Part of being an effective doula is exploring the fears of your clients so that they can move forward through labor, birth and parenting with confidence, and the freedom to experience the joys unhindered by unfounded or unaddressed fears.
During our prenatal meetings we always discuss each parent’s fears around labor and birth.
99.9% of the time Mom fears something being wrong with baby or not being able to handle the discomfort of labor. 99.9% of the time Dad fears something bad happening to his wife, or not being able to do anything to help her during labor. These are the classic fears of first time parents. Parents who have been through birth before usually have more specific fears – often related to the well being of their older child(ren) or of a repeat of a negative experience at a previous birth.
I try to help my clients process these fears, knowing that I cannot take them away, but rather help them move through them and make room for the joy of their birth. I also try to prepare them for parts of the birth experience that may be frightening to someone who has not experienced it before – for mom the overwhelming feelings at transition and the burning of crowning – and for Dad the fact that it is normal for mom to tremble uncontrollably at times or for baby to be disturbingly purple and still at delivery. I watch my clients reactions to events during labor, and am quick to give a reassuring nod or touch that everything is okay when they look questioningly toward me.
So 99.9% of the time I have it covered. But every once in a while I miss something.
At a recent postpartum visit while we were processing the birth, Dad told me that when he first saw the baby’s head, and touched it at the midwife’s suggestion, he became very frightened. “It was so small, and it felt weird. I really thought there was something wrong with the baby until this big face popped out”.
While anyone who has witnessed birth can laugh and recognize why dad had these feelings, I still ached for the fact that he had had to experience them at a time that should have been complete joy. Me of all people… who had my first experience with birth at the age of twenty two, delivering a baby in the back of the ambulance. I still clearly remember breaking out in a cold sweat when I first saw what appeared to be a wet and rotten walnut inside the vagina of my patient. I had seen birth movies, read birth training manuals, I knew what a crowning head should look like. Nowhere had I seen or heard about a strange convoluted little lump presenting at birth. My mind raced, – this was not a footling, this was not a nuchal hand – this was not a scrotum of a breech delivery – this was some mutant deformed horrible thing and I was going to have to deliver it on the highway 10 minutes from a hospital. Just about the time I was ready to completely panic, a surge pushed the rotted walnut toward me, and a giant face appeared under it and rotated in my hands as the walnut expanded to become a perfectly normal healthy baby head. So you see – me of all people – I knew his fear and failed to prepare him for it; and then failed to catch it at the birth.
Being a doula is a constant journey of growth. With each birth I become richer. This time, I learned to think outside of the box a little more. I will take the gift of this dad’s experience and use it to help every dad that follows him.