Don't Rush to the Hospital
You may feel more at ease if your partner is there during the first phase of labor, but if you show up too early, they'll just send you home. And home is a much more comfortable place to be. She can eat and drink, walk around freely without being hooked up to an IV or monitor -- even grab a nap in her own bed. (And so can you!)
Know Your Stuff
Pay attention during your childbirth education classes. Learn about the phases of labor, what's happening to your partner's body, and the reasons for a C-section. Knowing what to expect will make the experience less terrifying for you. Your staying calm and focused will help your partner
Get Ready for the Wait
Your partner will have several hours of increasingly painful contractions until it's time to push. Depending on whether she gets an epidural, she may need your help walking the halls, as it often feels better to keep moving. (In addition to the casual clothes you've already planned for the big event, don't forget to wear really comfortable shoes.) Bring along distractions, such as a deck of cards, an iPod, or whatever you think might take her mind off her increasing discomfort.
There is a lot of action in the delivery room! If something is going on that you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask the nurse questions. Also, don't worry if you're asked to step out of the room. If your partner gets an epidural, you'll be asked to briefly leave her side. This doesn't mean anything is wrong; it's just standard procedure in many hospitals.
Help Monitor Contractions
Your partner can't see the contraction monitor, but you can. This means you can talk her through the contractions, describing when they're about to peak and start subsiding. Narrating what's going on -- when one's starting, when it's ending -- may give her a sense of control.
Go with the Flow!
All of the breathing exercises and massage techniques you learned in childbirth education class may go out the window once your partner is in the throes of labor. Some women don't like to be touched, others appreciate a back rub or deep massage of pressure points. Your partner might find the breathing and relaxation techniques helpful... or she might become downright hostile if you don't stop the counting immediately.
Help Her Push
The reality: If your partner pushes while lying on her back, you will most likely stand on one side of your partner, the doctor on the other. Supporting her under the shoulders, you will each bend back one of her legs to get her in the right position for pushing.
Be Her Advocate
You've discussed the kind of birth you both want and know your partner's feelings about drugs, c-sections, and so on. The realities of labor may cause her to change her mind. On the other hand, the doctor or nurse may try to pressure her to agree to an intervention she doesn't want and may not need. She may not be in a position to communicate. You know her better than anyone else in the room. Your job is to say, "She'd really like to push a little longer," or "She's at the end of her rope. She wants a c-section."
Plan the Best Shot
If you're videotaping the birth, some angles are better than others. In other words, don't point the camera right at your partner's crotch, unless you never plan to show this movie to anyone else. Instead, shoot over your partner's (or the doctor's) shoulder. (Be sure to check ahead of time with your doctor or midwife about recording the birth; some don't allow it.)
Be Prepared: Things Get Messy!
Giving birth gets gory. Your partner may even have a bowl movement as she's pushing. She'll probably make primal noises you've never heard before. Your job, no matter how unsettled you may feel, is to say this: "You're doing great!" Actually, she's not even paying attention to your words. It's your familiar voice and reassuring tone that she's tuning in. One other thing you may find a little unsettling: After the baby is delivered, the placenta pops out. It looks like a huge piece of liver.