Whilst it is not your body that will be in labour it is really important that you know what it is like for the birthing mother. If you are female you may have done this before but it is still good to have a reminder. For males it is really important that you try to get as good an idea as you possibly can of what labour is like so that you can help in the best way; you may find the metaphorical example is easier to appreciate.
We think of labour as like running up a hill.
During the first stage of labour you are running up but you cannot see the top. You are working hard, using both mental energy and physical energy to keep going but you cannot see the top of the hill. You have no idea where it is but you know that you can get there because you have done so much preparation. The biggest challenge for many in the first stage of labour is the hurdle faced mentally. Try really imagining what it would feel like if you were running up that big steep hill, knowing that you had to reach the top but with no idea when that point would come. For many the temptation to stop would be great. It takes a lot of mental toughness to get to the end of this stage.
A 2002 study by Clough, Earle and Sewell conceptualised the 4 Cs of mental toughness as the following:
Commitment: Are you committed to the desires of your birthing mother? What are you like with commitment in other areas of life? If commitment is something you struggle with try to change that now.
Control: Are you happy to take control? A huge part of hypnobirthing is empowering you to take control of your birth. If you are involved in the pregnancy you can start by helping to take control of that by making sure you are happy with everything the medical team suggest. Anything you are not happy with or do not understand, question until you are happy or do understand. Begin to feel comfortable with taking ownership of the pregnancy alongside the birthing mother now; so that when labour arrives you can be comfortably in control. If you are not involved in the pregnancy really help the birthing mum to take that control, by helping her to feel empowered and in control now you will feel more comfortable doing so in the birthing room.
Challenge: Focus on the outcome of the situation. The birthing mum needs to remember that every contraction is bringing her closer to her baby and that within a very short space of time – in the grand scheme of things – she will have her baby within her arms.
Confidence: The birthing mum needs confidence in her ability to birth her baby in the way that she wants to. You will need to have confidence to help the birthing mum feel confident.
The birthing mum uses her hypnobirthing techniques and knowledge of birth to get to the top of the hill. You have reached the second stage of labour together. Suddenly she can see the top. There is still a little way to go but mentally it can be easier, sometimes physically too. Now imagine that feeling, for a short while your birthing mum may be at her lowest point. Whilst she can see the top she is not at the top. When I ran the London Marathon I remember seeing the 26 mile point. Whilst I was elated, I could see the finish and was minutes away from it, I still had 0.2 miles to go. At that point 0.2 miles felt longer than the 26 miles I had already run. This is transition, the end is in sight but it is not here, it can take a short while to overcome, emotions are high; a mixture of elation at seeing the top with acceptance that she has to keep going to reach it. Then she accepts it, there is still have a little way to go but mentally it can be easier, sometimes physically too. A false belief is that labour gets progressively harder. This is not always true. She can see the finish line – the top of the hill, mentally mum can feel amazing as she knows her baby is going to be here soon. You reach the top, the baby is born and she can feel euphoric. Mum looks down at the huge hill she has just run up; most of it without knowing when the top was going to appear. All she has to do now is run down that hill as she delivers the placenta in the third stage.
The above is a metaphorical description of the three stages of labour, however medically it is important you are aware.
The first stage begins with contractions. In early labour the cervix gradually thins out (known as cervical effacement) and opens (known as cervical dilation). Before the cervix effaces and dilates it is like a long tube, around 4cm long. As it effaces it begins to shorten and thin out becoming part of the uterus wall. The opening at the bottom then begins to widen, eventually opening to a diameter of 10cm, at which point it is ready for the baby to pass through. For a first baby the cervix will probably efface before it dilates; in subsequent pregnancies the cervix may dilate before it effaces. As active labour is reached at around 4cm dilation the cervix begins to dilate more as the contractions get more intense. The final part of active labour is transition, at around 8cm dilation.
The second stage of labour (transitional/advanced labour) is the pushing stage. This generally coincides with the cervix opening to a diameter of 10cm at which point it is ready for the baby to come through. The baby will pass through the birth canal and be born.
The final, third stage of labour is the delivery of the placenta.
Are you as ready as you can be to help your very important person do this? Many people enjoy reading birth stories prior to ‘labour day’ this gives a real insight to what you can expect. Enjoy it, look forward to it and allow yourself to feel the excitement now.