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How to attend a home birth!

For many events in our lives such a as weddings, funerals, baptisms, or other important ceremonies, one can find a leader, friend, or guide of one sort of another who walks you through the process, straightens your formal wear, and elbows you at the appropriate time to pay attention. Unfortunately, birth is not on that list of important ceremonies that has a guide. Many of us are not taught what's appropriate, how to be helpful, what our role is, who the attention should be on and when, what to do or at bare minimum what NOT to do.

I mean, is asking to hold the new baby really as bad as wearing white to a wedding? (usually, yes)

I'm here today to offer you a bit of a guide if you will, or simply a few pointers to think about if you have been invited to a home birth. Similar to many of those other important ceremonies in our lives, people who are unaware or intentionally violating common etiquette at an event are often discussed - even years later - and I'm wagering you don't want to be that person being discussed. Home birth and non-medicated births are quite different from hospital and facility based births.

I've compiled a few things to think about and some reasoning for the recommendations:

  1. Manage Expectations:

  • Home birth does not occur in a single room like a hospital - there is no waiting room for people to simply pass the time. You cannot come and go unnoticed. The very nature of home birth includes incorporation of one's familiar surroundings for comfort. Recognize that your presence at the birth should be one of a support person, conscientious and respectful of the laboring person.

  • No ones presence at any birth should be the mindset that it's a show to watch, or an experience to have. Even if you have never seen it before, remember this day is ALL about the birthing couple and the baby, our role is to offer love, care, and assistance to them in whatever way they need it.

  • Some folks just need to hear it bluntly so I'll just say it - today is not about you. This baby may be related to you, and/or you will have an important role or connection in this child's life. For today lets recognize that the most important connection needs to be between the parents and the child they are bringing into the world. Our role is to offer protection over that connection today.

2. Understand Your Role:

  • Ensure that you understand the expectations and boundaries set by the family. Respect their wishes and follow any guidelines they provide. If you are unsure, it's best to clarify in advance what expectations they have for you. You could ask "How do you imagine me best supporting you?" to get an idea of what they want your role to be. Another great question for the family is "Is there anything I should do or not do when I come for the birth?"

3. Calm and Supportive Presence:

  • This is perhaps the best advice! Be mindful of your emotional state and the energy you bring into the birthing space. Your calm and supportive presence will positively impact the birthing experience for the family. There can be a lot of downtime and time with no guidance in labor. If at any point you are unsure what to do, check in with your emotional state and make sure you are not spilling anxious energy.

  • If you work or have ever worked in the medical field you may find yourself trying to fit hospital advice or protocols into the circumstances. Remember the family has hired medical board licensed attendants who specialize in normal, natural, low risk birth outside of the hospital setting. We love what we do and conversations and information sharing among our fellow allied healthcare professionals is welcome - as long as it is an appropriate time and not disturbing of the family. Typically, during attendance of their birth, questions regarding their decision to home birth or questions regarding the action or inaction of their chosen medical team are not appreciated.

4. Dealing with Anxiety:

  • If you feel anxious about attending the birth, it's important to prioritize your mental well-being and not just for you! Communicate openly with the family about your feelings and consider opting out. Yes! You can decline an invitation to attend, or quietly excuse yourself at any time during labor and you will be appreciated for your ability to recognize the situation and protect their birthing space! Anxiety can easily transmit to others in the room, and will eventually spread to the laboring person. Labor is enough without processing and hosting others emotional states of being and offering reassurance. Laboring families are not hosts. For everyone's benefit - let the family know that you would like to visit them after the delivery to celebrate the new baby - anxiety free! Trust me - they will appreciate your willingness to protect the sacredness of their birth plans!

5. Practical Support during labor time:

  • Offer specific help based on the family's individual needs: This could involve tasks like assisting with other children, preparing meals, running errands as they come up (there's always something needed in labor or the immediate few days after), walking and feeding animals, taking out the trash, moving along laundry and cleaning up after them as they labor along.

6. Preparation and Comfort for you:

  • Come prepared for the labor process by dressing comfortably, bringing snacks, and having activities or items to keep you occupied during wait times when things get slow. Sometimes early labor can and does start and stop over the course of a few hours and then not return for a few days! This is very normal! If things seem to have slowed down or stalled - especially if providers are recommending rest for the laboring person - it may be best to leave and offer to return later when things pick up again. As the old saying goes "a watched pot never boils."

7. Respecting Boundaries:

  • Respect the family's privacy, space, and wishes. Think of entering the home similar to how you enter a library. Avoid behaviors that could disrupt the birthing environment, such as strongly scented perfumes or food, loud speaking or noises such as cell phone clicking or vibrating, turning on lights or changing the environment in general - if it's working for labor, let it work!

  • A note to photographers low light fast action is the game in home birth. We don't add light or pose peoples positions until a newborn photography session days after the birth. A few well timed flashes every few minutes to capture the entire labor is actually much less disruptive than setting up lighting equipment or walking through the home opening curtains and turning on lights. The labor flow of natural birth loves the dark and this is what we will support at home.

8. Postpartum Assistance:

  • Our favorite friends and family extend their support beyond the birth by helping with household chores, offering to run errands, and providing practical assistance during the postpartum period. There are truly more opportunities to help the family postpartum than there are in labor! (see number 5 above)

9. Continuing Communication:

  • Remember to maintain open and respectful communication with the family. Ask how you can best support them and be responsive to their needs throughout the birthing experience. While some families can be quite outspoken, others may need you to offer to leave for a while if things have slowed down or stopped. Don't wait to be asked. Be aware when things change and keep communication open. Remember nothing should be taken personal, everyone's goal is active labor and a healthy outcome for all.

By following these labor guidelines, you can ensure that your presence at the birth is helpful, supportive, and respectful of the family's wishes and needs. Your role as a supportive presence can contribute to a positive and memorable birthing experience for the family and will be remembered for years to come when they think back to this special day.

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