Have you been watching? Tuning into the live feed of Animal Adventure Park resident, April? April the giraffe is pregnant with her fifth calf. Animal enthusiasts and curious onlookers have been anxiously awaiting the birth of April’s calf. Since February 21, people from all over the world have been going online to watch the live web cam, hoping to witness the live birth.
There are many similarities and insights we can draw from animal births – they way an animal births, where she gives birth, and how she gives birth. While an animal doesn’t spend time at childbirth class and doesn’t need to process her birth story nor does she have a wealth of choices and options to make her feel safe and strong, we can appreciate and draw similarities between an animal’s birth experience and a humans. As professional birth doulas, we work with a lot of families who have similar stories to April; going past the “due date”, well meaning family and friends checking in at all hours of the day seeing if they baby is coming yet, feeling huge. Birth doulas are here to help during this emotionally challenging time and aid in normalizing the situation.
What can human moms (and the public) learn from watching this incredible event?
1. It’s not a due date…it’s a due month.
Giraffes gestate for 14 to 15 months or between 453 and 464 days. Humans gestate for 40-41 or 42 weeks, but a baby is considered full term at 37 weeks. So when the internet and well-meaning family and friends keep tuning in to the live-feed or calling you every day to ask “how are you doing? Have you had the baby yet?”, let them know that you will call them when you are in labor and that it could be a while.
Doulas are pros at helping you take your mind off the DAY. We help normalize the concept of accepting a broader range of your “due date” not getting stuck on a particular day. Being available to our moms 24/7 to talk through how they’re feeling, offering suggestions on how to feel most comfortable, and to make the most of their last days of pregnancy.
2. Birth isn’t always fast and easy. Even for repeat moms.
April has been pacing and resting for days now. If you look carefully, you can see the contractions tightening her belly. Birth sometimes takes time. Let the body do what it needs to do. There are certain situations that call for medical interventions and support; however, especially in first time moms, early labor can take a while. The uterus tones and contracts and rests in preparation. You should, too.
Watching the update from the Animal Adventure Park on the morning of March 1, one of the zookeepers said, “don’t put your life on hold.” This is GREAT advice for any mom who has gone past her “due date”… get outside, go for a walk, go through your normal routine (as much as possible), play with your kids, go on a date with your partner.
Just as the zookeeper is there to check in on the laboring giraffe, make sure she is eating nutritious snacks and drinking her water, a doulas job is to do these same tasks for the woman she is working with. And, doulas are not just for first-time moms. Doulas provide a lot of hands-on, emotional, and verbal support. A Doula strives to help their clients feel confident and heard by utilizing words of encouragement and positive affirmations. This emotional support reinforces that she’s doing a great job, that she and her body are strong enough for the work of labor; holding space through the easy moments and the most difficult moments.
3. Birth isn’t a spectator sport.
I wonder if April can feel the internet watching her, with eyes on her from all corners of the world at all hours of the day. Have you ever tried to perform a physical task with lots of people looking at you? It’s not easy. Most mammals prefer dark, quiet places to give birth. Doulas often have moms that head into the bathroom or shower where they can labor in water, with the door closed, and the lights off. While having continuous support of a doula and the deeply emotional support of a partner or loved one is certainly recommended, having an audience can inhibit a woman’s labor. I wonder if turning off the live feed would allow April to relax and labor would progress more quickly.
Perhaps the zookeeper should act as April’s doula and turn off the live-feed for a bit. Professional birth support can help navigate many situations in birth. One thing we most often do is play “stage manager” in the birth setting. If you have additional support–your bestie, your mom, your great aunt Clara–and it’s too much, we can carefully dismiss the expectant eyes from the room, give them a task so they still feel involved and connected to the birth but get their eyes off you. Additionally, we have no hard feelings if you kick us out of the room for a moment alone.
4. Birth is natural.
We can learn a lot from watching other animals give birth. Unless there is a serious medical complication, they are generally left alone to labor and birth as nature intended, whether in nature or an animal sanctuary. The veterinarians check on the animal but don’t interfere with the process. Once the baby is born, the mother cleans it up (licks off the placenta), comforts the baby, and nurses.
Many people have never seen a live birth of any kind until the birth of their own children. One can learn a lot by watching animals give birth and letting the process of labor and birth unfold in ‘due’ time. This is where doulas shine. We specialize in normalizing birth, whether it takes five days or five hours. It is not within our scope of practice to perform cervical checks or do any clinical care. But our work is the glue within the rest of your labor and delivery team. We listen to the doctors and nurses, facilitate movement in labor, help you to find the right words and questions to ask if medical intervention is necessary, and we help to take the twists and turns of your birth one step at a time. And although April doesn’t necessarily benefit from a doula’s encouragement, human moms certainly do and deserve an advocate in the delivery room.
If you are curious and want to learn more about April the Giraffe, check out her website.
If you are interested in learning more about the role of a birth or postpartum doula please join us for our Meet the Doula nights the first Monday or each month from 6 – 8 p.m.