Holding Space

Written by: Gloria Miles

I feel like the hardest part of doulaing (if I can turn that into a verb) is doing nothing.  Many of us, myself included, feel that urge to do something when labor is going. Sometimes, though, the best thing to do during labor is to hold that space. 

What is holding space?

Holding space doesn't mean inaction.  Sometimes it can be coupled with massage or hand holding or talking.  However, many times it is almost literal in the sense that one can hold space simply by being near someone. 

For example, have you ever had a really bad day? And you had a loved one, partner, or friend come over and just sit near you.  No words needed to be spoken out loud, however, just their presence made you feel better? And perhaps you both sat for however long it took for you to begin talking about your bad day. Or maybe you felt better without having to say a word. Whatever it was that was needed, that person did it. 

That is holding space. 

How do we hold space at a labor and birth? 

Sometimes a laboring woman is doing well on her own.  She doesn't need a hand on her back or instructions in her ear.  She's quietly breathing through contractions. Or perhaps she's roaring through the intensity of transition. Either way, she's rocking that portion of labor and doesn't want or need her doula doing anything in particular. At that point, the doula can simply sit near by.  Or stand next to her.  Or watch patiently from across the room. 

She takes the mother's lead. 

Holding space is a skill that comes with time, experience, and especially practice.  It feels strange to just sit or stand near someone who not only expects support, but paid for it. When I first became a doula, I probably jumped in more than I should have. I made judgments about how a woman must be feeling or what she must need at certain points in her labor.  Luckily, as the years go by, I find it much easier to hold space in labor. 

Let go of baggage before a birth. Let go of expectations. Let go of judgments. 

Just be present. This is the key for holding space. 

Are there any tips or comments you'd like to add about holding space? Perhaps you had a doula who did an exceptional job holding space at your own birth and you'd like to share? As always, we love feedback. Please feel free to comment and share! 

This poem does an exceptional job of explaining what it means to hold space.
FIRE ~ Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.

A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.
(From Leading From Within by Judy Brown)