I have been blessed with three babies. Well, I say “babies”, but they are nearly 17, 14, and 9. I remember each one of their births like it was yesterday. Without saying I was naive, when it came to the births of my children, I thought I had it all planned out.
For my first birth, I wrote out a birth plan and looked forward to going through this with my support people. I assumed the doctor would not only explain everything to us, but would also assist me through my whole labor and birth, all the while talking to me in a soothing voice, and urging me to go on. I thought the nurses would be there to support me and help me through this wonderful time. I knew that I wanted my husband, my sister, and my mom in the room when I had my baby-they would help me, too. My birth plan was simple: “no drugs unless I am in pain and ask for some.” I prepared myself and my husband for what was surely going to be the most beautiful, sweet, peaceful, and incredible birth ever.
Then, I went into labor. I had an epidural at 3 cm. (as early as you can), but it didn’t work. I felt it all, including the vacuum that was used to get him out. My beautiful, perfect, cone-headed baby.
With my second, I got to the hospital at 8 cm. Then she just fell out! There was no doctor, no nurse – just my husband (who was freaking out and saying “is this supposed to be happening?”). Papers flying, husband holding baby in with his hand, my mom looking for help, and my sister -my poor sister -her jaw was on the floor and she looked as if she’d seen a ghost. Where were my support people?
By my third time around, I found a new doctor. I explained that I was a natural at this, and I knew how I wanted it. I wanted no drugs. My babies came fast! My husband was going to catch this one, he was going to cut the cord, and I would have a mirror so I could watch my baby be born. I wanted my precious baby placed immediately on my chest – skin to skin – and I wanted to breastfeed right away. Period. I reminded my doctor of my plan at every single visit; this is how it was going to be. I explained that my husband was my coach, and we wanted to labor alone. It was going to be beautiful (in hindsight, I was my own doula!). I wanted NO intervention.
At 43 weeks pregnant (yes, that’s right, world’s longest pregnancy), I had to be induced. The doctor was afraid my baby would be 10 pounds. I cried all the way to the hospital…I didn’t want to be induced! I knew my baby would come when he was ready. I didn’t understand why they wanted me to get him out if he wasn’t ready. So what if he was 10 pounds? I was sure my body could do it! I sulked all the way through the pitocin drip. I labored away with no pain meds. I was offered drugs frequently, and turned them down every time. I owed this to my baby. I was 9 cm. dilated and ready to push when my doctor came in and recommended an epidural; he thought it would slow things down a bit and give me some energy for pushing (it turned out he was delivering twins right next door, and they were coming fast). I rolled over to my side, ready to do what he asked, because he recommended it. Before they had time to administer anything, out came my baby’s head! The doctor ran back into the room, caught my baby, cut the cord himself, handed him to a nurse to clean him up, dumped my placenta, then left to deliver the twins next door.
My husband missed the whole thing. My husband – who couldn’t wait to catch our baby -missed the whole thing. I missed the whole thing. There was no mirror, no control, no husband cutting the cord, no respect, no birth plan, no empathy, no baby placed skin-to-skin on my chest, and most of all, no 10 pound baby. He was 7 lbs, 6 oz.
I can’t help but wonder how different these births -especially my third -would have been if I’d had someone knowledgeable in my corner who understood both the medical lingo and the process of labor and birth, someone who knew exactly what I wanted and would help me to achieve that. Someone not emotionally tied to me, who would have stood up for me -my very own advocate. I vowed immediately after my third and final birth that I was going to do something about that.
When I meet with clients, they are usually only entertaining the thought of a doula. They mostly want to know why they should hire another person to assist them when they already have a support person – whether it’s a spouse, a friend or a partner. Furthermore, most couples believe that the doctor (whom they have grown extremely close to), midwife, and nurses will be in the room, by their side, supporting them through their entire labor and explaining everything as it is going on. Experience has shown me that this is not always the case. Next to the partner, a doula is the only person looking out for the mother’s best interests 100% of the time. Whether it is a precipitous (very fast ) labor, or a 70-hour labor, a doula is there the entire time to help the mother achieve the birth experience she wants to have. While the nurses (and I have seen many good ones) do offer support, their primary job is to chart, document, and monitor both mom and baby at all times.
I help my clients come up with a birthing plan. The parents outline their perfect birth and together we address the “what-ifs” (“should you end up having a C-section, let’s make the environment as pleasant as we can”). Most people don’t think about these things on their own. A doula also helps to remind the parents of the birth plan. When the unforeseen happens, or if chaos arises, the doula is an advocate -the ONLY advocate –for the parents. At a time when women are the most vulnerable, usually in pain, and the oxytocin (often called the “trust drug”) levels are high, a woman will typically do whatEVER the healthcare providers say is best, which can often veer away (sometimes unnecessarily) from the original plan.
I explain to the partners that one of the many benefits of having a doula is it allows them to do their job –to love and support the mother. Partners (men in particular) do not realize how hard it is to see the mother in pain; they want to fix it, take the pain away. With a doula, the partner can focus solely on the mother and be reassured that everything else is being handled. I remind the support person to eat, drink, and take care of themselves, which is the only way they will be able to take care of a laboring mom.
My most important job as a doula is to remind parents that this is their birth journey. You will never get a do-over on the birth of your baby. Doulas do not speak for the parents – doulas explain the parents’ options as well as the actions of the doctors, midwives, or nurses. We remind the parents to ask all the questions….what are the benefits? What are the risks? My favorite question to remind my clients to ask: “What happens if I just do nothing?”
Those who know me know that I am very passionate about what I do. I feel very strongly about women and the healthy function of our bodies. We were meant to birth. And I have no regrets about the way I birthed my babies. The only regret I have is not educating myself about pregnancy, labor, and childbirth. If I could have ten more babies, I would, and I would have a doula every time. Now, as a doula myself, I am the liaison between parents and their perfect birth. You dream the dream, and I help make it come true.
More on Heidi Biddle at Your Birth Journey
Here’s the thing about being a woman who knows she wants an epidural, taking pre-natal yoga classes in Silver Lake: You’re the only one.
So here’s me having to listen to a zen-ruining running monologue from every single prenatal yoga teacher about how certain exercises could help you through the worst of the birthing pain and prevent epidurals. And how yoga helped you to really BE in the experience of giving birth, even though I saw no reason at all to really BE one with the pain, just because that’s how my ancestors did it. At a few points I wanted to ask the prenatal yoga instructor to just shut up, so that I could get my stretch on in peace, but that wouldn’t have been very yogi of me, would it?
After class was even worse. I wanted to make friends. I didn’t know any other moms in Silver Lake, and this seemed like a great place to strike up friendships with like-minded people — only they weren’t like-minded. In fact, it was hard for me to join the conversation when it so often went like this:
“How are your doula interviews going?”
“Great! I found this really wonderful woman named so-and-so, but she doesn’t know if she’s going to have my due date open yet.”
“Oh, I’ve heard great stuff about so-and-so. Doesn’t she use a tub?”
“Yes, and she also chants out these primal rhythms…”
“Oh, she sounds nice. Mine does massage, but she doesn’t chant.”
Okay, obviously I can’t join this conversation, because just the idea of a stranger in the room giving me gentle encouragement while I’m in tons of pain makes me want to rip her head off.
Also, deep down inside, I’m just too nice. I would feel bad about snapping at someone who wasn’t married or related to me. Even if they were getting paid to get snapped at.
But most of all, I didn’t want a doula because there was absolutely nothing a doula could do that my husband couldn’t. Also, my husband wouldn’t insist that I do breathing exercises when I didn’t want to. My husband would rub my back just like a doula would — even better: he wouldn’t rub my back, because I don’t like to be touched when I’m in pain. See, he already knows that, whereas a doula doesn’t. No matter how nice she is, she would try to help me when I didn’t want to be helped and push me when I didn’t want to be pushed. And quite frankly, that’s my husband’s job. He already sorta said he would do everything a doula would in his vows, and I wanted him to make good on his promise.
He did everything right. He retreated when he was supposed to and though we had attended birthing classes, unlike my first charge nurse, he didn’t try to force me to do the stupid breathing exercises, when I told him I didn’t want to. He didn’t question my need to blog through my contractions, but he did forcibly take the iPhone away after my epidural, so that I could get some sleep. He didn’t sleep, though. And he was by my side as soon as I woke up. He held my hand and changed the TV station and fed me ice chips and promised me Fig Newtons as soon as I was done with the labor. “You’re doing so well, honey” he answered, when I told him “I can’t! I can’t!” And then he cried when our daughter Betty finally came bursting into this world. Now would a doula have done that?
I watched him over at the scale, giving Betty soothing words as she screamed about getting weighed. And though I did most of the heavy lifting, I knew he was just as happy as I to finally meet her. That’s when I realized something for the first time in nine months: It was his pregnancy, too. And his support during my labor had created a bond that would never be undone. Be it Death or Divorce or Disaster, we would always have these hours holding us together, a forever memory. And I’m so happy I didn’t let a doula cheat me out of that.
More on Ernessa Carter at Fierce and Nerdy
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Originally published on The Seattle Lesbian
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