How to Help a Laboring Person Who is Feeling DONE
As parents prepare their minds and bodies for the upcoming birth of their child, many partners have the same thought cross their mind: What if my partner loses it and I can’t help them get through labor?
While pregnant parents may create plans for their birth before labor begins, partners often feel concerned about what their support should look like if their loved one suddenly feels like they can’t go on. First of all, I want you to know as a birth partner that labor gets really intense. Coping through that intensity usually demands everything a person has to give. Laboring parents are often pushed to their limits and beyond during birth. That means that a birthing person will almost certainly have to behave in a way that they normally don’t in order to get through it.
Laboring parents may use a variety of movements and sounds to work through contractions. Some may sound beautiful and powerful, some may sound alarming. Rest assured, going to new places and having to try on new behaviors is a normal part of the process.
But what if they’re screaming in pain? What if they say they can’t do it anymore?
Ok, if you’re sensing that your partner is suffering rather than coping (learn about the difference in a Birthing from Within class) there are a few things you can do to help them refocus and get through the most intense part of labor.
1) Move in close. As a birthing parent becomes more animated it may feel tempting to back away and give them some space. Laboring people actually tend to do better when someone moves in closer if they start getting flustered. Get in their space, put your hands on them with confident touch, and make eye contact. (Just in case it doesn’t go without saying, stop doing these things if they say they don’t like it or push you away.)
2) Get on their level. It’s always ideal to speak to a laboring person at eye level, but it’s even more important if they’re struggling. Standing over them can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Get down on their level so that they know you’re there to ride it out alongside them.
3) Help them come back to the present. When someone is suffering in the throes of labor, their mind is often somewhere down the road. They may be thinking that they can’t do this for four more hours. Perhaps they’re wondering how much more painful it’s going to get. They may be thinking about whether or not pushing will be even more intense than active labor. Your task is to bring them back to right now. They don’t have to do all those other contractions right now, they only need to get through one. at. a. time. Try asking them to take a breath with you (instead of just “BREATHE!”). Help them focus on your loving touch. Ask them to look in your eyes.
4) Make a change. If parent is getting really uncomfortable and frustrated with what’s happening in labor, try making a change. Turn off the lights, kick everybody out, get in the shower together, try a new pain coping practice. Make a change to help them have a mental shift.
5) Validate. This can be a tricky one for those who have never been in labor and never will. Partners often wonder what they could say that would be meaningful in the moment, having never experienced labor. Here are a few canned validations to keep in your pocket:
You’re working so hard to bring our baby into the world.
I’m proud of you.
I love you.
That’s the way. You’re doing great.
A few phrases to avoid:
Breathe! (Try “breathe with me” or “find your breath” instead.)
Relax! (Try “Release tension,” or “Soften around your shoulders,” instead, because “Relax!” can come across way too abrasive.
You can do it! (Try “you ARE doing it” instead. What they’re doing right now during contractions is the work. Help them acknowledge that they’re already doing it.)
What did your partner say or do that really helped you in labor? Birth partners, what do you think was one small thing you did that really helped your loved one through a tough moment?