This post might not be popular with some people, especially if you are a family member or friend who finds they resemble some of these descriptions. However, I work for my doula clients to make sure their birth experience is one they can cherish and this needs to be said:
If your pregnant daughter, friend, niece, granddaughter, cousin (or any imaginable relationship) requests that you not come to the place of birth while she is in labor — respect her wishes.
I can hear the excuses now. But we want to be there. But we want to see baby be born. But we want to be the first in the family to hold the baby. But she is my (insert relation). But the partner is (insert relation). But, but, but.
She said she didn’t want you there. Actually, she probably didn’t say I don’t want you to be there. She probably said something polite and nice like, please respect our privacy. I will be working hard to bring a child into the world. We would like our privacy. We will call you once we want you to come or once baby has arrived. It may take a long time and we don’t want you hovering. Please respect our privacy.
Please listen and respect her wishes. Please know this is an important day and if she has made any attempt to ask you to not intrude on her privacy and concentration, she has thought long and hard about how to convey this to you without hurting your feelings.
Let me tell you what happens in some scenarios when people don’t listen to and respect a laboring woman’s wishes. At worst, you can cause her labor to stall or completely stop or contribute to a dysfunctional labor that can put her at risk for interventions she has been wanting to avoid. This is especially true when a woman is attempting a natural birth, but it can happen even with an epidural for pain relief. On a less serious level you are disrupting her concentration and possibly creating a memory she would rather not have attached to the day her baby and your (insert relation) is born.
Why do I sound so harsh about this? Because after 16 years of being a doula I can tell you I have seen some family members behave in peculiar ways. Yes, I understand you are coming from a place of love and concern but it boils down to people making choices to disrespect what a laboring woman has requested. Here are some scenarios I have witnessed:
- A laboring woman tells her family she is going to the hospital to be checked out and she will give them an update. Upon her arrival, she finds there is a room full of family eagerly asking private details she may not want to share and interfering with the staff assessments. Her labor stalls or stops and she is sent home, only to return a few hours later and this time to keep it to herself.
- Despite clear instructions and a sign on the door that the laboring woman does not want visitors, family members continue to come in because they “just have to know what is going on.”
- Family members falling down and wailing on the hospital floor when they hear a woman requires a cesarean for safety, disrupting the precise and necessary care from the medical providers.
- Family members physically grabbing me and shaking me for updates.
- A laboring woman finally getting a break from her labor either via a natural spacing in her contractions or some medicinal pain relief and taking a well deserved and needed nap only to have family members barge in wanting updates even though they had been told she is napping.
- Family members bringing cheeseburgers and fries into the room of a laboring woman who hasn’t eaten in 12 hours.
- Family members threatening to sue the staff if the baby isn’t here soon.
- Family members accosting all staff, doulas, partners, and even the woman if any of them come out of the room and going so far as to be standing in the hallways eavesdropping with their ear against the door.
- Family members making comments that they have never seen such a large belly, telling her to get an episiotomy, random myths and outdated advice, asking her why she is trying to go natural, telling their own birth horror stories, or one of the worst, saying I just don’t know what I would do if you or the baby died.
Are you thinking this is fabricated? It isn’t. This actually goes beyond a case of bad manners. These sorts of behaviors can be dangerous, especially if there is a medical situation going on. When an emergency cesarean is needed, staff needs to move fast. As a doula, I move out of the way and let them do their job when something becomes medical. Family members falling down in the hallway is hindering the staff and the well-being of mother and child, and possibly even other mothers and children. People expressing their love and projecting their fear by voicing that the process is taking too long or they are bored or that something negative will happen to the mother and baby is not only not helpful, it is harming the process and the persons you profess to love. Showing up at a hospital when you have been asked to wait for instructions is crossing a boundary of respect and can make a woman feel like she needs to hurry up. Speaking of, many family members actually say, can you hurry up and have this baby? I have had women hiding in their bedroom or hospital room and sometimes locking themselves in a bathroom simply to find the privacy she desperately requires.
Each woman is different on how she views the need for privacy during labor. In the early stages of labor, a room full of chatter and excitement may be helpful for some and unhelpful for others. As active labor begins, most women prefer a quiet and private environment. There are times I will step out and allow partners to work privately during labor. There is a reason nurses, midwives, and doctors do not sit and stare at their patients. We know that disruptions are disrupting, it is as simple as that. Childbirth is not glamorous and is usually messy. We have not arrived at a point in our society where it is acceptable or comfortable for women to ooze bodily fluids in front of others. Would you want someone to watch you moving your bowels? No, you would probably try to wait until you had a private moment and birth is much the same. Women need to feel supported and one way to support them is by listening to their wishes. If you have been asked to respect their privacy, please listen.
As the mother of an adult daughter, I have often wondered how difficult it would be for me to know she is in labor and to have been asked to not participate in or view my grandchild being born. I understand it must be hard. I understand that our society has created much fear about birth. I understand that Hollywood makes it seem that a woman’s water releases/breaks and we have a baby born at the hospital mere minutes after a screeching ambulance races her there.
That’s not how it works. That’s especially not how it works for first time moms. Average labor time is approximately 15 hours. Average pushing time is 2 hours for first time moms.The placenta may take several minutes or longer to be birthed after the baby. Unless you live many hours away, there will be time for you to arrive. After a baby is born we want mom, partner, and baby to have a minimum of one hour for bonding and breastfeeding and that is after the clean up, physical assessment of baby and mother, and any repairs. Your loved one just birthed a baby into the world and needs that time to de-escalate and bond with and nurse her baby. You could be notified the moment the baby is born and if you live locally would still have time to be waiting to see the baby.
The baby will not grow 2 heads or horns or grow up and go to college before you get there. I promise. And you might be able to bring that new mama a wonderful favorite meal on your way to visit (don’t forget daddy or partner!).
If you are anxious, excited, nervous, antsy (and who wouldn’t be) I have a list of suggestions for you.
- If you are crafty, work on creating something for baby
- Go grocery shopping or cook freezer meals for the new family
- Clean their home (with permission of course)
- Walk their dogs, do any errands they may need
- Write a letter to your loved one(s) and the new baby arriving
- Go shopping for last minute essentials or just for fun
- Assemble any baby items that need assembling (swings, bouncers)
- Make every attempt to send peaceful and positive thoughts, prayers, and vibes
- Trust that her request for privacy is in her best interests and what she needs
If you simply must be at the place of birth, find the waiting area and occupy yourself with something and wait for more information. Family members can be a wonderful source of encouragement. I am in no way advocating that family and friends be kept out of the loop or prohibited from being at the birth if the mother wants their support and company. I have seen mothers, sisters, cousins, best friends, brothers, fathers, mother in laws, etc., be a positive and useful source of support and encouragement– but please be invited.
Kimberly Sebeck, AKA Knoxville Doula, 2016