The Elephant in the Birth Room

When you hear the news that your friend/sibling/child is pregnant, there’s a swell of emotions that crests in an explosion of joy, love, and sometimes a watery substance from your eyes. You might picture yourself holding a tiny baby, swaddled in a blanket wearing a hat; or imagine future birthday parties; or think about your place in this new human’s life. You might even be asked to be present when the baby is born.

Wait. What? In the room? Where all the things are happening and all kinds of other things are visible?

Yes. In the space where a laboring person, who needs a safe and calm environment, will birth a human into the world.

After the initial elation of all of that wears off, your next thought is likely, Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen a human baby born outside of a movie or television show. HOW EXCITING! You LOVE tiny babies! You want to snuggle and sniff their newborn heads! You want to hold them and make all kinds of silly faces and noises in hopes of eliciting a smile or eye contact! You have been asked to BE IN THE ROOM! Yes, it’s exciting and nerve wracking! It’s an honor to be asked into the room! CUTE BABY OVERLOAD! GAAAAAAAH!

Let me be the one to burst your bubble, though: it’s not about you.

The parent-to-be likely asked you to be there as you provide a sense of strength or comfort to them in their lives, whether it’s from your late-night texting sessions, long conversations about life, or soothing calmness when things are a bit rough. Labor and birth can be frightening for the person whose body is about to push out a new human into the world, and having you there may provide an anchor in the storm of hormones and emotions they’ll endure. 

Fast forward to Baby Time… You’re in the room. Now what?

First, take a deep breath and understand that you aren’t being to asked to catch the baby or perform any medical procedures. You may just be asked to sit quietly in a corner or hold a hand. If a doula has been hired, she or he will guide you in ways to provide support. Hopefully you’ve talked about what the expectations are WELL in advance of Baby’s estimated birth date* and not asking the laboring person things like:

“Are you hot?”

Yes, a laboring woman will be both hot AND cold because labor hormones are working hard to help the body and the baby do what needs to be done.

“Does it hurt?”

Yes, it hurts, but not in the way it hurts when you roll your ankle or when someone pops you in the nose for asking questions that don’t need to be asked (I’ve seen this happen in a labor room). While we remember having labor and birth pain, we forget the actual sensation of our uterus imitating an out-of-control roller coaster on fire every three-to-five minutes. So unless you are a prepared member of the birth support team, don’t draw attention to pain and discomfort.

“Do you need (whatever)?”

During a contraction is not the time to ask if comfort is needed. Follow the lead of the birthing person, doula, or knowledge you picked up from a birth support book.

“Where’s the nurse?”

Checking on other patients. He or she will be back eventually. Unless it’s an emergency. No one likes seeing a loved one in pain or discomfort, but having a nurse there isn’t going to take that away and may increase the level of stress in the room because the laboring person might think something is wrong when it might really not be. Ditto for the OB (unless the baby is crowning and there are no medical professionals in the room, in which case you should be running out the door to grab one!).

“Why is the monitor making this sound?”

Monitors and machines will make all kinds of noises. You can mute some of them. Try your hardest to ignore the monitors and let the medical team manage the information from it.

“Did you remember to pack a bag for the baby?”

Even if they forgot the baby bag, it’s going to be OK. The hospital will provide what’s needed right after Baby is born, and all other necessities can be brought later.

“Do you know what your cousin/sister/brother did?”

While I’m always one for interesting gossip, this is definitely not the place for conversations about family shenanigans. Save this for the next family dinner.

 

Labor support right before pushing.

 

Here are some ways you can offer help (back when you’re having a talk about expectations):

  • Don’t go online searching for birth videos. The internet is a very, very scary place. Check out some library books to help you prepare.
  • Don’t panic. If this is your first time seeing a birth, for the love of God, please don’t panic. Step out of the room if you have to.
  • Be patient. Labor takes time. Knit, read, nap.
  • Be in charge of the ice. Make sure there is a cup available at all times.
  • Know that it’s OK to not say anything if you aren’t sure what to say in the room. (This is hard, I know.)

Also, don’t plan on camping out in the room after Baby is born. The new family needs time to rest, recover, and bond with Baby. Take some pictures, share hugs and kisses, offer to help communicate the news of Baby’s arrival, and skedaddle.

 

Gratuitous pic of my firstborn, just before all the visitors came in.

 

If you, the parent/sibling/friend, were not explicitly asked to be in this space, don’t take it personally. It’s not meant to hurt your feelings. There is so much happening during labor, that unnecessary distractions can become huge obstacles to progression. It is excruciating to have to wait to hold a newborn and smell their little baby head—I get it. You’ll have time to visit later, and when you do, please offer to change diapers as needed. You can do some awesome things to support the family as they adjust to life with Baby at home:

  • Check on any pets.
  • Pay for postpartum doula support or daytime or overnight help.
  • Clean their house/yard.
  • Fill the freezer and fridge with pre-made food.
  • Check any visitor’s task list left at home.
  • Record an “on the day you were born” video.
  • Pick up a newspaper or magazines for Baby’s scrapbook.

All of this is to say, DON’T be the elephant in the birth room. Be the calm and supportive presence that earned you a place of trust in the first place.

 

*I like using “estimated birth date,” as it takes the pressure off of being “due.” This date is generally +/- two weeks, so it should really be an estimated birth month. This date is also a best guess, so be kind to pregnant people everywhere when this day comes and goes—babies don’t have calendars.

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