I’m going to be honest. When I saw that the series premiere for This Is Us would include a birth, I thought to myself “I can’t wait to watch it and see all the things they got wrong!” Typically, that is exactly what happens. As someone who has been hired to support over 200 births, I have never been particularly fond of the way tv portrayed birth. In my experience, first-time parents are often expecting the overdramatized and scary version they’ve seen on the big or little screen.
But then I watched This Is Us and not only was I pleasantly surprised, I was beyond impressed with how birth (and adoption, more to come on that in another post) was portrayed!
1. While in labor, you may get a doctor that isn’t your doctor.
You prepare for 9 long months in anticipation for your little one to arrive. After frequent prenatal visits with your OB or midwife, you grow attached to your care provider and you envision the birth of your child with him/her by your side. Then you show up to the hospital with contractions a few minutes apart and you are beyond upset to learn your care provider is not at the hospital that day.
In the show, Rebecca (played by Mandy Moore) was unable to have her OB due to a medical emergency. In real life, it is common for a care provider other than your own to deliver your baby. This happens because it isn’t possible for a doctor or nurse midwife to be at every one of their patient’s deliveries.
Prepare for this possibility while you are still pregnant. Ask your doctor or nurse-midwife about other potential care providers who could take their place. Finding out in advance and scheduling time to meet with the other doctors/nurse-midwives in the practice takes the power away from this unhappy surprise.
2. Most doctors really do care about their patients like Dr. Katowski (aka “Doc” who is played by Gerald McRaney) does, even if they don’t always show it or have the best bedside manner.
I loved, loved, loved how Dr. Katowski talked to Rebecca and Jack in the show. I’ve witnessed countless conversations between doctors and their patients. While these exchanges are not normally as eloquent and powerful as the exchange we watched on the show, the intent is the same.
At the end of the day, we all want the same things: a healthy mom and healthy babies. Sometimes we just have a different idea of how to achieve that goal.
Communication is the key here. It’s important for your doctor to know your fears, worries, wishes, and goals. It is also important how you communicate these messages. Some fear that they will be viewed as difficult or that the relationship with their doctor may become strained. Others worry that they ask too many questions or take up too much time.
Communicating effectively is harder than it looks!
We coach many couples to utilize the most effective language to use while communicating their wishes to their doctors. The correct language and tone can strengthen your working relationship with your care provider and we are here to help you achieve that.
3. Dads (and other family members) can and do get stressed.
For dads, partners and family members it is challenging to be at the side of a loved one through labor and birth. As the support person, you have so many jobs: providing physical comfort, emotional support, answering questions that the nurses and doctors are asking, and acting as a labor coach all while being overstimulated by the technology and unfamiliar space that you’re in. The fear is that you’ll fail at one or more of these duties. It’s a heavy burden to bear.
In the show, we see Jack (played by Milo Ventimiglia) get overwhelmed a couple of times when Rebecca is in labor. He had a huge emotional investment in what was happening physically and emotionally to his wife and his babies and that added to his stress.
I couldn’t help but think “doulas help with that stress!” while watching this scene (I’m bias, I know). It’s important to know that hiring a labor & birth doula does not replace a spouse, partner, or family member. We help to lighten the load, lessen the stress and help the laboring couple to connect during this experience.
4. When things go wrong, they can go wrong quickly. We don’t have control over the vast majority of birth.
When decisions need to be made quickly they need to be made quickly. This is why you have to hire a doctor or nurse midwife who you feel completely comfortable with and can trust without hesitation. Labor is not the right time to communicate your fears and wishes to your doctor. You must do this prenatally. It doesn’t mean you’ll get everything you want, but it does mean that if things need to be done differently, you trust the person making the unscheduled detour.
You can plan and prepare every single minute of your pregnancy and there are still no guarantees. Birth is a natural event, just like tornados. We have little to no control over the process. We do have control over who we invite to help us get through it all, though, and that’s the key to success.
5. Babies do die and it is absolutely devastating. It affects everyone involved.
No one wants to or likes to talk about it. It doesn’t happen today as often as it once did, but it does still happen. There are no words that can ease the pain. The only worthwhile thing to say is that you don’t have to go through the loss of a baby alone.
After 13 years supporting families as they bring new life into this world, I can tell you one thing for sure that the most certainly got right: babies are excited to meet their parents.
Babies can hear while in utero starting around 18 weeks. By 25 weeks, they begin reacting to the sounds they hear. And what sounds do they hear most often? Why the voices of their parents, of course! So when they come out of the only home they’ve ever known and into a bright and different world, hearing the sound of their parents’ voices is soothing and calming for them.
We often suggest in our prenatal education classes that parents pick a song to start singing to the baby every day for the rest of pregnancy and then they can sing the song to baby just after birth. It’s such a sight to see a newborn baby immediately stop crying and look directly at their parents once they start singing after birth.
After one episode, I must say that This is Us was refreshingly raw and captivating. Leah and I are both looking forward to next week’s episode already.