“Who do you choose to have with you in the delivery room?”
This question is directed at a mom during hospital admission for the birth of her child. Mom smiles, turns to her husband, and states his name. She is happy to choose her trusted companions for this journey, which may include another close family member or a doula. She understands that a nurse will be assigned to her room and her chosen doctor may or may not be on call at this time. But she soon begins to realize that uninvited guests are lurking these halls and can come crashing through her doors at any moment.
As a doula, I meet a mom at home as soon as she invites me for support during labor. In her home environment I help her intentionally create a space that is pleasing to all of her senses. Low lights. Soothing voices. Soft music. Beautiful aromas. Gentle touch. Tasty drinks. Lip balm. Lotions. Whatever she needs to feel safe and cared for. I am not trying to make her believe birth is like a trip to the spa. These tangible comfort measures enhance relaxation, but their main purpose is to woo our VIP companions: strength, courage, and confidence.
Because during the hard work of labor, pivotal moments will arise. Mom’s eyes grow wide during a hard contraction, and she says, “This is harder than I thought it would be. I can’t do this. I am so scared.” This is fear peeking its head in the door. And that’s okay: fear likes to show up in tough situations. But we get to choose our companions, and we are going to close the door on this one. We greet the fear, and then tell it that it is not invited to stay. In its place, we invite a better companion through self-fulfilling prophecy. I tell mom she IS courageous, she is a warrior, and she is beautiful. I touch her curled fist, encourage it to relax and open. Her husband smooths her furrowed brow with a cool cloth and praises her for accepting what is ahead. Soon confidence strides into the room when mom realizes how far she has come.
Yet just when these chosen companions and comfort measures come together to create a strong and supportive atmosphere, the time comes to move to the next level. We make the trip to the hospital and everything changes. Bright lights. Unfamiliar smells. Pages of questions. Beeping machines. Gleaming equipment. Needles. Removal of personal items and clothing. Internal exam. Numbers. Measures. Time ticking. Consent forms for worst-case scenarios. All of these are routine hospital supplies and procedures, here for safe monitoring of mom and baby. We need our medical providers and value their skills. But their working environment can unintentionally introduce interlopers: tension, fear, and self-doubt.
This is why it really matters who mom invites into the hospital delivery room. Her husband may be a strong and encouraging coach, but overwhelmed by the unknowns and the intensity of labor. A doula is prepared for this specific challenge. She is trained to focus on helping mom and dad encounter the unknowns and face them with more strength and courage than they thought they had.
When we enter the hospital room together, we look all unwanted guests in the eye again and push them out the door. We banish tension with relaxation. We respond to fears with reassurance. We meet self-doubt with encouragement.
And soon, the room is full of companions the couple really needs on this parenting journey. With invited guests in place, a child arrives. And a family develops new measures of strength, courage, and confidence.