Pushing Presence: 5 Ways for Labor Companions to Stay Present In the Delivery Room

At one of the most prestigious obstetrician practices in downtown Chicago, the doctors regularly encourage husbands to quick leave the hospital and “run across the street to Tiffany’s” to buy their wives “pushing presents” when they are in labor. Diamond earrings, a silver pendant, a charm bracelet. “Every woman can use a little bling,” they say, “when they’re bringing a child into the world.”

Another kind of gift for mothers in labor is presence itself. Although giving birth is a one-time experience, it’s a symbolic entry into parenting life. Being fully present with your partner during labor and delivery shows how much you love her. It’s also a great way to prepare for being present with your new young children.

They say that how a husband treats his wife is how he’ll treat their kids. One of the hardest parts about having kids, especially babies or toddlers, is staying present with them, even as they push all your buttons or challenge you with their craziest behaviors. This article describes 5 things partners can do to stay present in the delivery room. Not only are these crucial to being a fully supportive labor companion, but they are also the exact same skills one needs for parenting babies and toddlers.

1. Ability to stay rooted despite the wild emotions around you

Around you in the delivery room, there might be wild and powerful emotions – pain, fear, screaming, crying, joy, sadness, anxiety, excitement, as well as some kind of magic that doesn’t even have a name. The experience of giving birth – including hormones, pain, the unknown, and other circumstances – can bring out larger-than-life feelings. By concentrating on staying firmly rooted and calm in the midst of what’s happening, you can stay present with your partner. If an expectant mother snaps, screams, or complains, it may be hard to respond without getting defensive, taking it personally, or withdrawing/sulking. However, the mother needs you to listen and respond compassionately.

When you’re with babies or toddlers, they often display the same kinds of powerful emotions on a regular basis. Colic crying, tantrums, protests, and meltdowns benefit from the same sort of empathy and calm. Staying patient, present, and full of grace during these moments is essential to the artistry of parenting.

2. Ability to stay connected, even when so many things try to tug you into distraction

It is a great skill to be able to “just be” with other people without an agenda. In the delivery room, truly being with your partner may involve eye contact, gentle touches, a massage, or positive statements such as, “I know how hard this has been for you, and you’re showing so much strength.” You may ask the expectant mother if you can play her favorite music, get her something that could make her more comfortable, or hold her hand.

Few people are good at sitting and “doing nothing.” Sometimes just sitting with your partner during labor can feel like this kind of down time. This is especially the case when your partner may be silent, in pain, or in the grouchiest mood you’ve ever seen. You want to escape – to read your iPhone, get something to eat, or go for a walk. You want to check Facebook, get coffee, or skim the newspaper. Simply being with your partner in their uncomfortable state without something specific to do or talk about can make you restless. The delivery room is a great place to practice staying connected to your partner, no matter what distractions tug at you.

In a long labor, there may be times when you need to eat or take a nap. The point is that when you’re there, you’re really present.

Like women in labor, much of what babies and toddlers thrive on is our true presence – our “being with” them. My toddlers love to tell me, “Mama, sit down” and they pat the floor next to them. Although they sometimes want me to read them a book or play with them, other times they just want me near them – observing, close, and present. When I do get distracted or try to check my phone or email, they ask me, “Can you put that away, Mama?”

3. Ability to be in awe of another person, including all they are accomplishing and overcoming

Giving birth is such a powerful, sacred time that it is almost impossible not to be in awe of both the event and the mother. The strength, ambition, and endurance that mothers have when they are going through the labor experience are unfathomable.

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