Oh the Halperts; the beloved power couple of the Dunder Mifflen Scranton branch. Jim and Pam seem to be the guideposts for healthy human behavior in the circus of personality disorders that makes up the staff of the fictional tv show, The Office.
However, in Season 6, Episode 17, when Pam goes into labor, we find out that Jim and Pam have unfortunately strayed from their typical path of making sound choices when it becomes apparent that
they've neglected to hire a doula
(and one could deduce that at least Jim neglected to take a childbirth education class.)
The Halperts are not alone amongst unsupported sitcom laboring parents. Luckily, they have doulas like me, arm chair doula-ing them from the comfort of my own home.
If I were Pam's doula, she would've likely called or texted to let me know her contractions had started and it was most likely baby day. I would have affirmed her choice to stay at work and continue her normal activity, including eating small, protein-packed meals.
We would've talked about ignoring labor until you can't anymore in our prenatals, and staying out of your own way to let labor unfold. Great job, Pam!
Pam's colleagues, under the direction of the lovable, yet unrelentingly narcissistic boss, Michael Scott, decide to gather in the conference room to help distract her from her contractions. While well-intended [and quite advisable, frankly!] Pam finds the antics of her colleagues less than helpful though I might argue that Andy Bernard's Evolution of Dance performed in silence should've been an excellent source of laughter and therefore the labor-friendly hormone, Oxytocin. As their doula, I might suggest distraction (and Oxytocin production!) might be more effective during an outdoor walk together, or snuggling up to watch a movie. Because Pam is pandering to the needs of her colleagues to be helpful, instead of truly focusing on her own needs, it's possible she could be hindering her own labor.
It's at this point we start to see that Jim is struggling with their previously agreed upon decision to go to the hospital when contractions are 5-7 minutes apart. Pam is insistent on staying at work, while Jim begins to unravel at the sight of Pam in discomfort. As their doula, I would've coached Jim and Pam in prenatal meetings, to explore their individual expectations for labor, and we would've talked about specific language for articulating their wants. "Staying at home as long as possible" can mean one thing to one person, and something totally different to another.
"Just as long as she is doing ok..." can mean one thing to a nervous dad and something else to a laboring woman who is in pain (physical) but not at all suffering (mental).
And contractions that are 5-7 minutes apart can space out to 10 minutes apart easily with a warm bath, or suddenly move to being 2 minutes apart. This is why understanding the emotional and behavioral signposts of labor can offer a much more reliable guideline for partners to be on the same page. In my practice, we share the Bradley Method progress chart which has no numbers on it.
Even without a prenatal though, at this point, Jim needs to be heard. He's confused by his wife's choices, and he's likely preoccupied with the health of his wife and baby.
He needs childbirth education here, and in it's absence, someone to hear his frustration and validate his feelings.
However, his needs are not on anyone's radar, not even his own but they would be on the radar of his doula! Instead of serving Pam, or himself in their actual needs, he has a bit of a meltdown. Instead of being Pam's number one source of love and support [read: OXYTOCIN!] he becomes a source of cortisol and adrenaline [read: STRESS] for Pam, which chemically-speaking can truly negatively affect the efficiency of her labor.
As he recognizes he's now an established adversary, Jim wisely removes himself from the conference room to retreat into some self-care. Instead of talking with his doula, he vents to the camera crew that documents office life. In doing so, he comes to the unsettling conclusion that his "childbirth education" (evidently books not necessarily written for women with goals like Pam's) is in fact useless.
Had he been my client, he would've been handed The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, at our first prenatal, with the one chapter he had to read if he couldn't get through all of it. He'd be in better shape right now even having read that ONE chapter than reading all three books he throws out on camera while smiling deliriously.
While Jim has his breakdown, Pam heads to the break room with Kevin to partake in "Ultra Feast", at this point more for the distraction value than caloric intake.
It's obvious her labor is progressing not by looking at the clock, but by looking at her.
Pam has a contraction that she can't talk through, and that's when a disconcerting funny-not-funny interaction takes place. In this moment, the men in the scene (Michael, Jim and Kevin) have had enough of their own discomfort in seeing Pam labor. They choose to put their foot down, despite her clear communication that she wants to stay where she is., and they physically accost her body.
Perhaps my experiences in five years of doulahood sours what is meant to be a light-hearted scene. Thankfully the negative experiences I've witnessed are few, but they're powerful in the worst, worst way. It is unfortunate that women are sometimes treated as children in labor, especially when they're wishes go against what their husband, sister, mother, doctor, or nurse might choose for themselves.
Before I get too worked up, I'll just say this: if Pam and Jim were my clients, they would have good tools to advocate for themselves in a tense situation. And as their doula, I would make space for them to do that. They would have the BRAINS acronym at their fingertips to discuss their thoughts on medical decisions with her doctor or midwife, therefore building the trust in that partnership.
But I digress.
If there has to be a silver lining of the near-kidnapping of Pam by her husband and colleagues (trauma-inducing anyone?), it is that it spurs a strong emotional reaction in her. As a doula I believe I would've intuited that she was holding something in, and maybe would've helped bring it to the surface simply by asking how she was feeling about her labor. Because she was feeling scared. Really scared. And I would've told Pam:
"It's ok to be scared. This is hard. And you can do hard things."
Instead, Jim has a moment of clarity and finds comforting words for Pam, while Michael continues to talk to her like a child who needs to be tricked into making good choices.
Upon the release of her pent up fear, Pam's labor appears to drastically progress (very common!) She finally moves into "labor land", working hard through her contractions, oblivious to the chaos around her and ready to make the move to the hospital.
As their doula, I would be following them in my car or hopping in with Pam if she wanted me to, telling her that her body is working perfectly and she is completely capable of birthing this child.
We won't get in to Episode 18: Part Two. It largely centers around a nightmare of a postpartum hospital stay for which I'll say could be improved upon greatly with self-advocacy skills and what else... a postpartum doula!
But I will say that from the sounds of it, Pam ultimately pushed out her healthy baby without medication.
Judging by the documentation of her fictional first stage of labor (dilating to 10 cm) I would imagine the second stage (pushing) could've benefitted from a doula as well.
As her doula, Pam would've been sent this link to prepare for pushing out her baby, and would've had a productive self-exploration session, and ensuing conversation with her doctor or midwife about her second stage preferences (like what position she'd like to deliver in!)
I imagine when fictional Pam is asked about her labor, she'll say something like "Well, it was... really something. Jim lost his mind, I kinda lost my mind for a bit, but I mean, in the end we were all healthy, so that's good, right?"
One day, though, I think fictional Pam might meet another fictional mom who says "Oh my gosh - I LOVED my birth. It was the hardest thing I've ever done but it was amazing and I felt like my best self that day!" and I think Pam might wonder...
is there anything I would've done differently?
Megan Michelotti, CD(DONA owns GR Doulas, LLC in Grand Rapids, MI. She is a Certified Doula, Placenta Encapsulator and student Massage Therapist who maintains her sanity, in part, by binge-watching light-hearted comedies.