What are the early signs of labor?

Our focus is on how you, the partner, can help the birthing mom – but the top questions we get from you are about the signs of labor:

  • How do you know when labor is beginning?
  • How do you know labor is for real?
  • Is it pre-labor?
  • What’s pre-labor anyway?

We understand the need to know – we’ve been there 🙂 When labor kicks in, that’s when the action starts! That’s when YOUR job begins. So let’s run through the signs of labor, for both Early Labor and Active Labor.

What is early labor?

Early labor is the beginning of the first stage of labor. We like to call it the ‘Hey – we’re in labor!’ phase because it’s a time of anticipation & excitement. You’ve been waiting for months and FINALLY the finish line becomes a reality.

Early labor usually takes from several hours to a few days. BUT… it can take weeks too. As you might expect, it’s different for every mom. And it can be different from pregnancy to pregnancy.

It’s a time when hormonal changes are happening that prepare the body to birth and breastfeed.

Early labor can also be called pre-labor.

What are the early signs of labor?

The signs of early labor are:

  • Braxton-Hicks contractions / painless tightening
  • Irregular menstrual-like cramps (basically mild contractions)
  • Backache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Gas-like discomfort
  • Rectal pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Pinkish vaginal discharge (‘show’)

The most well-known sign of early labor is the Braxton-Hicks contraction. It is an actual contraction – just not intense. They can be referred to as ‘practice contractions’ because the uterus is preparing itself.

Braxton-Hicks contractions can start as early as 6 weeks but that is not considered early labor. They are much more common in the second and third trimesters. They can feel like menstrual cramps – or they might be so mild that they’re missed completely.

Before early labor, contractions are mild, short and irregular. It becomes early labor when the contractions become consistent, starting at 20 minutes apart.

The contraction pattern during early labor ranges from 5-20 minutes apart. And which of the possible signs you see will be unique to your partner – and this pregnancy.

Thoughts on the term ‘false labor’

False labor is an old, misleading term for early labor. It implies that what’s happening is not real – but that is far from the truth! Real things are happening to prepare the body for birth and breastfeeding. And every contraction, no matter how mild, is preparing the uterus. Think of each contraction as a rep when working out. If you don’t do a rep, you gain nothing. The same goes for contractions.

In our eyes, there’s no such thing as ‘false labor’.

What is active labor?

Imagine all the signs of early labor – but BIGGER and BADDER. We call this the ‘Time to get down to business’ phase. The mood shifts from fun and excited to a bit more serious. This is when the hard work – for BOTH of you – begins.

What are the signs of active labor?

The signs of active labor are

  • Contractions 3-5 minutes apart
  • More intense backache
  • Increased pelvic pressure

The contractions become strong and regular: 3-5 minutes apart. They last 45-60 seconds long. It all becomes more intense, and the mood shifts to more business-like and focused. The time for jokes & banter is past.

This is the time you’ll need to get into a rhythm with her. You’ll need to put your support strategies to use. And during each contraction, you will need to be ‘on’ and focused completely on her.

What happens next?

Most providers will suggest following the 4-1-1 rule to make the next step. When contractions are:

  • consistently 4 minutes apart
  • at least 1 minute long
  • and this pattern lasts for at least 1 hour
  • This is considered the time to leave for the birthing center or hospital. Some providers will suggest following a 3-1-1 rule too.

Trust your instincts for when it’s time to go (if you aren’t birthing at home). Remember that going from home to the birthing location is a disruption. It is normal for labor to slow down until she is settled again. If you have any questions, be sure to call your midwife or doctor.

And if you’re working with an experienced doula, she can give recommendations on when to leave or when to call your provider.

What can you do with a birthing ball?

Ah – the ubiquitous birthing ball, seen everywhere from gyms to birth educator’s homes. We’ve had one (sometimes two) in our house for years. We used them initially for pregnancy and labor but now they’re used either as toys or seats. They’re useful before pregnancy, during and well after too!

The birthing ball exists under a bunch of different names. They can be called exercise ball, yoga ball, Swiss ball, pregnancy ball, Pilates ball, gym ball, and more. They’re all the same thing, just marketed a little bit differently. If you’re on the lookout for one, don’t worry about what it’s called and just get one that gets good reviews.

So what exactly is a birthing ball for?

Relief , comfort & relaxation. They can help relieve pelvic discomfort & pressure by opening the pelvis and balancing the ligaments, tendons & muscles.

They can relieve lower back pain too. She can sit on it (on a non-slip surface), which will distribute her weight evenly on her hips and align her spine. She can also lean on it on ‘all fours’, letting it support her upper body and taking stress off her back. Both of those exercises, shown in the video below, are great for relieving non-pregnancy back aches too 😉

Just sitting, leaning on, bouncing on, rocking on them or doing figure eights can be relaxing too. It’s good to have options, when the pregnant mama’s having trouble getting comfortable.

Encouraging optimal fetal positioning. Ideally, the baby should be head down, facing mom’s back. This allows the baby’s chin to be tucked into her chest, letting the smallest part of her head come out first. Sitting & rocking on a birth ball can help this happen. The open pelvis, balanced ligaments etc and evenly distributed weight can help the baby settle into an optimal position.

Inducing labor. This is like the next level of optimal fetal positioning. When the baby is ready to be born, the same exercises that help it get into the right position can help it move lower into the birth canal, put pressure on the cervix – and kickstart labor.

Here are a few exercises that are good for both encouraging fetal positioning and inducing labor naturally:

You know what else can induce labor? Sex. So when the time is right, get busy! (Sorry, dad jokes are inevitable at this point…)

Relief, comfort & relaxation during labor. Yep – all the same exercises are super-useful during labor too. They can be more comfortable than a chair. Rhythmic rocking and swaying can help her get through contractions. Sitting or leaning on them exposes her back for massages from you. They can be leaned on for support during contractions OR when pushing the baby out.

You should be sold on birthing balls at this point. If they could only cook and put the baby down for a nap, they’d be the most perfect thing ever.

birthing ball

Choosing the birthing ball size

Guess what? The taller she is, the bigger ball she needs:

  • 55 cm ball if she’s under 5’4″
  • 65 cm ball if she’s between 5’4″ – 5’10″
  • 75 cm ball if she’s over 5’10”

Obviously if you’re going to use it too and there’s a big discrepancy between your heights, you’ll need your own ball.

IMPORTANT: When she sits on the birthing ball, her hips need to be higher than her knees. If her hips are lower than her knees then the ball is too small. This is important because it prevents the spine from extending, making it rounded . This can cause a backache AND prevent the baby from moving into an optimal position. So make sure the ball is the right size!

You can get the perfect one here (referral link) and be sure to get a pump if it doesn’t come with one.

The peanut ball

One last thing – there’s a variant of the birthing ball that comes in a peanut shaped. Surprisingly, it’s called a peanut ball. It has a few different uses than the typical birthing ball. It can be straddled  for better balance, put under the knees to raise the legs, used like a body pillow, and more. Trish really wanted one back in the day but they were hard to find. Nowadays, they’re freely available online, she recommends checking them out.

birth ball
Kids love birthing balls, once you have one you’ll never get rid of it.

Our slogan about fatherhood: Be the rock. Light the way.

We wanted to dig a little deeper into the words rock star and fatherhood in general. The name Rock Star Dads felt right (as explained here) but we had to spend some time ruminating on it. And the more we thought about it, we found symbolism that made sense – and this birthed our slogan.

Be the rock.

Rocks are strong. Rocks are steady. Rocks are reliable. You know exactly what you get when you pick up a rock.

Look at it this way: she needs to know she can count on you. Whether she’s having a bad day or whether it’s during labor, she needs to know she can count on you. You need to be steady & reliable.

This goes for fatherhood too – when your kid bumps her head or scrapes her knee, she’s gonna come to you. And you’re have to deliver, over and over again.

the rock
You can also be The Rock (fannypack not included)

Be the rock. Be the strong, steady, supportive person they need. Give them strength, give them empathy, give them love. Give them what they need.

Keep in mind, though, that we’re not saying to be like a rock when it comes to emotions and feelings. Times have changed; we disagree with the idea that men can’t/shouldn’t express their feelings. Men must express their feelings because we are always teaching our children by example.

Be happy, be sad, be whatever – just be open about your feelings.

Light the way.

Stars are amazing.

Besides being beautiful, sparkling things in the sky, they help us navigate. In the northern hemisphere, we use the Big Dipper to find the star Polaris which points north. In the southern hemisphere, the constellation Crux (aka the Southern Cross) points south.

Stars light the way (see what we did there?). We might meander and explore but when we check our bearings, the stars show us the way. So how does this work in our daily lives?

light the way
Stars are amazing. You can be amazing too.

Partners look to us for support & love. Children look to use for love & guidance. We already mentioned teaching by example above, but that’s part of a greater idea: fatherhood is leading by example.

Anyone can be a leader – it does not require having followers. As part of a family, our actions have consequences big and small. During childbirth our calm & confidence can help her from focusing on fear and pain. We can make gentle suggestions to talk a walk or eat something. We can help light the way.

As parents and partners, we can lead by example. We can inspire our partners (and be inspired by them too). By being compassionate, loving, considerate and supportive. By having passions and hobbies so children can see what personal satisfaction looks like. By sharing our feelings and working through stress productively. By making mistakes and learning from them (something our children can learn from too).

And we can lead by example no matter where we are – home, work, wherever. It’s not about being better than someone else or anything like that. It’s about trying to do the right thing, no matter where we are.

Be the rock. Light the way.

So there you have it – the story behind our slogan. And now you know why we’ve got a gorgeous picture of a mountain range under a starry sky on our home page. Mountains are really, really big rocks. And it’s all light up by stars.

If you think that’s heavy on the symbolism, here’s some more: climbing a mountain is a big deal. Kinda like … supporting birth. And how does one climb a mountain? With practice and planning – just like … supporting birth.

There you go – symbolism up the wazoo. Can you dig it?

The stages of labor: a partner’s guide

If you’re going to support your partner during childbirth, you need to know the stages of labor. The whole process of childbirth – aka labor and delivery – takes place in three stages.

We do cover the stages of labor in greater depth in our forthcoming course, with a focus on what each stage tends to look like. We also outline what your responsibilities are during each stage, along with what you need to do. Depending on who you talk to the stages can be slightly different. As fans of Lamaze, we believe in their stages.

The first stage of labor

Of all the stages of labor, stage 1 is the longest stage. When people talk having a 20 hour labor, about 2/3 of that time comprises the first stage.

This whole stage is about dilating the cervix, the opening to the uterus. By the end of the stage, the cervix will be 10cm wide – big enough to let the baby come through.

Learn about the stages of labor
Early labor is a good time to take a walk.

The first stage of labor has 3 distinct phases:

  • Early labor (the Hey we’re in labor! phase)
  • Active labor (the Time to get down to business phase)
  • Transition (the Oh sh*t let’s take it one at a time phase)

Early labor is the period when contractions are 5-20 minutes apart. Sometimes people miss it because the contractions start off gradually. Over the hours the contractions build up in length & intensity. They become more regular, until they are 5 minutes apart.

The first stage is the time to get ready. It’s the time to pack up if you have to leave the house to give birth. It’s time to rest and engage in some light activities. It’s time to nourish yourselves with nutritious food. The mood is usually upbeat, with excitement and anticipation.

Active labor is when the contractions are longer and much more intense. They are 3-5 minutes apart and lasting up to a minute long. It’s when things become serious. It’s when couples get focused and work together. The time for lighthearted chat & jokes is past.

It’s a time to get into a rhythm: rest between contractions & activity during contractions (like breathing and vocalizing). As the contractions get more and more intense, so does the need for support. The focus is completely on the birthing mama.

Transition is the last phase, right before the second stage of labor (pushing & giving birth) begins.

The contractions are now crazy intense. They’re 1 1/2-2 minutes apart and last as long as 90 seconds. They have to be taken one at a time. The contractions are powerful but efficient, and there’s still rest between them. The need for emotional support is greatest during this period.

the second stage of labor
Contractions are like waves, with breaks between each wave.

The second stage of labor

Stage 2 is all about pushing and giving birth. Once the cervix has completely dilated, the body switches from dilating to pushing. This doesn’t happen right away; it can take several contractions after full dilation before the mama feels the urge to push. For a lot of mamas, when they urge to push hits, they HAVE TO PUSH!

The pushing coincides with contractions, and vocalizing like an athlete can help. They can become alert and focused. It can be very instinctual, pushing along with the contractions, then resting between them.

This stage of labor ends when your baby is born and is held by mom. (She did all the work so she gets first dibs – plus she’s got the booby juice for the baby.)

The third stage of labor

Stage 3 is the recovery period after birth that includes delivering the placenta. Contractions are more like surges that deliver the placenta. The hard work is over – it’s time to meet the baby!

It’s a time of excitement/joy/bliss/relief/all of the above! It’s after the pain, with a beautiful new baby in your arms – and you’ll get a chance to hold her too. You’ll be asked if you want to cut the cord (yay, you get something to do). The baby might breastfeed for the first time. You might get to witness a breastcrawl, where the baby is on mom’s belly and shimmies over to a boob to start nursing. (This is also the time when you’ll start referring to breasts as boobs and boobies.)

This is a very special time to be with your baby – measuring, weighing and all that can wait because you’ll never have this special time again. The baby’s not going to get bigger or smaller in just a few hours.

the third stage of labor

Is there a fourth stage of labor?

Some folks split stage 3 into separate stages, one for delivery of the placenta and one for recovery. The placenta delivery happens within 20 minutes of birth. It doesn’t make sense to have a separate phase just for that when you’re already recovering. We’ll will stick to having 3 stages of labor.

Now you know the three stages of labor

We’ll be writing more about labor and delivery, so be sure to come back! You can also subscribe to our newsletter below and get updates delivered to your inbox. You’ll also get a birth preparation ebook and be notified when our upcoming course is ready.

What 3 things does a father to be need to prepare for childbirth?

Note: this was written in 2011!

Teams with championships with preparation, mindset & focus – a great lesson for fathers everywhere.

It’s the day after Super Bowl XLV and congratulations to the Green Bay Packers on the win.  They came prepared, with a mindset that let them play mistake-free football. They were ready to take advantage of the opportunities their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, gave them.  It was clear the Packers had better focus than the Steelers – the Pack didn’t turn the ball over once while the Steelers did it 3 times.  All of this added up to victory and an excellent object lesson for future fathers.

There was another announcement last week that should really inspire fathers-to-be: the rookies of the year.

Every year there are players who come in, with no professional experience, and perform like seasoned veterans – just like a father can be at his first birth.  This year the awards went to Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams, offense) and Ndamukong Suh (Detroit Lions, defense).  They were the top two draft picks and farexceeded expectations, earning the trust of their teammates and helping their teams.

Wait – aren’t the players who succeed the ones with the most natural gifts – strength, speed, intuition?

This is not true!  Every position on a football team has physical skills that are benefits – speed for wide receivers, strength for defensive linemen, height for quarterbacks.  But these skills do not guarantee success. There are plenty of tales of workout wonders – college players who had teams salivating based on their physical skills.  The vast majority of workout wonders go on to have non-descript, even mediocre careers because physical skills are not the most important part of playing.

What separates the good players from the great ones: preparation, mindset & focus.

There’s a saying in sports:

Great players are made in the off-season.

The off-season is when players get time off.  Some take it easy while others practice and hone their skills.  These are players that improve and make the leap from good to great.

Good players get by on their natural abilities – great players make themselves great through preparation.  So can YOU.

They understand that working at it is the only way to help themselves and their teams.  A perfect example is Jerry Rice, the former San Francisco 49er.  In his own words,

I wasn’t the biggest, I wasn’t the fastest, but I was going to outwork everybody else.

Outwork he did, to become arguably the best player in NFL history.  He wasn’t the biggest, the fastest or the strongest – just the best.  Outworking is something that any future father can do.  Just keep in mind that there’s no competition with other dads – just yourself.

This is what every father-to-be should aspire to: to be the best they can be.

Get it in your mind that it’s going to take some work and that you are going to do it.  There’s not a huge amount of work needed to be the best birth partner one can be.  You won’t need to run sprints in 90° weather, and there’s no spandex involved. But it’s more than thinking about it for 30-40 minutes.  What it takes is

1. Preparation

Learn about birth and its possibilities.  Learn about your partner – what kind of support does she like? Does she like to hear whispers of encouragement, loving touches or something else?  Learn about different techniques to manage pain.  Learn about the emotional ups and downs.  Be prepared with suggestions to help her through the stages.  It sounds like a lot but it’s really not.  Take the time and prepare bit by bit, just like a bird builds its nest.

2. Mindset

Preparation lays the foundation for mindset.

Mindset is your mental attitude.

Your mindset defines how you will respond to a situation emotionally.

When it gets intense will you freak out or stay cool?  This will affect your partner. When she feels unsure, when she feels that she can’t – she will turn to you for support.  Your mindset will help her or not.  If you freak out, she’ll freak out.  If you stay cool, she’ll know things are good and that she can count on you.

3. Focus

Focus is concentration.  It’s staying in the moment with her, no matter where she is.  It’s putting her needs above everything else as she does one of the most amazing things in life.  It’s not dropping the ball when she needs you the most.  Birth is one chance for us guys to be truly, truly great.

Now take it upon yourself to be great – and do not settle for less!

There you go – the 3 things every father-to-be needs: preparation, mindset & focus.  Put in the time, build the foundation to be confident & keep your head in the ‘game’ – that is, labor & birth.

What do you think makes a great birth partner?

Image credit

What I learned from our first childbirth

Three things struck me after our first childbirth, when our son was born:

Leaving home for the hospital is disruptive.

Just when we really needed to hunker down, dim the lights and be together we had to leave.  We drove, checked in, went to the room and settled in again.  It’s like driving downfield in football, turning the ball over, waiting to get the ball back and then getting back on field in worse field position than before.  Birth, like consistent offense, needs rhythm.

I could have done a much better job supporting my wife and, by extension, my little boy.

Books and videos are certainly helpful but experiencing labor & birth in person is something else.  It’s hard to do something with no experience and limited practice – just like the difference between a football minicamp and a live game.  The best you can do in minicamp is run drills and simulate game conditions – the same thing applies to birth.  I needed to focus and prepare better the next time.

I’ll also admit something here – I spent maybe an hour really thinking about and preparing for birth.  I spent some more time reading (not too much), but the amount of time I spent thinking and planning how I would be and what I would do during birth was probably 45-60 minutes.  And I didn’t spend any of that thinking of what I might need.  Had I honestly thought about it at the time, I would have known that I was under-prepared.

Experienced labor support would have made the difference in childbirth.

Our doula had limited experience with natural birth but she was the only person at the birth we actually knew. Our OB was away at a conference and our midwife was more medically oriented than we preferred – plus we only met her the night before during early labor.  We weren’t surrounded by people we knew & trusted – and they didn’t know what we really wanted our birth to be like.

If you’re preparing for your first birth, please learn from other’s experience.

Father birth stories: Arp’s first

We know partners’ birth stories are hard to find! Here’s the story of the birth of Arp’s son – his first birth!

Me & the not-so-little boy today.

I wish I had written this birth storys when I was supposed to, which is right after the birth when everything is fresh in memory.  It didn’t happen – that first month of fatherhood was a shock to my system and I forgot about writing it all down.  At the time I had no clue that birth would have such an impact on my life (nor did I know what kind of a father I would become).  I do, however, know what kind of a birth partner I was – the birth equivalent of the back-up quarterback.  The guy who had promise but isn’t quite ready for the game.  (keep reading – you’ll see what I mean)

The pregnancy came after one and a half years of trying to conceive.  I don’t really know why it took so long, but it became really stressful after a while.  Sometimes my heart still speeds up a bit when I think of the number of times I was woken up at 5am by Trish telling me We Need to have sex Right NOW!!! Groggy, 5am heart-attack sex is not my cup of tea, but it eventually got the job done as the last time I was woken up that early she was showing me a positive result on a pregnancy test 🙂

We had planned on using an independent birthing center as a comfortable compromise between a regular hospital birth and homebirth.  We didn’t want the impersonal, medical environment of a hospital but we weren’t comfortable with a homebirth either.  My experiences & ideas of birth were limited to 1) my mom talking about her 40 hour labor and the epidural wearing off before I was born and 2) the popular media images of birth as a screaming, wailing crisis.  That’s it.

The independent birthing center booted us at 32 weeks due to the advice of their backup doctors, which was insanely stressful.  It was symptomatic of a number of problems they had as the center shut down the next year citing insurance costs.  We decided to birth in a hospital birthing center instead and looked for an OB who was covered by our insurance.

We went to the Bronx Botanical Gardens a couple of weeks before the birth, on a beautiful sunny fall day.

We scrambled and found an OB supportive of natural birth (his mother was a midwife) who worked with the birthing center at St Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.  That’s where our son was born in 2002. Unfortunately for us, the OB was away at a conference when we gave birth.  We liked him as he was very kind & supportive – it would have been great to have him at the birth.  His backup was a midwife we met for the first time during labor.

The day labor really began (after a couple of days of Braxton-Hicks) was the day before the due date.  We had decided to do a little mallratting to keep our minds off.  The contractions began before we left for the mall and continued while we were there.  We didn’t talk about it or draw attention to it – Trish mentioned Here’s another one every so often or she quietly paused and held her belly.

I was quietly excited inside – nervous but excited.  I didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to jinx it and have it turn out to be more Braxton-Hicks.  I kept in mind that we were out to keep our minds from focussing on the obvious, which was We want to see our little boy now! I don’t remember if we bought anything – we may have just had lunch & headed back home.

Back home, in the 5th floor walk-up apartment we lived in at the time, the contractions continued.  Trish sent me out to the supermarket to buy some nutritious snacks while she timed contractions.   I returned and the contractions got harder. Later that evening, we called the midwife, who suggested laboring in the bathtub.  Trish remembers that we had one of the occasional bouts of cloudy brown water coming from the pipes, but it hurt enough that she didn’t care and got in the tub anyway.  While she was in the tub I … said I was really tired and went to sleep.  (that single nap demotes me from back-up to third-string quarterback).

Trish woke me up a couple of hours later after she had been in the tub laboring by herself.  We called the midwife again and luckily, she lived in our neighborhood and dropped by (I’m guessing around 1am).  That’s when we met her for the first time.  She checked to see how Trish was doing.  I felt excited but nervous and just wanted to get to the hospital birthing center.  Instinctively, I think I wanted to be someplace where we could settle in and labor – I didn’t like knowing that we had to leave at some point.  But we weren’t that far along – she said she’d come over around 7am to check again.

At 7am, she came over, checked Trish and said Let’s plan to go to the hospital at 10.  We got our stuff together – our clothes, our son’s clothes & blankets, cloth diapers, boombox (with batteries – the hospital would not allow anything to be plugged in), music and healthy snacks.  At 10am we walked down the 5 flights, met the midwife outside our building and got into the car for a drive in …. rush hour.

It was a cool, sunny fall day – which would have been perfect if we weren’t stuck in traffic.  The midwife had suggested 10am assuming that rush hour would be over but we weren’t so lucky.  At least it was moving, but a drive that should have taken 10 minutes took almost 30 and it was an uncomfortable ride for Trish.  Every time there was a contraction she’d be reaching out and grabbing stuff – the dashboard, a headrest, my arm, my leg – basically anything she could reach.  It was kind of funny – I wonder if any of the other commuters noticed and what they were thinking.

The hospital birthing center had a small jacuzzi tub for laboring in, but birthing in it was not allowed.

We finally arrived at the hospital, checked in and went to their birthing center.  We had hired a birth doula (a non-medical birth supporter) who met us there.  She was a rookie, but we wanted a doula as we didn’t really know how much support I could give with no experience.   We wish we had been able to hire an experienced doula but we could not afford it.

One big reason we liked the birthing center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt was the jacuzzi tub – Trish wanted to labor in water.  We put on some soothing music and got in the tub and stayed there awhile.  Our doula was with us, outside the tub next to Trish.  I held Trish’s hand, we huddled at times and I gave her reassurances.  She spent most of her time in one position, trying to spread out a bit in the tub.  It wasn’t that large and it was hard finding a position where she could submerge most of her belly.  We moaned & vocalized through a lot of the later contractions and I felt self-conscious about doing it.

[An aside: I’m feeling a lot of stress as we switch to transition & pushing.]

We were in the tub for quite some time, with her mostly in the position you can see in the picture of us in the tub.  The contractions were becoming harder and harder.  This is when I started to get nervous.  It was hard for her and the pain was increasing.  She was tired and hadn’t slept much and wasn’t sure what she could deal with.  I honestly was not being that much help to her beyond being there, and she asked me if I thought she should consider a [painkiller].

[This is the part that makes me want to break stuff to this day.  This is when I needed to look her in the eye and tell her You can do it and I didn’t.  I can’t blame our doula, who had hardly any experience.  I can’t blame a midwife we didn’t even know and was as helpful as she could be.  I can and do blame myself, even though I know that I did the best I could at the time.  Did I really do everything I could to be prepared?  I can’t pat myself on the back for that.]

Laboring in a bed together at the hospital birthing center.

I don’t remember what I said, but it certainly wasn’t You can do it or I believe in you or Let’s take it one contraction at a time.  No suggestion to try another position.  I’m thinking I hope she can do it instead of I know she can do it.  I probably replied something like It’s ok. Were likely heading towards transition and it was hard, for her and for me to watch.

We talked to the midwife about it and she offered us Stadol.  She said that she could give a half dose, which was really more like a quarter dose since her dose was half of what most doctors give.  She assured us that it would not affect our baby at all.  (This is NOT true: women are told not to drink alcohol during birth but an opiate is OK?  Opiates cross the placenta during labor within an hour of use.)

We then left the tub and got in bed so Trish could be injected with Stadol.  The picture of us laboring in bed is part of an hour or so where Trish wafted in and out of consciousness.  Eventually she returned to general consciousness but the continuing effect of the drug was a loss of feeling – unlike our next two births she wasn’t sure when to start pushing.  The midwife let Trish know that is was time to start pushing.  They brought out a foam triangle to lean back against and she started pushing.  And I know I told her that she could do it but I was concerned more than confident.

Our son is born! Tears of joy from me 🙂

The pushing was hard but we stayed in that one position.  It was hard work and seemed to take much longer in retrospect than our next two births.  The loss of sensation from the drug really made things harder rather than easier.

After what seemed like a long time our son’s head peaked out.  He had dark hair like me and I was excited! I thought we were close to being done but … not quite.  It took more hard pushing (still in the same position) until his head came out – with a hand along side of it (aka compound presentation – more than 1 part of the baby at a time). She continued and pushed him out and finally he came out after much longer than a couple of minutes.  Trish reached down and helped to pull the baby out, onto her belly, slimy, quiet but all ours.  I still get teary thinking about him finally being with us.

I cut the cord after it stopped pulsing (I don’t actually remember doing it O.o).  They wiped him down and after a few minutes took him because he was having ‘trouble breathing’ – they wanted to do some deep suctioning.  Trish had to tell me to go be with him and I talked to him and touched him until they were done.  We believe now that deep suctioning wasn’t needed and this was a side-effect of him being affected by the drug.  (See link above for more details.)

A well-deserved rest.

Then he was back with us and we lay down on the bed together.  Trish tried nursing him and we marveled at this amazing little boy that was finally with us.  We went home the next day after getting checked by the pediatrician.

We need more partner birth stories online – hopefully you found this story helpful!

Follow-up: What I learned from this birth

Watching birth videos – yes or no?

Looking back on the first birth I was a bit apprehensive but watched birth videos anyway.  I recall Trish being more interested in watching them.  This changed for me for our second pregnancy – I was more interested in watching than before.  I felt pretty knowledgeable by the third birth, but we did watch the video of our second birth with the kids.

That’s not to say that I’m up for watching everything – I’m uncomfortable with watching a c-section because I’m squeamish about watching surgery.  Considering the c-section rate in the US is 32%, maybe watching a video of a birth by c-section is good preparation, to get familiar with the process & surgery room.  I still wouldn’t be able to watch the actual cutting of the belly but knowing what else is going on would be wise.

You should do what you are comfortable with. But I would recommend watching some childbirth videos to get familiar with the sights and sounds of birth.  The problem is in the editing of the videos.  Labor can be long – our first two were about 20 hours and some labors are longer.  There’s no way a video can capture that.

Plus some videos show birth in one of two extremes – scary as hell or totally romanticized.  The question is whether watching a specific video will make you feel better about birth or freak you out more?  Everyone is going to be different about what they want or need to see. You may have to push yourself out of your comfort zone – which you’ll be out of during birth anyway!

Today, birth videos are accessible via YouTube, which did not exist for our first birth and had just started before our second (just looked it up – the first video was uploaded there in April 2005).  It’s pretty cool that this is possible – now I need to go find some good videos on YouTube to share.