So, first off, I don’t ignore my clients. Oh man, I really hope nobody thinks I do. I promise that was just a controversial headline to try to get your attention. But I see this scenario playing out over and over again with pregnant clients, family members, and friends who go past their due date and I’ve been guilty of contributing to it in the past. I call it the watched-pot effect and I’ve seen people go bonkers because of it.
I’ve written about due dates in the past so I won’t go into why they should mostly be ignored, but I really think this bears repeating: a watched pot doesn’t boil. Say that to yourself now. Say it again. Once more with feeling! It’s true; studies suggest that the more anxiety a woman feels about her due date, the greater chance that she’ll be pregnant for longer. It’s a vicious cycle. Some kind of cruel cosmic punishment. And studies also show that stress hormones have an effect on babies in utero and how they handle stress themselves later in life.
Stressed out yet? Don’t be. You’re supposed to be a helper, not a stressor! Being poked, prodded, and pestered is not going to help your partner, friend, or family member feel safe enough to let her body go into labour. Think, for a second, about the family cat, who seeks out the spare bedroom that nobody ever goes in, or the dark cubby under the stairs, as her perfect labour space. This is no coincidence; cats and other animals look for dark, warm, quiet, places to give birth because they know they’ll be free to focus on what their bodies need to do. Humans are no different.
So as a partner or family member, what can you do to help? Here are some ideas:
- Book some time for an activity with the birther. This may seem counter intuitive to what I said above about relaxation and all that, but it isn’t. We do need those safe, quiet spaces to labour, but we also need to just get out of our heads. Making plans around the estimated due date gives a birther something to focus on, rather than The Big Day. It’s a distraction and sometimes that’s exactly what we need to make a shift.
- Offer comfort. Are you good at massage? Do you have a side job in aromatherapy? Is your apple pie out of this world? Share something comfortable, indulgent, and/or relaxing with the birther.
- Mobility is key. Sometimes all it takes is for the baby to make a slight shift in positioning to trigger labour. On a day when the parent has lots of energy (this is key; don’t push her if she’s tired), offer to go for a walk, do some prenatal yoga videos together (they’re great even if you’re not pregnant), or splash around at the pool.
- Empathize. Chances are, the pregnant person is tired of hearing every attempted comfort or platitude about waiting for the baby. In my experience, most people don’t want to hear “the baby will come when s/he’s ready”. That’s pretty obvious! You know what never gets tiring, though? Empathy. Knowing your friend/partner/family member legitimately feels for you is awesome. Yeah, it sucks to have to wait! Yeah, your ankles are swollen! Yeah, you’re super pregnant and ready to pop! Listening and supporting through what seems like an endless pregnancy is really valuable; most times pregnant people will get to the “…but I know this baby is worth waiting for” or “…but, y’know, I’m really damn good at being pregnant” part. And that’s when you can jump in and cheerlead.
- DO NOT ASK if the baby is here yet. Just don’t do it. Plenty of people will; you don’t need to be that person. I promise, when it’s time for you to know, you’ll know. And giving a pregnant person space can be one of the most wonderful gifts of all!