Tuning In: Doulas and the Partner

It was my third birth as a doula.

I focused completely on the mother. At 8 cm dilated, she moved, swayed, and surrendered to the powerful energy of transition. Determined to have a successful VBAC, she committed herself to the flow of natural labor. It had been a long haul. After being with her for over 24 hours, I was tired.

“My wife needs an epidural.” Her husband reported this to a nurse in the hallway. I hadn’t even noticed he wasn’t in the room.

Suddenly, my client was surrounded by medical personal preparing to give her an epidural that she never asked to receive.

“You need it honey, you are in too much pain.” He cried as he spoke these words.

Then it hit me.

I had been so focused on her, so devoted to her process, that I had not turned my attention to her husband. Why had I not noted his tears? All of my emotional energy was directed towards her and I failed to take in the distress in his eyes as he watched her go through a natural, painful, and powerful labor.

“I don’t need it. I’m doing alright,” she quietly responded to the hustle around her while regrouping between contractions.  Then she needed all her strength to move through the powerful intensity coursing through her body.  He pleaded with her again, and again.

She agreed.

It was the fastest epidural I’d seen administered. As a new doula, I stood wide-eyed feeling helpless. She had agreed to this. How to respond? Was trying to ease his suffering about her pain? Would the epidural derail her attempt at a VBAC? I worried. At one point, the OB and I caught each other’s eyes and I could see the doctor’s doubt. A window opened. Words spoken at that time could have stopped the chain of events. But I didn’t speak. Neither did the OB.

A few hours later, a beautiful little girl was born via c-section.

The epidural slowed the contractions and they never picked up. My client did reach 10 cm dilation and attempted to push, with little sensation or success. Surgery was recommended. It was exhausting on all levels.

I cried on my way home from the hospital.

From that point forward, I made it a point to really tune into the husband/partner’s role in labor. During prenatal meetings, I would relay the story above without mentioning names or identifying details. This allowed me to talk openly about the feelings that may arise while watching a beloved one move through labor. Together we would reflect upon the difference between pain and suffering.

How best to honor the primal power that moves through a birthing woman’s body? Our role is to listen and support her. It is her right to make informed and intuitive decisions guided by this wise energy within. We must remember that this energy nurtures the next generation.

To care for a woman through pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding requires the willingness to love in a spacious way. The early years of a child’s life are naturally attuned to a mother’s care. As doulas, partners, husbands, and friends, our best gift to a mother is to nurture her as she nurtures her baby.

When powerful and painful feelings arise within us, the task is to seek support rather than project them onto the mother. “You need to deliver with this or that doctor.” “You need an epidural.” “You should stop breastfeeding.” No. Our task is to resolve our own wounds and be as clear as possible as we hold a mother with our loving care.

I learned a great deal from that birth. I clearly saw the need for the support team to be as emotionally centered as possible. I committed myself to nurturing both the woman and her birth partner in their own unique roles as they prepare for the unexpected emotional energy that can emerge in pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.

May we all do the deep, personal work of looking within so we can mirror back to birthing women their extraordinary light.

Amy Wright Glenn, MA Teachers College at Columbia University. Amy is a birth doula, Kripalu Yoga instructor, hospital chaplain, and scholar of comparative religion and philosophy. Her first book “Birth, Breath, and Death— Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula” was released in March 2013 and is available in print and on Kindle via Amazon.

birth breath death pic

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