Going into labor brought on the most unique combination of emotions I’ve ever experienced. At one time I was excited, frightened, woefully incompetent, and completely badass. Given my very confused state, others would have no way of anticipating how I’d react to their overtures of kindness. My partner, my mother, the taxi driver, the labor and delivery nurses, and my OB were all coming from the purest of good places when posing the one question no one should ever ask a laboring mom:
“How are you doing?”
Excuse me? How am I doing? Compared to what? Should I consider how I was doing when I wasn’t being racked by contractions and feeling the weight of what was sure to be a baby elephant clamp down on my unyielding cervix? Or should I respond in the context of what I assume all laboring moms might be feeling in the final moments of pregnancy: “I’m great, if we are defining great by the fact that I am not squatting in a field and expected to return to my farm duties as soon as my placenta has cleared the womb.” Really, what do I even say when someone asks me how I’m doing while trying to get a human being out of my body in one piece? I know there's no such thing as stupid questions, but sometimes there's very, very unnecessary ones.
Nothing will make me feel better so I want you to stop asking if I’m OK, especially since that question is being posed so you can make yourself feel like you'e doing all you can to help me through childbirth.
Look, I get it. You want to keep it casual and put me at ease, like it’s NBD to be spread eagle in front of people who are either strangers or loved ones, giving me basic instructions, like “breathe” and “focus” when I’m doing the most physically difficult thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. “You’re doing great,” is only a slightly better phrase to utter in these moments. I know you’re lying, but I respect you for wanting to keep spirits up in the delivery room, since we all may be here a while on a holiday weekend (my son was born right before Independence Day).
Encouragement is helpful, but I’m pretty sure that if no one spoke a word while I was in labor I would get that kid out of me regardless.
"How are you doing?” however, just smacks of insincerity. Nobody wants to know the truth, which is that I’m doing terribly. That I want to reverse the last nine months of my life and maybe just quit motherhood before it even starts. Nothing will make me feel better so I want you to stop asking if I’m OK, especially since that question is being posed so you can make yourself feel like you'e doing all you can to help me through childbirth. You may care about my wellbeing, but, honestly, what can the average human do to truly assist a woman in pushing a baby out of her body? Encouragement is helpful, but I’m pretty sure that if no one spoke a word while I was in labor I would get that kid out of me regardless. There is no moment I want to prolong the least than the one right before the kid crowns. I can get to the finish line without anyone wiping my brow, thank you very much.
Look, I am grateful to have had my partner in the room, if only to have him witness firsthand what I am capable of. I don’t think you can really get what a woman’s power is until you see her command her body to bring a new life into the world. I am very proud of myself for doing that, and I don’t need anyone’s validation of what a great job I did.
In that moment, anticipating the most significant event in my life and worrying if it’s going to yield a viable baby, I should not be put in the position to think about anything.
I certainly felt a bond with my husband for having him there during the experience. He saw me vulnerable, and I saw him helpless. We were at our weakest, and our strongest, together. We became parents first, and then again, at the exact same moment and I cherish that connection. I love that my children started out in the world with both of us right there, and fully engaged in their births.
I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive by throwing shade at the question “How are you doing” when I was in labor, though. In that moment, anticipating the most significant event in my life and worrying if it’s going to yield a viable baby, I should not be put in the position to think about anything. Trust me to let you know, probably loudly and using very colorful vocabulary, if I need to be made more comfortable or if I just have to unleash some hate during a powerful contraction. Don’t interrupt my flow of giving birth by giving me a survey.
I am very proud of myself for doing that, and I don’t need anyone’s validation of what a great job I did.
If people really wanted to help me while I was in labor, they would just do what they thought was best for me without asking me to direct them. My brain was fully engaged with thoughts of this little person pressing down on my most sensitive inside parts, so I really didn’t have the mental capacity to offer some suggestions on how my partner or nurse could alleviate my discomfort. Do what you think is best, and then be prepared to get yelled at by me if what you believed to be "best" is, in fact, not the appropriate or helpful course of action. I think that will work out for everyone involved (Well, for me as a mom, anyway).
Don’t ask a laboring mom how she is doing. Instead, just tell her she is amazing you at that moment, and that you will never forget how exceptional she is. Reminder her, especially on those nights when the newborn won’t stop crying, that her display of determination, power, and fearlessness during childbirth (no matter what circumstances she labored under or how her baby eventually came into the world) makes you awestruck.
When I was in labor, I needed to know I could do it, and feeling fine or OK is not reassurance.
If you asked her how she was doing, and she responded with a "fine" or an “OK" or an "it hurts," you’re not giving her her proper due. Giving birth unlocked a power in me I had never before felt. It proved how much I was capable of. It showed me the ability of my body that I never had given myself credit for before, especially since I spent so much time hating my size. When I was in labor, I needed to know I could do it, and feeling fine or OK is not reassurance. So please, don’t ask a laboring mom this question. Or maybe any question. Let her tell you herself what she wants. Let her access that power. It truly changed me, upping my confidence, and affirming that I could do this mom thing.