Every profession has at least a few phrases or words that are used a LOT. Sometimes the meaning is obvious and other times it might need some explaining for those outside of that field to fully understand. Being a doula is no different. Something that I often say during births is “we are going to take it ‘one wave at a time’”. I am not exactly sure where I heard this particular saying originally but I believe that it is discussed in different forms in a lot of childbirth education materials including books and class curriculums.
As it implies, this line refers to the idea that each contraction (often called ‘waves’) must be considered separate of the others. Having this mentality can help a laboring woman to get through the often long and intense process of labor because it breaks it up into smaller, more manageable pieces. This reminds her that she only has to get through one contraction right now rather than having to get through several hours of them which can seem very intimidating when in the midst of labor.
I find that this saying is especially effective with moms that start to doubt themselves. It is very common to hear a mama say something like “I don’t know if I can do this much longer” or “How am I going to do this for who knows how long when this is already so intense?” Reminding them that we are only looking at that moment and not what may or may not lay ahead of them often helps them to re-center and feel confident in their bodies and their minds again. After all, you can do anything for 60-90 seconds, right? I also see this phrase as helpful for women that are very ‘right brained’. Women that like to have a schedule and know exactly what is ahead of them. Labor is not something that can be scheduled and planned out. It will never go exactly as expected. Reminding laboring moms to take it ‘one wave at a time’ helps them to let go of their expectations and plans and allow their body and baby to do what they need to in their own time.
As I said before, labor and birth cannot be scheduled and rarely go exactly to plan. Unfortunately, while in births, I often hear well meaning hospital staff, doctors, or family members saying things like “You’re 8 centimeters! You’ll have this baby before dinner!” or “You have already done 12 hours, you can do another 2 or 3 hours”. These people feel like they are being encouraging and helpful to the mama by saying this. However, both can be very defeating. Sometimes dilation will stall for a time while the baby works to move into a better position for birth or the pushing stage may take longer than anticipated. If dinnertime comes and goes with no end to labor, a mom can feel like she failed by not meeting the timeline that was mentioned earlier in the process. Likewise, Reminding a mom that she likely has multiple hours left of labor while she is in the midst of exhaustion from so much hard work can be quite overwhelming. A laboring mom often already has negative voices in her head reminding her that she has a lot longer to go. Hearing the voices of her support people saying that can be all too much and hard to overcome mentally.
So remember, when supporting a laboring mom it is harder if you are trying to help her through the entire labor and birth as a whole. It is much easier for you and less daunting for her to think of it as ‘one wave at a time’. Isn’t that what labor and birth support is all about? Making it as easy and positive as possible for mom to safely birth a healthy baby?