Thursday, March 19, 2009

A doula pet peeve

I would like to invite all people attending a birth to practice a special piece of compassion for laboring women. It bugs me in ways I can't quite express when someone shows up in hour 6 of an induction and starts nagging at the mom to "get that baby out!" I know it's usually said all jovial and maybe sounds like it's a joke, but it's based in this idea that "getting this baby out" any time soon is possible. One of induction's (many) drawbacks is that it takes a really, really long time and you have to spend that entire time in the hospital. When most people in spontaneous labor would be arriving at the hospital, you have been there for at least 24 hours. And to be honest, the same thing gets said to women who show up at 3-4 centimeters.

I know it is well-meaning and intended to be encouraging. I also know it comes from television/movie/media impressions of birth where a woman doubles over with sudden, intense contractions, is rushed to the hospital and seemingly immediately delivers her baby. (It's funny that people love to tell "horror" stories of births that last for days, but they are not cinematic enough and don't seem to get imprinted on the subconscious quite so well.)

But birth takes time. Birth, most often, takes a lot of time. It takes prelabor contractions, early labor, start-and-stop contractions, walks around the block, trips to get checked out at the hospital and come home again, triage, getting checked into the delivery room, and settling in and then often you STILL have hours of labor even with the hospital's (very) conservative estimate of 1 centimeter per hour. With inductions, add a night of cervical ripening, and then sometimes another day and night of Pitocin and THEN get to the part where you still have hours of labor.

There are lots of clocks hanging over women's heads in the hospital. There's the 24-hours-after-rupture clock, the 1-centimeter-per-hour clock, and the I-want-to-go-home-for-dinner-let's-call-a-c-section clock. And if a woman is fearing (or justly trying to fight) these clocks, don't add your own impatience, even jokingly.

So friends and family members (and nurses, and midwives, and doctors, who should know better!), do a favor to moms and partners and doulas who are trying to keep a positive-yet-realistic attitude: come in with the same attitude. Come in saying supportive complimentary things, discuss topics that aren't how-long-do-you-think-it-will-be, and leave saying more supportive complimentary things. (And for family/friends, also don't stack up like planes circling O'Hare in her delivery room, hoping she'll magically give birth like NOW and telling her she "has to have the baby by 11 because I have to leave then".)

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