The Value of Support in Labor

(Essay written, by Grace Wursthorn, for and shared by Madriella)


The delivery was fast, traumatic, and damaging—yet a blur of pain. I remember distinctly only two parts.


First, the doctor standing over me a in an OR with bright lights. The baby’s heartbeat gone; the pain had taken over. The doctor grabbed my face in her hands forcing me to look her in the eyes.


“Whatever happens, everything I am doing is to save you and your baby’s life. It’s going to be okay.”


They were about to knock me out, nurses were handing the knife to the doctor, and in a moment of chaos, as if God himself had touched the heart of my child, his heartbeat returned.


I will never forget the silence that came over the room.


My own breath halted, my pain subsiding. All that could be heard in that white sterile room was the beating heart of my baby.


The urge to push took over.


Transition complete, they allowed me to deliver vaginally.


The next moment I remember is the doctor saying, “Embrace the pain, lean into it, it’s the only way to push this baby out.”


Thirty minutes later, I delivered a nine-and-a-half-pound baby boy, who was greeted with cheers, surround by a doctor and every single nurse on the labor and delivery floor.


These two moments may have shaped the rest of my life.


It has been a little over a year and a half since that day. I sit at my small kitchen table, healed from my firstborn’s delivery, and twenty weeks into carrying my second.

The circumstances are very different.


I was twenty-three during my firstborn’s pregnancy. Not the youngest mother, yet still naive. Only my husband was allowed to be in the room. Until the day of the birth, I cried almost every day. I cried because my questions weren’t being answered. I cried because it was hard to breath in a mask. I cried because I knew the delivery would be painful. I cried at the possibility of death.


There was no birth team. There was no faces. Just a blur of masks and suggestions that if I didn’t do what the doctors said, my baby would die. My husband called my mother and put her on speaker phone by my head.


Somewhere, amid the blur of memories, her voice rang out clear and true through the delivery.


“You can do this, Gracie. Your body was made to do this.”


Today, I have chosen my birth team. I have hired a doula. In twenty weeks, my mom will not be a voice from a phone, but a person who can hold my hand. I have made sure, that no matter what, my husband will not be left alone in a room wondering if his wife and baby are going to make it. In all of this, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: To embrace and lean into it the pain is true and good advice, but it is not how you push a baby out.


First, in her book, Prenatal Yoga and Natural Childbirth, Jeannine Parvati Baker advises, “We must choose our helpers carefully because giving birth will not be easy,” she cautions, “Unless every person present in the birth room has faith in the ability of the birth woman.” [1]


It is evident that our bodies instinctively know how to birth our babies, but it is also evident there is a correlation between the need for medical invention and a lack of support for the mother. In 2017, Cochrane did a study that said, “Continuous support during labor may improve outcomes for women and infants, including increased spontaneous vaginal birth, shorter duration of labor, and decreased caesarean birth, instrumental vaginal birth, use of any analgesia, use of regional analgesia, low five-minute Apgar score and negative feelings about childbirth experiences. We found no evidence of harms of continuous labor support.” [2]


Throughout history, it is evident that people thrive in community. This phenomenon is just as true when a woman is in her most vulnerable state during childbirth.


Secondly, we know there is value in making informed decisions. When a woman is supported by someone who will sit down and help explain her options and will always be there to explain what is happening during delivery is priceless. In my own experience, I needed this and volunteer with ministries where I have heard women talk about how it felt like they were swimming around in the dark trying to find answers to make the best decisions for themselves and their babies. They don’t know their rights. Many times, women don’t realize they have the right to say no to something they do not want. They don’t see the manipulation of the medical industry to say, “If you don’t do what I say, you or your baby will die.”


In a study completed by BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth on, Maternal perceptions of the experience of attempted labor induction and medically elective inductions, they found that 47% of women in 2016, in the state of California felt pressured to make the decision to have an induction. Of these women, 71% decided to have the induction, 37% of them were elective inductions. [3] According to a study done by Sakala, Declercq, and Corry in 2022, “The cesarean rate is over 24%, the induction rate is 44%, the rate of epidural use is 63%, the rate of artificially rupturing membranes is 55%, and the episiotomy rate is 52%.” This is astonishing. However, in response, they did another study. In the Listening to Mothers survey, researchers polled 1,583 women who had given birth in the previous 24 months. Although doulas and midwives were the least used sources of supportive care (5% and 11%, respectively), they were the best-rated sources of supportive care in labor. [4] This should open our eyes immediately to the value of a doula or support person.


Finally, I think it is important to comment on the fact that delivering babies is a sacrificial act of love. When a baby is born without the help of pain medication or synthetic oxytocin, they are born under the command of oxytocin, the hormone of love. When a mother is surrounded by a birthing team who loves her, cares for her, and supports her fully through a pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum season she is empowered not only during her birth, but is given the courage to step into new motherhood with confidence and grace as she loves her baby into the world.


While my mother could not be there during the delivery of my firstborn, she was standing in my home when I arrived without a baby. She made sure my husband and I were fed between our trips to the NICU, she held my hand as I processed the loss of the first week with our infant. When we did bring him home, she walked me through the beginning of my breastfeeding journey and healing. The value of a support during these vulnerable times in early motherhood were priceless. It is not our births that empower us. They are unpredictable, they can go horribly wrong, and our birth plan may end up on a crumpled mess on the floor. It is the people who served and supported us, despite the trauma and pain of birth, who empower us.


The value of a support person comes down to this: No matter what happens, when a woman is effectively supported, mothers are empowered to step into new motherhood with confidence and grace.


Citations

[1] Jeannine Parvati Baker, Prenatal Yoga and Natural Childbirth

[2] Bohren MA, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Jul 6;7(7):CD003766. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub6. PMID: 28681500; PMCID: PMC6483123.

[3] Declercq, E., Belanoff, C. & Iverson, R. Maternal perceptions of the experience of attempted labor induction and medically elective inductions: analysis of survey results from listening to mothers in California. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 20, 458 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-020-03137-x

[4] Sakala C, Declercq E. R, Corry M. P. Listening to mothers: The first national U.S. survey of women's childbearing experiences. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing. 2002;31(6):633–634. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]