A great question came out in last month's survey, asking how to deal with something every birth support person worries about at some point, and that is, "what if she doesn't like what I'm doing?"
Throughout my Comforting Touch for Birth guidebook I reference various ways to relate with laboring women when it comes to offering comforting touch. How to look for non-verbal cues for instance, or what to do when she asks you to stop doing something, for example.
Most of the time I've always felt reassured knowing that as most women get deeper into their birthing experience, the less likely she is to suffer in silence. What I usually teach is that, generally speaking, if she's not telling you to stop what you're doing, it's probably working for her. Women in labor tend to lose shyness or traditional social politeness, especially the more labor progresses.
But what about when it's unquestioningly clear, she definitely doesn't like what you're doing?! She's either verbally asked (or told) you to stop, pushed you away, pulled herself away, or in some other way made it known that she doesn't want what you're offering.
My suggestions amount to these 4 following responses:
1. STOP whatever it is you're doing. Even if you think it "should" work. If she says it isn't, her experience is what matters.
2. Don't take it personally. It's not personal. She just needs whatever she needs and it has nothing to do with you. It's best to check our egos at the door.
3. Make any adjustments only after the contraction has passed. Trying to discuss or adjust things during contractions when labor is active tends to be challenging for most women unless she's clearly directing you where to go, i.e. "higher", "lower", "harder", etc. During your next break between contractions you can try practicing something else to see if she likes that, and you'll find out when the next contraction comes. Does she just need you to adjust the placement of your hands higher or lower, or does touching that area not work altogether? These are questions you can suss out together by practicing or discussing in between.
It's best to make peace with the fact that some of labor with any woman is a matter of trial and error to discover what uniquely works for her as you go along and adapting with her if or when that changes. Many of the guiding principles and techniques that I discuss in my guidebook aim to reduce that tension, but you always need to work with each woman as her unique needs become revealed. I totally know what I'm doing, but even my best techniques have not been wanted at times. Remember #2.
4. Finally, practicing touch with your partner or clients in advance of labor can be extremely helpful to get to better know what she likes and thus, what's most likely to be successful when labor comes. It can always end up differently than you'd expect, but you will undoubtedly learn a lot about her preferences by practicing. And practice will help boost your confidence and comfort level before the big day arrives as well.