Unless your labor and birth are part of a performance art piece, who to include in (or more often, who to refuse entry to) the birth space may be something you are discussing with your partner and care provider. It is definitely a popular topic of conversation with my doula and childbirth education families. It’s a very individual decision for each family to make, but I tell people that it is important to envision your ideal birth (and all the possible paths it might take) and imagine who you feel will make a helpful or meaningful addition to that journey.
Some birth settings make the decision for you, with limits on the number of people you can have in the room. Many hospitals only allow two guests during a labor, most often a partner and a family member or doula. In the situations when a family has chosen a doula instead of a sister/mother/best friend, feelings may be hurt, but it takes away the need for the partner or doula to “run interference” and keep those in the waiting room updated or OUT of the space the laboring couple has asked them not to enter.
In a homebirth, birth center, or more flexible hospital though, where the number of “guests” at a birth is left up to the family’s comfort, it can be difficult to decide who should be welcome and when, and who might better serve the family after the labor and birth. When considering who you want to invite/allow into your space (which is how you should think of it–someone must be invited or allowed, and it is indeed your space) there are some good questions to ask yourself.
Is this someone who has invited themselves in? Am I just afraid of hurting their feelings?
Of course everyone who cares about you wants to be involved, and of course they all want to witness the moment of triumph and your baby’s first cries. But it is your birth. Are you simply allowing someone in because you’re afraid to tell them no, because it seems like a nice or “fun” thing to do, or do they really serve a purpose? Maybe you can give them an important job outside of the birth space, such as caring for an older child or preparing a special postpartum meal.
What “jobs” are important in your birth room?
You have your care provider and their staff, and perhaps your partner, but what other jobs are essential to your best birth experience? Do you want a doula to help you cope through your labor? A photographer to capture the irreplaceable moments beautifully? What else do you need? A chiropractor? Acupuncturist? String quartet (joking)? There is fully valid reasoning in inviting that really calm and peaceful friend who you know will keep the mood light, even if her only job is to love on you. But if someone isn’t serving you, you might want to reconsider their presence.
Can you be naked/poop/curse/cry/experience an emergency in front of this person?
Because you might. Let’s be real. Your sorority sisters stopping by L&D to hang out with cupcakes sounds like a really fun idea at say, 4 centimeters dilated, but as you round the corner into transition and things get down to business, you might find yourself asking for the epidural you said you didn’t want because you don’t want to be “out of control” in front of your guests. Have you been through intense times with this person before? Has this person seen a natural birth before, either in real life or on videos? Whether or not that’s how your birth unfolds, it’s important that this person knows what to really expect–that freedom to move and vocalize are important and normal, that blood and vomit and fluids may be part of the party. Also something little talked about, if there is an emergency or if you/baby need some assistance/intervention, do you want a room full of people watching?
Does this person have any fears or issues surrounding your birth or birth in general?
Whether they’ve expressed concern about your choices, or may be harboring trauma from a birth in their own past, that negative energy has the power to enter the birth space. Might they start asking lots of questions to your care provider, interfering with your peace? Might they suggest a move to the hospital? Will they be pacing around? Imagine yourself laboring, and then imagine this person worrying, however quietly, right next to you. Do it now. How does that feel?
Remember that birth is not a spectator sport–it is a sacred event. Those who are present should fully understand the gravity of what they have been invited into. There is some thought that if you wouldn’t have a person there for the making of the baby, then you might want to reconsider having them there for the birthing of the baby–an equally intimate experience, driven by a flow of love-hormones that can be easily set off-kilter by stress-hormones. A childbirth educator friend of mine says “For every non-essential person present at your birth, add one hour to your labor.” Interruptions during sex can halt the whole process, and interruptions during birth can do the same. I’ve seen contractions completely stop when certain presences (nurses, OBs, even friends/family members) enter the room, to only resume as they leave. Peace and privacy and safety to birth unobserved are a primal need.
Who did or who would you have present at your birth? Would you do things differently next time?
ps: If you’re expecting, have some questions and are in Tampa Bay, Barefoot Birth has an awesome class coming up!