Attending a home birth in a supportive role is an intimate and personal experience. Every person in the room has a tremendous impact on the birthing mother and affects the outcome of the birth. Birthing is one of our most vulnerable states of being. We are very open and easily take in the suggestions of those around us. We are no longer working from the parts of our brain that we use in daily life. Birthing is primal. Women often report not being able to use words during the most intense parts of labor. We take in information differently, we are taking cues from sublte facial expressions, movements, tones of voice and all the subtle energies that can be overlooked when we are using our thinking brain.
The mother-daughter relationship is especially powerful during home birth. In my own practice it is common for mothers to go a few days past their due date waiting for their own mother to arrive from out of town. Or equally as often, waiting for them to leave town. As a midwife, I have seen this so often and so blantantly that it deserves some exploration. I would like to offer Grandmothers-to-be some help in supporting their daughters during a home birth.
1. Believe in her. There comes a point in every labor where the birthing mother needs reassurance from those around her. Many times during natural birthing we meet a feeling that we may not be able to continue. It is critical that the people around her, hold the confidence for her. You must believe in your daughter and reflect her own strengths back to her. This is not a time to call her "baby" but rather acknowledge her strength as a woman and your equal. Express to her that she can do this. Tell her that she is strong and she is capable of doing many things that are difficult. Tell her that you believe in her.
2. Provide comfort. I can't think of a more comforting feeling than having mom stirring quietly in the background. It puts our mind at ease knowing she is taking care of all the details. Keeping fresh coffee or tea brewing, washing towels and sheets, keeping the bed area and bath area fresh and clean. Taking care of pets or siblings. Preparing meals and healthy snacks for everyone. Take over the role of host at your daughter's home, so she doesn't have to tell some one where to find things. One of my favorite memories of attending a birth was from a grandmother. She mothered all of us. She could see that we were tired and working through the night, she tended to us as much as her daughter. Anytime something needed cleaning, she wisked it away, and brought new fresh warm towels. As the sun rose in the moring, and baby still had not arrived, I could smell fresh coffee coming from the kitchen, and she quietly brought us a cup and placed hot breakfast in our hands without disturbing the atmostphere of the birth.
3. Be honest with yourself about your relationship with your brithing daughter. If there is tension, be willing to stay away during the birth without making her feel guilty. Rememeber, her home birth is going to be very different than the hospital birth you may have had. It is very intimate, sensual and sometimes sexual. It can be difficult to be this open with your mother present even in the best relationships. Being willing to freely offer her space is one of the greatest ways to support your daughther. The key to this gift is to ensure that your daughter does not feel that you are upset with her or that there will be repercussions for not having you at the birth. This is a beautiful gift of love and respect and one that can send you on the road to healing a relationship.
4. Examine your own birth story and fears. Grandmothers-to-be have their own birth stories. Witnessing your daughter give birth at home can be healing, it can feel like a victory. But if you are full of fears and think that she should be in a hospital then please do not attend her home birth. Nervous energy and fear have no place in the birth room. I have witnessed the excruciating anxieties of grandmothers-to-be spill all over a birth, changing the entire atmosphere of the experience. If you find yourself wanting to question the midwife about protocols and expecting her to give you reports of how the mother is progressing, then you are probably feeling anxious. Although a home birth is personal and the midwife is also a friend, she is still a medical professional and must adhere to HIPAA laws. The midwife cannot update grandmothers on dilation, blood pressure, or any HIPAA protected information unless you are specifically listed on your daughter's medical records. So if the midwife avoids telling you these details, you can trust her even more, knowing your daughter chose a midwife with integrity! Take a moment to step outside and meditate for a few moments on the natural design of birth.. Its a good idea to come to one of your daughter's prenatal appointments to meet the midwife and ask questions about her protocols. Ask to be present at a postpartum also, and you can ask the midwife questions about the birth. I love talking afterwards about the birth and explaining why I did or didn't do something during a birth.
5. Practice before baby arrives. Pracitce mindfulness, being aware of your impact on your daughter. Notice how your footsteps sound in her home. Read the books she is reading to prepare for her birth and notice how they differ from your own preparations. Notice subtle moments, do you need to fill in every space? Notice how she puts her towels away, is it different from the way you do it? Practice honoring her way of being in this world. Practice pointing out your daughter's strengths and this will naturally flow in to the birth room.
I love having grandmothers at home births, it makes the moments even more special. But I have also seen it make the moment very stressful. So take care to notice which of these elements that you will bring to the birth room.