Q&A: How to help a friend during labor and delivery

Amanda Too writes:

"I need some advice from women who have been through labor and delivery.My friend is due with #2 today and has asked me to support her as a last-minute stand in.  Her husband is apparently useless during labor and her doula has become unavailable. I had a C-section with my twins and didn't take any childbirth classes. I labored for as long as possible before I called the doctor (4 cm with contractions 4 minutes apart), but I've never experienced or witnessed the mid or final stages of labor and delivery. I need some fast turn-around training--any good videos I could check out from the library? Or just some advice from women who have been through childbirth? How can I best support her without much experience or training?"

What a lovely thing to do for your friend!

The first thing I'd say is to get a good book on labor and delivery. All you really need is to understand what happens during the stages of delivery, so it doesn't matter a ton which one you get (they'll all have info on the stages of labor), but my all-time favorite is The Big Book of Birth by Erica Lyon (my full review of it is here). If you get this one, bring it along with you, as it's got info on basically every kind of intervention you can get with pros and cons listed nonjudgmentally, so it would be a good resource to have on the fly.

I don't have any video recommendations, but maybe someone else out there does.

From the perspective of someone who's gone through two vaginal deliveries, I'd say that your role is really not going to have anything to do with the physical process. She's done it once, so things should go smoothly this second time. She's going to need you there for emotional support. There are certain points in the labor in which your mind plays tricks on you and you think you can't do it. If you can step outside the situation a little and help her realize that she *is* doing it, that's what she's primarily going to need from you.

Also, a note on what I've observed: It seems like there are only two kinds of second labors for women who delivered vaginally the first time. (If anyone has a different kind, please post it.) The first is a fast, intense labor. If the first time it took 24 hours from start to finish, this time it'll take 6-8, but it'll ramp up faster and be way more intense. The second is a long, pokey, half-assed labor that may take a day or two (or even three) with contractions not very close together, and then at the end it slams into gear suddenly and the active part is only an hour to three long.

Both ways seem to be "normal," and I haven't heard anything anecdotally about any differences in length of pregnancy, sex of baby, blah blah blah for the two types. The pushing stage is much faster the second time, too, so if you want to see that, stay in the room.

Does anyone have suggestions for resources for Amanda? Or reminiscences on second labors and deliveries?