A middle of the night Facebook message from a nurse-midwife at local hospital, is responsible for this video( I will refer to her at the end as girlfriend, since I promised her I would make a video preaching her observation and asking for a change in our doula community- can’t help the humans at large!). As doulas, we have so many tools in our toolbox. Physical tools, emotional tools and most importantly the use of reframing language. How we frame things for families in such a vulnerable time, can really shift what’s going on in the room. As we always want to be moving into the positive when it comes to labor and birth, there may be one word we can leave out of the birth language in some situations. Senior doulas – after watching this video, please leave your tips and tricks for other doulas to adopt into their practice what has helped some of your families in the use of positive language for labor and birth. We want to hear your ideas!
At 2 a.m. on Saturday night, labor day weekend, I got a PM from a local certified nurse midwife, working the late shift, saying why are doulas still using the word relax in the birth room, with about ten exclamation points. So that’s what we are talking about today.
When I first started doing doula work I was all prepped with my hypnobirthing, I knew what had worked for me for my birth, I knew the language to use. Relax was one of the number one words we used. Everything was calm, relaxed, soft, whatever. And probably my fifth or sixth birth, my mom had extreme back labor, and there was no way for her to relax. And I had never seen that in a face to face scenario.
Heard about, read about, it was in all my books, but face to face the hypnobirthing techniques were only working in between the surges or the contractions, because she was so balled up in pain, and it wasn’t even uncomfortable, it was pain and we couldn’t get that baby to move. That baby was just tight in there and the word relax was the first one that her husband used ‘Relax honey’ and she almost took his head off. And I thought ‘Ok, note to self, don’t say that word’ and it made me use other language like; ‘Let’s get you more comfortable’, ‘Let’s try this position’, ‘Let’s move this way’, ‘What feels good to you right now?’, ‘Tell me where the pain is’. Whatever that was, so that I had more direction of how to help her, without using the word relax. And when you think about it, when did the word relax become a trigger word for you?
Because for a lot of us, it is a trigger word. We’re upset either emotionally or physically, and we get told ‘Just relax!’ And it’s the one thing we don’t want to hear, especially when we’re upset. I remember two incidences when I was a little kid, someone implanted the word relax was not a good word for me. A splinter in my hand, bloody, horrible pain and being held down to get that pulled out. ‘Just relax! Relax!’ The whole time. You’re just going to tense up more. It’s a trigger word. The other time was a tick, and my dad had to use a little flame from a match to get it to back out, so it wouldn’t loose it’s head inside the back of my leg. Of course, when you’re seven and there’s a flame coming to the back of your knee you’re going to loose your mind. Which I did, and it was ‘Relax! Relax!’, while two people were holding me down. So that wasn’t a good word for me.
However, during hypnobirthing I reframed that word to let go, stay calm, breath, move with it, don’t move against it, no resistance, work with it, acceptance, stuff like that. A lot of us to not have that reframing, so when we use the word relax when they are uncomfortable or in severe pain, because it can go either way, that’s going to be a trigger word for them. It also can backfire for a new doula when she’s saying that over and over and over in a hospital setting, when the midwives, doctors or whatever, or nurses, clearly know that’s not going to work. And you keep saying it and mom gets tighter and tighter and tighter. So you’re basically working against what we’re trying to do.
There are a ton of other words we can use when we’re trying to get the birthing person to relax or to let go. ‘Let go’ is one of them. I also use ‘Let me help you get more comfortable’ ‘Let’s try and change positions’ I just divert their attention to something else, kind of a distraction technique, but I don’t use the word relax, because it can just them down. We can find other words that calm them, and I typically do that in a prenatal. I say ‘What kind of words do you not want me to use in the labor?’ and ‘What words do work for you?’ Then I also do a back-up plan of if you don’t want any sound at all and you don’t want somebody talking to you, what kind of touch is going to help you remember to ground and let go? Sometimes, if they’re doing this and they’ve got the elevens, it’s just a soft touch to remind them to let go. Or if their jaw, sometimes they’re clenches and it’s just a touch or it’s like this.
Asking ahead of time and preparing for that gives you more of a plan and a direction and knowing things to say, or do, or not do for that particular birthing person, is going to get you a lot further than shutting them down with a trigger word. And for all those seasoned doulas, give us your tips, your tricks and anything you might do in prenatals to help prepare parents with language or touch or secondary plans. Comment below and help us all out. All right girlfriend, I did the video just for you.