Traditionally women helped other women give birth. In the days when most babies in America were born at home, a trained midwife, or even an experienced laywoman helped a woman give birth, and men were strictly out of the picture. Classic movies show the husband pacing around downstairs while the laboring woman had her brow mopped by a woman friend with the doctor busy at the 'business end'.
These days things couldn't be more different. Men are in the hospital delivery room helping their partners with breathing techniques and encouraging the woman to 'push'. However, not all women these days have a male partner, and not all male partners want to or are able to be there when the action starts. So what other choices do you have?
Having A Friend
Many women chose to have a woman friend or relation to hold their hand during labor and act as their coach. If your friend can attend pre-natal classes with you and learn breathing techniques alongside you, they can be very helpful during the labor. Having a friend (or even two!) available to get you a drink or speak to the doctor for you can be reassuring and they can make sure you get attention when necessary. Some women chose to have a woman friend to come along, just in case their male partner faints in the delivery room. Also if your labor is long your partner and your friend can take shifts, making sure that you aren't left alone at any time.
Doula Or Labor Coach
Many women find that hiring a doula (labor coach) who can also act as an advocate or intermediary between them and the hospital staff can be very helpful. It is especially good if they are familiar with the hospital concerned and have a good relationship with the midwives and doctors. Doulas are usually trained and certified in helping women give birth, but they don't usually have the same medical training as a certified midwife.
A Doula's main role is to help you give birth the way you want. Normally doulas meet clients a few times before birth to discuss your birth plan, and they are often there after birth too to help you get adjusted to motherhood. They often advise on problems you may have like how to nurse and reassure you about any worries you may have. Having a doula who is there for you for the whole of your birth can make the experience that much more rewarding.
Some women prefer to hire a private independent qualified midwife to help them give birth, especially as it can be covered by their health insurance, while a cheaper doula may not be. Midwifery regulations in America vary from state to state, and while some states give hospital privileges to Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM) others will also permit Certified Professional Midwives (CPM) to attend births. Lay professionals or unlicensed community based midwives, even if fully experienced and trained, may be committing an offence in some states, unless it's an emergency situation. So make sure that your professional midwife has hospital privileges even if you are planning a home birth, as you may need to go to hospital in a hurry.
In these days of highly technical managed hospital births, having your partner or a friend to assist you will help make things go much more smoothly. So consider having someone by your side who is there to encourage you and who knows the ropes because they've been through it all before.