The Value of Prenatal Visits
One of the most valuable things I learned during my doula training is the importance of the prenatal visits. I schedule at least two, two-hour prenatal visits with my doula clients. During those visits we discuss the family’s birth vision and plan. We do art. We talk about fears and misconceptions. We discuss past experiences and how they can affect this birth experience. We discuss tension, relaxation techniques and then we put some relaxation techniques into practice with contraction simulation. I spend time showing partners how they can support mamas, through touch and movement. And we even discuss what happens when things don’t go as planned.
Most importantly, in those four hours spent together before the birth I get to know the family and how I can best support them in their labor and birth experience. I can start to read a mama’s face and pick up on her body language. I can understand her likes and dislikes. I build a relationship with both parents. I become familiar with their mannerisms and body language.
As a doula, it is important to know what the mama needs and to be able to see when she needs more than we discussed in our prenatal visits, but is equally important to see when she doesn’t need more and when it is time to fade. Each labor and delivery is incredibly unique.
Some labors are marathons, requiring every skill I have ever learned as a doula. I need to do the double hip squeeze and massage and cheer and coach alongside the partner. I need to be the sounding board for parents when things aren’t going the way they had hoped and they have to make decisions. I feel the disappointment and hurt for them as they agree to interventions they had not intended. I am exhausted with mama as she labors into her twenty-fifth hour. I suggest changes in position when baby’s heart rate dips or mama is experiencing intense back labor. Because of those four hours we have spent during prenatal visits, there is a familiarity and built trust. Those intimate moments during decision making and laboring and unknown and emotion and exhaustion are shared, not just with the family, but with me, as their doula.
Some labors require me to sit back and let a mama do the work her body has been preparing for. It is in those births that I am so grateful for those four hours spent in prenatal visits because I know. I know this mama and what she wants and needs. I know this partner and the strength and support he can offer. I know the groundwork that has been laid and the strength and capabilities of this family. I know I can step in and when I should step in and do more, but the rewards of those four hours spent with a family are so great when I get to watch them do their thing while I take some pictures and fetch cool washcloths.
You see, for me, those four hours is where the real work is done. We discuss, we prepare, we build relationship, we become a team. Then, at the birth, I fade. I fetch cool cloths, and water, and ice, I hold hair back while mama vomits, I remind the partner of a few things he can do to comfort mama, but I fade. It’s not about me. It’s about this family.
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