstract sensation of love, beauty, intensity; compulsions to move, often in trans-like rocking or spiraling motions; make sounds (deep sounds like aaaahhhh, or ooooohhhh); find positions such as hands and knees, squatting, or curled over a pillow with her butt in the air. Whatever she does, this is her primal time… how else would you get a baby out? If you have the monkey self in mind, you can allow the strange noises, bizarre facial expressions and un-lady-like positions, to become a normal part of her birth experience. She may morph into a creature that you are not familiar with, and this is great because it means she is deeply in the birth trance. Don’t freak out if her eyes roll back ,this is perfectly normal! She will look like she is on drugs, they are called oxytocin and beta-endorphins. Tell your mind now, “you will know if something is wrong!”. You don’t need to pull her out of her trance by asking if she is doing OK, this makes her think and that’s the last thing that she needs. Just know, if something is wrong, she will let you know immediately. She is more present in each moment than any human could be, she is just very, very deep inside, but she will always be able to express to you, even through a look, if something is not OK. It will be clear.
Forget Dilation – She does not need to know any measurements, this keeps in her left brain, which needs to turn off. The dilation is certainly not a clear sign of progression, labour does not follow a perfect gradient graph. A woman can dilate 5cm in an hour and sometimes she can take 5 hours to dilate 1cm. It does not matter. The thinness (effacement) of the cervix also has a huge part to play. She could be 1cm dilated with a very thin cervix, then suddenly dilates. Some women need to expand more than 10cm. We are all different. The important thing is, she is not in distress and baby is not in distress. A healthy labour can take two days, as long as mom and baby are fine, you just keep cruising.
Riding the Transition Wave – Just before the baby is born, she can experience a hormonal/emotional overwhelm called transition. She may say things like “I can’t do this!”, “I have had enough, I want to go home now”, “I want to die”, or any other completely irrational expression. This is NORMAL, there are very few women that don’t have this moment of overwhelm. It does NOT mean that there is any need for drugs or other interventions. This is the moment just before birth and very soon that baby will be in your arms!
Urge to Push – When the labour is progessing in a relaxed environment, the body gracefully moves through the stages of labour, until, the body is ready to push. A sensation builds (like physical excitement) and the body just bears down. There is no need for instruction, there is no need for questions like, “should I start pushing now?” If we start pushing too soon, we are working against the stage of labour that the body is at. The womb pulls upwards for labour to open the cervix, only when the body is ready does the womb innately begin to bear down. Pushing needs no coaching (except keeping the chin tucked and the pelvis tucked forward, allowing easy passage for baby), the womb literally expels the baby. In fact sometimes one needs to pant to make sure the baby does not come too fast, to prevent tearing. Babies often ease their way out nicely, playing peek-a-boo, as you see the head showing and disappearing again. Then when the time is right, this little being gracefully enters the world.
LENGTH OF LABOR
Labor can be anything from a few hours to a few days. Often with short labors women have actually been in labor for a while but they simply couldn’t feel anything, sometimes one can see the belly hardening into a little barrel with each surge. As long as mother and baby are doing well you can let her labor as long as she needs. If it is a long labor make sure you get your rest, 30 minute to 1 hour naps allow you to reboot and get ready for the next round.
The easiest way to tell if things are progressing are the intensity of sound. The inability to be mentally present anymore and the look of dropping deep into trance. The blue line is an indicator of dilation, but also know that dilation is not an indicator of progression (have look just above her butt crack, you often see a blue line forming as the labor progresses, this shows you how dilated she is). A woman can be at 10cm for hours and not have the urge to push and she can dilate from 5cm to full dilatation in an hour, each labor is different and perfect just the way it unfolds.
Something really useful for both mama and papa to understand is that this is the only pain that is not an indication of something wrong. There is no injury, her body is not in danger; it is simply doing something all mammals are designed to do, but yes it’s certainly an intense ride. Her body is dramatically changing shape pretty fast and this usually creates strong sensations. If mama feels safe, respected and supported in her needs she may be able shift this sensation from something scary into the sensation of surging waves that she needs to surf.
Emotions have a massive impact on pain. If she doesn’t feel safe, or she is processing fears the adrenaline actually heightens the physical pain. Help her move through this moment in the best way you can.
The more you can help her drop into a deep trance state the easier the ride will be. In that state her logical/prefrontal cortex turns off and her primal/limbic brain kicks in. If she feels safe and supported and able to disappear inside she will be able to labour well. This is when you see the depth of her strength emerging. It may start with deep internal stillness as she learns how to ride those superwaves, but later you will see the birth warrior Queen Boadicea emerging – raw – no filters – it’s quite a sight to behold.
She may not Feel Pain – Contractions are now being named surges or rushes, they may start as a cramping feeling in the back or the belly, like she ate something funny. They can carry on like this for hours. Later they can turn in into a sensation of an intense rush moving through her, as a flood of hormones is released with the stronger surges. Women don’t necessarily ever feel pain and even if they do, this is overlaid with the euphoric feeling of oxytocin and beta endorphin rushes….as long as she feels safe and relaxed and there is no sense of stress. Pain comes from adrenaline. If she moves into Fight Flight, this is when labour can stall and the surges can become painful. This is not ever necessary if her birth carer’s are honouring her at all times.
She Leads the Dance – Being supportive during labour, means following her lead. It’s important to read her needs in each moment, whether that is pressure on her back, rocking with you, or her needing personal space. There is no need to feel hurt by any of her demands, they will be blunt, it takes effort for her to communicate, especially in the later stages. This is a deep journey and women are very clear of their needs, there is no space for niceties.
Movement and Positions – For most women movement is a fabulous tool, especially in early labor, it really helps to diffuse the intensity of surges and it helps to open the pelvis, as well as assisting dropping into trance. There are many different positions to explore rocking, circling and figures of eight in. Easy, supported repetition is the key. Some women belly dance their way through, others like the ball, others like to hang off their partners, it’s all about what feels right in the moment. Spread cushions, ropes, hammocks, yoga mats and pilates balls around the house, make it a mama playpen. When she is in one sitting or lying position, use lots of cushions to create a support.
Relaxing in between surges is key. Encourage her to sigh, melt, soften her jaw, soften her mouth, release her shoulders, etc.
Hanging – Deeper into the labor it really helps if a woman can take all the weight off her legs, so often hanging from something that supports her upper body or that she can hold onto works. Especially if she can drop into a squatt during a surge.
Breathing – in synch with her is a massive support, as is eye contact when she needs it.
Stillness During Surges – Whatever position you are in for her surge, don’t even think about moving or saying anything, all motion and communication waits till the restful gap between contractions. Obviously if she needs to rock, or spiral her body during the surge, you flow with the motion, if you are touching her.
Touch – There are many types of touch that can be supportive when she wants it (it will be clear if she doesn’t like something so don’t be hesitant).
Pushing pressure points in her lower back, hips or shoulders can bring great relief, often more than actual massage. She either needs firm pressure relax her rather than rubbing.
Stroking her skin lightly can diffuse the intensity of her sensations – the brain can only take in one sensation at a time so this can also be used during a surge if it feels good to her.
Blowing or fan – She will get very hot, so blowing on her skin may be nice for her. She will navigate what feels good. She may need to hang from you sit on you, squeeze your arm (careful of hands she is very, very strong!), or push against you.
Cold things can be helpful. Using a cold, wet facecloth can also distract from intense surges, this can be used on her forehead if she is hot, her chest, her neck, her upper back and even her legs. You can also get the gel packs to put in the freezer, or put a couple of icecubes inside a facecloth.
Food and Water – Yes in the early stages she can still eat and she needs to sip on some water or coconut water throughout – straws are handy. It’s great to have lots of fruit available and freeze fruit cubes along with coconut water cubes and plain water cubes.
Sound and Music – Making sounds is one of the best ways to ride that wave and diffuse the intensity of each surge. It helps take mama deeper into the trance and deep sounds actually help the pelvis to relax and open. High sounds can be gently encouraged to go lower as they tighten the pelvis and cervix. If she is struggling to make a sound try toning with her, an ohm is a great start.
And obviously music can be an amazing tool – choose things that will draw her into a gentle trance (Shamanic Dreams by Anugama is a great example).
Visuals – Sometimes if she is really struggling visuals can be helpful. “Each surge is bringing your baby closer.” “Your cervix is melting open with each surge, see it softening like butter.” “You can let go, travel up to your babies soul and bring them back with you.” “You can make space inside and let the soul of your baby move through you now.”
Bath – water is amazing at diffusing pain. If she really wants to get in the water early on it’s quite important that she gets out again and moves around a bit. Reason being is that water can slow the labor down if she is before 5cm in, if you are unsure wait until she is really deeply out of it (she can’t speak anymore), then the midwife should be around and it’s time to get in the bath. Sometimes in long labors the bath gets too much and she may need to go and have a nice rest on the bed.
Scents – Aromatherapy oils often smell amazing, you can ask her at the beginning of labor which oils smell nice to her and have them on hand to smell during intense surges. The oils that help labor are – clary sage, bergamot, peppermint, mandarin, lavender, jasmine, rose, rose geranium, orange. She can always make up a massage oil mix beforehand.
Other scents could also be great such as fresh jasmine, etc.
Close or Far – Sometimes she is going to need you right in her face, present, holding, loving, sometimes she will need to lean back against you, sometimes she will just need you in the room but quietly being in the corner (good time to nap), sometimes she won’t even want you in the room (another good time to nap). As long as you are within earshot, or someone is, she will call you when she needs you.
Change of Environment – Sometimes she may need to move to a different room, or get outside, or simply just have a different space to labor in.
Emotional Release – All forms of emotional expression are healthy, crying, shouting, whining, moaning, babbling out fears are all part of the process for some women. This is the moment that all her unspoken fears need to be expressed. Some women have a quiet little sob, others let it all fly out, either way this is great and very healthy. It literally gets obstacles out the way so she can drop deeper, just like any life changing journey. If she says things like “I can’t do this.” or “I’m going to be a bad mother.” Know that it is fears that need to be spoken, her rational mind knows this isn’t true. It’s best to respond with an acknowledgement first, “I hear you, I can so understand how it must feel that way now, this moment is so big and so scary, but I know that you can do this, I know that you are going to be an incredible mom.”
Keep Her High – Oxytocin is the love and the birth hormone, it is the antagonist to adrenaline. Pour your love into her, compliment her, help her to laugh, sing and any other lightness you can hold together. You know her better than anyone in the room, you will know what will work for her. When you kiss and share any level of sensuality, her oxytocin levels soar through the roof. Therefore the time at home is really about the two of you connecting and finding the rhythm of the labour together.
Nap – Not you, her! Yes of course you must rest when you need to but sometimes she can nap too. If the surges start in the night and they are still light, let you midwife know then encourage her to go back to sleep. The more rest she can get in the beginning the easier the birth will be. Sometimes labor can go on for a few days, often when this happens the womb gives the mama a moment once in a while, where there is a long gap between surges. If she hasn’t had a surge for 5 minutes encourage her to go to sleep. I have seen women get in good 20 minute to half an hour naps, it’s a game changer! This can even happen just before birth. This is important to know if you are in a hospital as this gap often triggers alarm with medical staff. They may panic and suggest augmentation (a drug that stops natural labour and instead produces a very harsh painful labour which is entirely unnecessary and can put baby into distress). She simply needs rest. Respectfully ask the staff to leave the room and explain she is going to sleep and you will call when labour recommences.