My clients are often caught off guard by one of my prenatal questions: “Do you plan to keep any family or friends updated about your labor?”
For most people, it’s a given that their parents and grandparents, siblings, and best friends will know that they are in labor. For some people, it’s a given that all their facebook friends will know. There’s certainly not a right or wrong answer, but it is a question that should be given solid thought before baby’s birthday rolls around. Here are some considerations when making this important decision:
THE WATCHED POT
When you send that long-awaited message, “I think this is it! Xoxo. Wish me luck!” you will likely get a shower of affirmation in response. These messages from the people who care most about you will uplift and energize you as you work your way into labor. Knowing that your loved ones are thinking about you and cheering you on can be comforting and encouraging.
It is well-known among birth professionals that too many eyes on a labor can result in the Watched Pot phenomenon (as in, “the watched pot never boils”). In early labor, before things really pick up, having anyone sitting around waiting for something to happen can interfere with mom’s progress: she may feel performance anxiety, like she’d better get this show on the road for the people who came to see it. This prevents her from relaxing and settling into real labor.
We normally only think about it in regards to people physically present for a birth. I think it’s possible that the Watched Pot phenomenon can apply also to people who aren’t in the room, but who know you are in labor. Before you decide who and how many people you inform, think about how it might affect you 5 hours in, 10 hours in, 30 hours in.
If you are concerned about the possibility of becoming “a watched pot,” you might consider waiting until you are in active labor, or admitted to the hospital, before informing family and friends that things are happening.
And no, 30 hours was not a typo! From the first contractions of early labor until the baby emerges, for a first-time mom left to labor without intervention, this isn’t an uncommon number. It’s possible that the people who know you are in labor will be waiting a long time to hear the good news that baby is here.
Do you plan to send regular updates to everyone who is aware that labor is in progress? If so, it’s a good idea to assign a labor liaison.
There normally comes a point in active labor that it’s “All hands on deck!” and dad and the doula are busy giving their full support to mom. Or often there comes a point when everyone is quiet and peacefully focused. In either case, no one has time to make five phone calls. Your liaison (mom or Aunt Becky or the best friend) can be your sole point of contact, and she can relay any updates to everyone else on your list.
FIRST, SECOND and THIRD STAGE PHONE TAG
If there’s no liaison in place, and maybe even if there is, those who are closest to you will likely seek out updates if there is a long lull in communication:
“Any news?” “Is baby here yet?” “Is everything okay?” Or maybe a simple “Praying for you! You got this! Send an update when you can!”
Answering text messages from loved ones may be a welcome distraction for you or your partner during parts of labor. But it could as easily disturb your focus once you are really in the thick of things. (And if there is some complication during labor, nobody has the time to send a hurried, uninformative but worrisome update to those waiting in the beyond.) Finally, imagine yourself in that moment — you’ve been in hard labor for hours and the contractions are mounting, or you’ve received an epidural and are just about to nod off — and you get a text as if to say, “Are we there yet?”
If you are concerned about keeping a focused, private setting in your birth room, you might consider asking friends and family (who know you are in labor) not to contact you. Reassure them that they’ll know as soon as there’s news!
YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL
You might consider not telling someone, or anyone, that you are in labor under the following circumstances:
- Your priority is a quiet, focused birth. (Again, assigning a liaison and setting up ground rules for contact can mean the best of both worlds.)
- Your friend/family member is prone to worry. (Remember your labor may be longer than expected, and updating isn’t always possible).
- Your friend/family member does not respect boundaries. (And may show up at the hospital or birth place uninvited. I’m sorry to say I’ve seen it happen!)
- Your friend/family member has expressed negativity or non-support toward your birth plan. (You only need the most positive, supportive vibes from anyone you communicate with during labor.)
From our prenatal conversations, I will know who you want to be present, and how you want to engage with people throughout labor and immediately after. I will help facilitate your communication however I can! I am willing to do any of the following:
- Give updates to your liaison at your request.
- Remind the nurse that so-and-so is not invited into the labor room (the nurses are always very diplomatic!)
- Offer support and explanation to whatever friends or family are present, and also give personal updates to those in the waiting room.
- Help you find gentle ways to explain why you are not inviting your sister to the birth, or why you didn’t tell grandma anything was happening until the baby was here.
Finally, here’s a graphic to help you remember!