The Supporting Role
Posted in childbirth, labour, partners Posted on February 02, 2018
The Supporting Role by Lenore Kilmartin
I'd met him previously, several times, but we really hadn't made a connection. He was very busy with his work and often had to leave the room to take a phone call when I was there. More often than not, he would be sending or checking texts, barely listening to me as I spoke. But I tried not to let it bother me. I was there for his partner after all. I was her doula and she needed me to listen to her thoughts, fears and dreams for her upcoming birth. I focused on her and tried not to let his preoccupation cast a shadow on our time together as we prepared for her labour, birth and early postpartum. We talked breathing, relaxation, essential oils, teas and affirmations. She shared what she wanted and needed most from me and I learned how I could bring my best self to her birthing experience.
It didn't surprise me when their baby decided to wait until the end of the 41st week of pregnancy to be born. Babies choose their birthing days. He would joke that it gave him extra time to close the deal he was working on. I think his baby knew this too. I would smile in agreement. I knew that she preferred him to be available, without the worry of work; she had confided to me that his work fixation was sometimes hurtful to her. She needed him to be present.
His call came in the middle of a cold, snowy night. His voice sounded vulnerable and nervous. Contractions had started. She said she was fine and managing. She thought she could sleep between contractions that were little more than a discomfort. He, however, was sure that I should come right away. What if things changed suddenly? What if she couldn't cope? What if...what if...what if...
"What if it is you who needs me most?” I thought to myself as I pulled on my boots and checked my birth bag. "What if it is you who is unable to sleep, too nervous to rest your body and mind knowing that a life-changing event is about to take place?" "What if it is you who is most afraid?"
He was waiting at the door when I arrived, hair tousled, wearing an old, wrinkled university t-shirt with a tear under one arm. Hardly recognizable. I was used to seeing him in expensive suits and well-polished shoes. I was startled when he wrapped his arms around me in a big little-boy hug, the kind my adult sons give me when they are relieved to see me. I held him tight and felt his chest shudder. He began to cry.
And so the night began...
I made us both tea and we sat chatting quietly. He told me his fears...for his partner, for his baby, for himself. He told me about his childhood, his dreams for the future. Every so often we would hear her labouring, sighing through a contraction, and then drifting back to sleep. She didn't need me yet. But he did. "Ah", I thought, "this is why I am here."
Every birth brings new wisdom, new meaning, and new understanding. Thank you, universe, for teaching me at every opportunity. You have reminded me with this papa-to-be that partners need doulas as much as mothers need doulas.
As the sun rose, so did the contractions. They were strong now. She swayed and rocked, leaning on him. He held her up, moved his body in unison with hers. He would look at me often, his eyes wide and unsure, but when he looked at her it was with softness and compassion. He held her hair when she threw up in a bucket. He sat beside her while she laboured on the toilet, letting her body empty and open at the same time. He gave her sips of water and wiped her face with a cool cloth. The looks he gave me were almost like a silent question, "Am I doing okay? Have I got this?" I would nod and smile, encouraging him to continue loving, caring, caressing. Watching the dance of labour is sacred and each time I am witness to it, I am in awe.
The time had come for his baby to be born. He sat behind his partner, supporting her as she leaned against him, whispering words of encouragement in her ear, tears streaming down his face. In between pushes, she would rest against him and close her eyes, somewhere far away, and yet so present. I took some pictures, as they had asked me to. When I saw him later, days after the birth, he showed me one of the photos and said "Wow, was that really us? That was the craziest, most insane experience of my life. I will never be the same."
Birth changes us. We know it changes the birthing woman. She learns that she is powerful and strong, that her body is magnificent and that she can overcome emotions and sensations that seem crushing in the moment. She unleashes the rawest, earthiest version of herself and uses all that power to bring her baby earth-side.
But partners are also born. They are birthed into existence as their babies emerge into the world; as was he on the morning of his daughter's birth. He had discovered the power within him to help, to nurture, to encourage, to wait patiently, to give up control, to surrender and to love without limits. What fine parenting qualities!
As I drove home, many hours later, I reflected on that intimate night-time conversation that he and I had shared. I felt a deep affection for him, for her, for their new baby girl.
The work of the doula is to mother the mother, that is true.
But she also mothers the partner and that is very significant work too.