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The One Question To Ask A Laboring Mom

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Labor is an intense experience. There are twists and turns as you progress, and your emotions run the gamut from excitement to despair to frustration to overwhelming self-doubt. Many laboring mothers develop a laser-like focus that helps them literally push through the pain. Given the fact that moms are doing most of the work, it's surprising how much they're left out of the equation when it comes to disseminating information. That's why the one question to ask a laboring mom is, "What do you need to know?"

I think the intent is not to worry a laboring mom because she needs to focus on the work at hand, but honestly, that's something for her to decide.

I think sometimes partners and medical staff subscribe to the old adage that what we don't know can't hurt us, so it's simply best for us not to know. While that mindset might come with the best of intentions, respectfully, I must disagree in the case of labor. It's happening to our bodies, and there's so much we can't see (whereas everyone else has a panoramic view of our lady parts). I think the intent is not to worry a laboring mom because she needs to focus on the work at hand, but honestly, that's something for her to decide. Even a mom in the throes of contractions has the wherewithal to say what she needs (and doesn't need) to know, and her wishes should be honored without question.

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Especially in a hospital environment, there's lots going on that can be confusing and upsetting to a mom who's left out of the loop. There are the monitors, for starters. Those things are always beeping and dinging and sometimes they even make the "flatline" noise. This is terrifying for a pregnant mom. She deserves more than a passive, "Hey, don't worry about it." I had to watch as my baby's heartbeat dropped every time I pushed, and it was awful.

I had no idea what they were all doing there, and all I could do was turn to my husband and cry. It would have been really nice, and not that difficult, for someone to ask me what I needed to know to feel prepared for the procedure.

When my midwife concluded that I was going to need a little help, she called in the obstetrician. The second I gave the go-ahead to use the vacuum to assist in the birthing process, our room went from me, my husband, a midwife, and a nurse, to at least a dozen people. I had no idea what they were all doing there, and all I could do was turn to my husband and cry. It would have been really nice, and not that difficult, for someone to ask me what I needed to know to feel prepared for the procedure.

I also think you have the right to know what's being done to your body. My nurse was great about describing the catheter process to me. Likewise, my anesthesiologist gave me the play-by-play for my epidural from injecting the local anesthetic to his three attempts to insert the tube. My blood pressure dropped drastically shortly after, but the midwife let me know what she was doing to level it out and about all the changes to my dosage. While I appreciated the information, I know there are moms who would rather not know. That's why asking is so important.

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More information can also be very motivating for a mom in labor. Personally, I really liked knowing how many centimeters dilated I was. The updates encouraged me that I was, in fact, progressing. I've read that other moms want their partners to describe what's happening "down there" because once they know baby is crowning, it helps them bear down. Once that shoulder is out, you know you're likely home free. After I gave birth, my midwife shared that I was really close to having a c-section. Although I didn't end up needing one, that tidbit definitely would have been appreciated since I would have done anything to avoid one.

I also think you have the right to know what's being done to your body.

There are some things that shouldn't come to as a surprise to a birthing mom. An episiotomy, for example. I had no idea I'd had one until the doctor was sewing me up. When I agreed to a vacuum-assisted birth, I was completely unaware that I'd green-lighted an episiotomy as a result. I understand now that it's a necessary part of an assisted vaginal delivery, but a heads up would have been nice. Call me old-fashioned, but I think an incision to my perineum warrants at least a cursory warning.

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Finally, there's a piece of information that I'd venture to say all moms want immediately after birth. We just want to know if our baby is OK. When my daughter was born, she didn't cry and she looked purple. My immediate thought was that she was dead. I didn't say anything, but the time between her exit from my womb to when she was finally in my arms was interminable. In fact, I thought they weren't saying anything because something was wrong.

Maybe I'd feel differently about this if she wasn't born healthy, but I don't think so. When I was in college, my mom waited to tell me that my grandpa had a heart attack until I got home, and I made her promise never to do that again. I'm just someone who does better if I get news, good or bad, right away.

What information is shared and how much should be up to the individual mama, and partners and medical professional shouldn't wait for her to ask. In my opinion, it should be standard practice for doctors, midwives, and nurses to fill mom in to the degree that she wants to be informed. Partners, birth coaches, and doulas can be the advocates for her. She's busy. It's called labor for a reason.