Rules for Relatives
Friends and relatives would do well to remember that they are honored guests at a miraculous event and to conduct themselves appropriately. That means no gossiping amongst themselves while ignoring the mother-to-be, and only positive words of affirmation and support should fall from their lips. Phrases such as, "Wow, that's gross!" or "Honey I hate needles, I just can't watch you get an epidural" are strictly forbidden. If the Mama can endure it, loved ones can plaster on a smile and get through it too. Eating Egg McMuffins and sipping caramel choco-lattes in front of someone who only gets ice chips is also a big no-no.
The best guest is one who smiles often, tells the mom how great she's doing, offers foot rubs, and frequently asks, "What can I do for you? Your wish is my command."
Partner, Protector, Punching Bag
Guidelines for fathers and other labor coaches are similar to those for other participants: stay positive and supportive, don't nap in front of a laboring woman, and by all means don't complain about how uncomfortable or tired you are. Childbirth partners are in the unique position to either encourage or annoy the heck out of the guest of honor simply by opening their mouths, so a few extra suggestions, if you please.
Women, as individuals, are motivated by different means. Some respond to the "You can do it!" kind of cheering, while others prefer whispered words of inspiration or the beauty of silence. Your pregnant partner may even vacillate between preferences during labor, so ask her ahead of time what sort of coach she needs you to be and check in with her throughout the big day to make sure you're giving her the encouragement she wants. Case in point: A certain writer's husband got so caught up in the moment that he grabbed her shoulder in a steel death grip while repeating the phrase, "You got it babe!" four hundred times in a row. His behavior, although well intentioned, became so distracting that I, um … I mean … the writer, had to stop pushing the baby out to tell her beloved spouse to release her rapidly numbing arm and shut up until it was time to cut the cord.
That said, remember that any encouragement is better than none at all. Even if your partner gets angry with you as her intense emotions peak or completely ignores you as her mind turns inward to focus on her body's cues, you should continue to support her throughout labor and delivery. Standing in the corner wringing your hands or getting huffy because she snapped at you is never an option.
By all means bring your video camera to the hospital, but be prepared to turn it off during the actual delivery. Many hospitals forbid the use of photography during C-sections and vaginal delivery for fear of the film being used against them in a malpractice case. Other doctors argue that video could benefit them in a lawsuit and allow parents to film whatever they like. Jenny Holland, office manager of The Birth and Women's Center, where all photography is welcome, says, "We've had professional photographers come in for births." Make sure to check with your OB or midwife before the big day arrives.
On that note, impeccable delivery room etiquette dictates that parents and relatives should ask nurses, midwives, and any medical staff for their permission before taking their picture. Most people recognize that this is a joyous occasion and will happily oblige. However, if your baby needs some supplemental oxygen or meconium suctioned from her airway immediately after the birth, suppress your shutterbug instincts and stand back until things settle down again.