The Third Birth Partner

I had the pleasure the other evening of attending a close friend in labor as she worked to bring her daughter earth-side.  The birth place was quiet and peace filled. The yellow room was tastefully decorated with images and symbols of mothering including a large "labyrinth stone" for mothers to focus and go into.

Labrinth Tracing Stone for Birth

I have always wondered how I would incorporate this into my doula work, but could never carry it to and from births without worry.  Which is ironic since this is exactly what it is meant to eliminate.  

My dear friend was in labor and nearing the place where the third birth partner would join her. 

Although I've never named it before, I've always had a sense of the existence of "the third birth partner". Of course you know the first, usually the other parent of this baby, who's journeyed with you from conception to labor, knowing and learning and loving beside you.  The first partner holds your hand and goes into this newness with you, as you boldly step one moment to the next throughout birth.

The second birth partner is the usually the sage of birth.  Either the care provider or in a doula's place- the provider of care, through the birth journey.  Although this person may not have known you so long, they've known birth.  They partner with the birthing mother to give wisdom and experience, to suggest and remind.  The second birth partner doesn't act calm, they ARE calm.  Frequently in this role I find myself looked to for advice whether for a medical decision to be made or a path forward to take.  I rarely answer much more than to ask the mother to look within... to go into herself and the birth, to use the labyrinth to focus inward and explore and find the answer.  And to my gladness, the mother almost always finds the answer there. But when she doesn't, I begin to look out for the third birth partner.

"A woman once told me her parents had been gone from this world for over ten years, yet they were always ten seconds away in her mind"

Maybe the third birth partner isn't always a critical parent voice inside a woman's mind.  Perhaps it's a specter of another birth experience she must avoid repeating at all costs.  Maybe it's a childhood illness that left her fearful of needles and clinical settings.  Sometimes it may be ... whatever uninvited fear or anxiety only she knows the true depth of.  The third birth partner is rarely necessary for a smooth and easy birth. In fact, as a doula I do what I can to learn about this presence before labor has ever started and do my best to keep it out of the birth. Along with all of the lovely hormones of labor that advance dilation and effacement and contractions, there are other hormones that meter the progress and hold things back.  These hormones are generated by fear and tension and frequently keep things closed and the baby in.  But there are rare occasions when the third birth partner is needed, and serves a purpose.  And this night it did.

 An observer may have seen this as a stall in labor or a slowing pace of contractions, but the hallmark of the third birth partner was the mother's intuition that "something isn't right."  The mother seems to manifest anxiety or fear.  For this birth we sat quietly for a little while, and I suggested the labyrinth for a place to focus and discover what was holding her back. Upon the next examination the midwife found that indeed there was a small portion of cervix that needed to move to make space for the baby.  The answer was to do all we could to relax (bath) and wait for the lip to move or melt away.  My friend had been heard, and when it was time, the birth continued and my friend let us know.  In three pushes she birthed her beautiful girl.

It is still my opinion in many many births that the third birth partner is a hindrance to the process.  Not only that, but sometimes despite our best efforts to address it and put it way, it stows in the bottom of a hospital bag or in a hair clip or sails into the room on some innocuous and well-intended remark that triggers the birthing woman.  We do what we can to keep it from interfering with the birth- because fear and anxiousness have no place next to a laboring woman.  Except when for some rare and fleeting moments they do- inviting us to ask "What's not right? What needs to happen?" 

And this evening I was thankful for that third birth partner.