I was having coffee the other day with a girlfriend who is about to give birth for the first time. She was asking me specific questions about my labor experience: How did it start (induced), did I get an epidural (yes), did I have a birth plan (no), was the hubs supportive (yes) or freaked out (yes)?
We could have sat there all day chatting about the endless scenarios that could take place once she entered the hospital—or bedroom or tub or birthing center—but about halfway through I stopped her.
I put down my delicious vanilla breve and said this:
“I could tell you everything about the birth of my daughter—what the hospital smelled like, what my nurse said to me that made me snort laugh, why I chose to have one of my best friends stand on my left and my husband on my right, what it felt like the first time I felt my baby girl on my chest—but my labor story is just that to you: a story.”
The reality is you can only prepare so much before giving birth. When it comes right down to it, fate or God or the goddesses or Mother Nature might have a completely different idea in mind. I have friends who went in with very specific birth plans printed on scented paper, laminated all nice and shiny in their minds’ eyes. But as soon as labor began, those pretty plans instantly went out the proverbial window.
I also know some who had the exact birth they imagined, and it was not at all what they had expected. Every experience is unique. Preparation seems sexy—like a pair of sleek black stilettos—but when the time comes all you want are electric blue Crocs with memory foam insoles.
However, as a control freak, the idea of not doing any preparation prior to labor day made my lungs close up and my pits sweat. That’s where my loving and very patient partner came into play. We had already decided we did not want a detailed birth plan because it seemed like we would be setting ourselves up for disappointment, so we opted for a “go with the flow” attitude.
Looking back, there were a few things we did that actually helped—like talking about our feelings of what was to come.
Here are the 4 questions that helped prepare us for a peaceful labor day.
1. How can we stay connected during the process?
If there is one thing that is consistent throughout most birth stories, it’s that you and your partner are in it together. Yes, there is a main player and a supporting role, but no one should feel alone during labor.
Talk to your partner about how to stay connected during the process. You can both find out your love language, which can help in these types of conversations and situations. Whether it’s a verbal check-in, a physical touch like a hand squeeze or shoulder rub, or a silent but knowing look, discuss how you two will stay connected so that both of you feel supported and loved.
2. What are you most worried or scared about?
There is nothing more comforting than knowing you are not the only one experiencing fears, doubts and concerns. Being as open and honest as I could with my partner was essential to squashing those dark thoughts looming just below the surface. It might seem that acting strong and stonewall-like is the best approach, but allowing yourself to be vulnerable is where true strength comes in. Letting my fears out in the open brought us closer together.
3. What are you willing + not willing to compromise on when it comes to birthing options?
This one is tricky. You can go in saying, “Absolutely no way, not ever, not me, mister” to a C-section, but when comes down to your and your baby’s health, it’s out of your hands. Maybe you planned on having an epidural all throughout your pregnancy but changed your mind while in labor. Or you had visions of a beautiful, candlelit water birth, free of drugs and curse words, but when the time comes, you beg for an epidural. (And maybe even used a few curse words...)
It’s important to be open with your partner about various scenarios and what you are willing and not willing to compromise on. Sometimes your baby will decide for you. But for those times where it could go either way, come up with a safe word that you can use with your partner so they know you mean business. That helped me communicate my needs very clearly.
4. What are the best things you + your partner can do for each other?
This might change when everything is actually underway, but it is a good idea to talk about this beforehand.
My husband and I discussed at length what I would need from him—his signature calm attitude and verbal encouragement. We also talked about what he would need from me—open and honest communication, however ridiculous and far-fetched the words spewing from my mouth might be. And truthfully, this worked. He stayed calmed and focused and I told him to wipe when I needed wiping and to pipe down when I needed silence. Everyone wins.