For Partners! (and the Moms who love them)
by Laura Wood, CHt, BHE
Hello to all the Partners/Dads/Other Moms/Other Parents out there! I wanted to send you some love, because you are amazing and so important, and sometimes kind of overlooked in this whole process. At Dar a Luz, we do focus on the birthing mom/birthing parent and the baby (both of whom are our clients) for really good medical reasons. But our wonderful Partners — who show up, support, love, participate, share in excitement and heartache, and also happen to be becoming parents to these babies, too — also deserve a shout out and some attention. Yes, moms and babies are important! Luckily, love and attention aren’t pie, and there’s enough to go around without taking anything from anyone else. Partners: You matter! You are important! One of the things I love the most about Dar a Luz is our focus on partners. Even in this crazy pandemic, finding as many ways as possible to safely include partners has been at the forefront of every decision. Partners are welcome and encouraged to attend all classes and every appointment they can, even if it’s remotely. In this quick love note, I will share some of what we observe partners accomplishing and experiencing, and also share a great tool from the Blissborn class for partners.
One note: I’d like to apologize in advance for the awkwardness and language limitations inherent in writing an article like this. Obviously, some partners aren’t biological parents of the baby; some mothers don’t have partners; some birthing parents don’t identify as mothers; some women don’t want to feel erased by neutral titles; some fathers prefer to be identified as dads instead of partners, some biological partners don’t show up and/or don’t belong in the category of parent or partner or are only one and not the other. There are many situations that don’t apply to anything I’m writing, or might be outside of the realm of experience pictured here. Please give us grace as we fumble through trying to include these many situations within the confines of our imperfect language and imperfect understandings. We would love your feedback and guidance, too, if you feel inclined to offer it up (insert virtual deep, respectful bow and open arms and heart here).
I sometimes coach parents in an interesting exercise in thinking about roles and expectations: imagine a photograph of your birth. Who is in the center? Who plays a supporting role? Who doesn’t show up in the frame? By taking a look from an observer’s perspective you can ask: Is that picture what you want? If your birth is coming up, is what you are imagining a reasonable expectation, considering your choices and options? (As an interesting aside, if you do a search on professionally-produced birth photos, in many birth settings the photograph might focus on a provider and a nurse at the center holding s sticky squawking baby, encased in a bright light… the mother’s bent legs as she lies flat on her back might be the only part of her that is pictured… a partner might be represented in the picture as an elbow, if they make it into the photo at all.)
Until recent times, in fact, partners/other parents were either not present or relegated to the corner of the room, figuratively and literally. Your own father may not have even been allowed in the room when you were born. Luckily, things are changing in many birth settings and in many places. I hope for you that your birth feels or felt like your family was in the center of that photograph. If you’re reading this, you probably found or at least understand the importance of providers who place families at the center of that picture. Recognizing, supporting, and educating partners in this process is something we should all be advocating, in order to help ensure that they not only claim their place in that picture, but feel that they belong there and have confidence in their role. In most cases, mothers want and need their partners there every moment, and rely on them above all others. Nobody should put partners in the corner! For partners, sometimes that means really owning and understanding where you belong.
It can be hard to know how to claim a spot when the mother/birthing parent is the one doing most of the hard work of labor, and the baby is the one making the massive transition from womb-life to your waiting arms. One good way to really feel like you belong there is to show up having a job you’re ready and willing to do.
The truth is, partners naturally have some of the most important jobs in this process. Just to name a few (ha!): throughout the entire pregnancy and labor and birth, you are typically the main support, both physically and emotionally. You are a pair of waiting arms and massaging hands. You may also be the juggler of big jobs like parenting other children, taking care of other loved ones and pets, organizing, keeping the lights on with your job, doing dishes and laundry and cooking, and navigating your ever-changing relationship. You are also often in charge of communicating with everyone who is anxiously awaiting news. You probably spend time worrying about the health and wellbeing of the most important people in the world to you, worrying about abilities and safety and future accomplishments of this child in this crazy world, and also with COVID-19 and climate change and present social justice issues and bonkers political news and poverty and the state of education and… You are doing research and reading and planning, on top of readying yourself to parent a whole human being. In labor, you are the keeper of the lists and the DJ and the administrative assistant and the photographer and the comic relief. You are the advocate and protector, and you are the voice of all of the collective hopes and dreams and fears and needs of the family. You might be tasked with running errands and taking care of last-minute duties. You’ll need to remember to use tools like hypnosis and movement and positions and coping techniques. You’ll be the pusher of food and drinks and lip balm and position changes and regular bathroom breaks, and you’ll hold and help and rub and soothe. You’ll communicate with providers and doulas and anxious family members, drive safely to the next destination, create her “nest” and protect it, hold her hand, and help to make big decisions. You’ll be the closest and safest one to catch her anger or anxiety or grief, share in pain and worry if things shift, guide different ways of thinking, and reframe situations. All the while holding a heart full of love and good wishes and a good attitude through each moment. You’ll probably deal with irrational moments and justifiable tears, while trying not to take anything personally, and while expressing deep gratitude for her incredible work. You’ll also be present and calm and believe in her endlessly. You’ll wish you could take it all away or take it on yourself — because how could any one human be asked to do this much?! You’ll say, “I love you” a thousand times. You might catch your baby and you will be completely overwhelmed with love and amazement, and then still show up for your partner and baby, supporting bonding and feeding and healing and processing… and SO MUCH MORE. Oh, and you’ll also need to take care of yourself so you can be present for the long haul and participate fully in this magnificent event. It’s a lot.
I wanted to just take a moment and say that you are seen and appreciated, and you are welcome and important. You deserve respect and kindness and inclusion. Whoever you are, whatever you bring, however you show up, you are a major part of the family that includes the most important people in the world to this little one – the center of their universe, not just that photograph. Thank you for being who you are and for being here. We are so glad you’re part of our Dar a Luz family too!
PS: If you want to do an interesting exercise about what skills you’re bringing to this birth, you can find one HERE. You already have so much to offer! These are great prompts for discussing important topics, too. By the way, if you find yourself struggling with anything on the list and it seems important, you may want to discuss using a doula to round out your team.
Laura Wood is the Co-Founder of and teacher of the Blissborn Natural Birth series teacher at Dar a Luz. She’s passionate about lots of things, including helping parents create better births and partnerships, helping people find new ways of doing and looking at things, social justice, attachment parenting, and good writing and design. She has been a hypnotherapist for over a decade. In addition to her work at Dar a Luz and Blissborn, she’s in grad school right now for Social Work. She lives in the gorgeous North Valley of Albuquerque with her awesome husband and her three cool children.