Continuous Presence

This is the first in a series of posts where I reflect on the work of providing labor support. I am speaking to birth professionals – but all are welcome and might enjoy.

In the birth world, we understand that the continuous presence of a supportive person during labor has a positive impact. For me, this is another example of common sense, but as proof, we have research that shows the use of doulas during labor results in fewer c/sections, shorter labors, and less use of pain medication. When I talk with people prenatally about what continuous presence means in my work, I explain to them that it can look different depending on what is happening in the labor. For example, sometimes it means I am across the room, or even in a different room, where I can still hear and feel what is going on with the labor. At other times, it means we are face to face breathing through the work. Supporting empowered, transformative birth experiences comes from knowing what is needed and when? How do we do that?!

In large part, knowing what is needed, and when, requires my commitment and ability to be present to what is happening in and around me. It’s more than just my presence, it’s my, being present, that is important. When I can be present to the thoughts and emotions that are arising in myself, I can respond from a clear place. When I don’t have that awareness, I shift into prescriptive approaches, that aren’t always helpful. A few examples from a recent birth;

I had been with a couple in their home, supporting them through labor in a connected way, but when we arrived at the hospital, I lost my ground of being present to what was arising in me. A lot was going on through the hospital admission process. A process that can be tricky for the laboring person; labor can slow, or the groove achieved at home can be lost. In retrospect, I see that in this case I had gotten tight with the transition and hence, I lost connection with my intuition. When that happened, I fell to an authoritative stance that blocks empowerment. “I know what to do,” arose in my thoughts and I moved to completing a checklist: keep partner connected, keep mama out of the bed, set the environment….. Midway through this checklist, I directed the partner to a position near the mama and at the same time I came present. I felt his body language, I felt a shift in the room and I felt my feet on the ground; I was fully aware of what was stirring within; and a clarity about what she needed arose.

Much later in the labor, this was a LONG one, we were all tired – the mama most of all – she had been working hard for many hours and was walking through a very demanding part of her labor. I noticed an urge to “fix it” for her, my thoughts were spinning – another checklist: talk to the partner about his thoughts, ask the provider to come in and talk about options, talk to the nurse about other supplies…. talk, talk, talk. This time I was present as the checklist arose. I noticed and slowed it down. I opened to seeing, feeling, hearing the mama and the space. My intuition said, be still, hold the space… so I got out my knitting and didn’t say anything. Thirty minutes later she started pushing. An important point here is that in a different situation, this action would not have been helpful. Connected, intuitive labor support requires us to let go of being prescriptive and instead drop into what is unfolding in the moment.

Throughout this labor, I danced in and out of being present. I have never been continuously present. But I have tasted the experience, and I have been witness to the wisdom that arises when I am in that place. I have learned that through ongoing study and practice of mindfulness, self-care and self-reflection, I can be in that place ever more. I have also learned that “getting it wrong”, as I did during the admission process, is part of the dance. We get caught up, and we react from a place of fear, control or aggression. I call that reactivity, a fall. And I believe that if I we are not falling about 20% of the time, we either not leaning into our growing edge, or we are not noticing when we fall. Nonjudgemental self-reflection is the tool that helps us grow when we notice the fall.

Based on my personal experience and the feedback I receive from clients and others in the birth space, this approach is transformative for all involved. What is so powerful about it is that it is something we can all do. I believe that when we aren’t pulled away by our thoughts and emotions, at our core we have wisdom. Wisdom that can guide us as we support people through the incredible, intense journey of birth. I am engaged in sharing these tools and practices with birth professionals – new and experienced. A helpful starting place is with mindfulness practices. I have uploading a guided mindfulness practice here. I have a workshop coming up on May 25th.

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