I have a son who was born with an aortic stenosis. This means his aortic valve is narrower than it should be. He just turned 14 and up until his cardiology appointment last month, there has never been an issue.
Before we found ourselves back in the office, we had been rescheduled twice, so I was already feeling on-edge. Walking into the waiting room, there was not one place to sit. This added to my feelings of annoyance. When we finally met with the doctor, I was relieved, until after placing the transducer on my son’s chest his first question was, “Have you had a growth spurt recently?” Not what you want to hear when your child has a heart defect.
The most recent reason we had been rescheduled was our doctor had a spider bite on his leg that needed treatment. I rolled my eyes when the receptionist shared this with us (good thing it was over the phone). I thought it sounded like an interesting excuse – who has to go to the hospital for a spider bite? But another part of me wondered: Why is she telling me this? Is that my business?
At this bad-news-appointment, we were told medication would be needed to lower my son’s blood pressure – not because it was high, but because the rate of flow through the narrowing could cause damage to the area where the blood comes through, like spraying a pressure washer constantly at one spot on your house. We were also asked if we had other children, and if they had ever been assessed by a cardiologist? We have 4 sons total, and no one has ever told us this before – that was jarring. The doctor was adamant my husband and I be checked, as well. Our heart-son’s health is monitored fiercely because there is a known issue – but if this were genetic, any of us could have an issue and not know. That was frightening.
We were the last appointment of the day and the office was shutting down. As the doctor was performing the echocardiogram, he kept sharing details of his spider bite, occasionally shaking his leg or letting out a sigh or “ouch” here and there – it was obvious he was not feeling well. He also said he couldn’t wait to get out of there that day and change the dressing.
So here’s us: bombarded with overwhelming information.
And here’s our doctor: trying to help us while being distracted with his own issue.
I left that day feeling sad, scared, and unsure about all his recommendations. Knowing we didn’t have his full attention added to my stress and confusion. I questioned our relationship with this professional, and again to my mind came: Why is his issue my business?
So how does this relate to doula work? Let me share another story.
A number of years back I had a couple I loved, and I think they loved me. We were so excited to work together. A week before they were due, my grandma passed away and the funeral was in another state. Of course I was going to attend – in the grand scheme of things, my grandma’s funeral is going to be more important to my health and memories than the birth of a client’s baby. So I let my client know my plans.
It was an emotional phone call, because she was one of the first people I told. I did cry when I let her know I was going out of town, and of course I would provide a back-up for her. I felt good about everything. I was gone for 5 days, and just as we hit the California state line again, I knew I would be home by nightfall and things would return to normal! I could still be there for her birth.
I was unprepared for the phone call I got within an hour of that feeling. It was my client. She said she didn’t want there to be any bad feelings at the birth, and they had decided to proceed without a doula. I felt confused because I knew I didn’t have any bad feelings – had I been clueless to their feelings?
The next day we talked it out more. I felt I had made it back and things would proceed as planned. But what I didn’t realize was, my business had become her emotional baggage, as she worried about my loss and whether I would be back in time for her birth.
At the time I remember thinking, “No one cares about me.” Meaning, clients don’t offer the same emotional support and empathy that doulas do. Our lives don’t get the same priority as the pregnant families we serve. It was an acutely painful realization made worse by the loss of my grandmother and exhausted nature of the trip.
Of course, I was wrong. That’s how it should be when I am being contracted to provide a service. And once I was mature enough to realize it, I decided I wanted my clients to feel like I don’t have a life. Never again would I burden a client with my personal business. I want them to realize, when it comes to their expectations of me, there is nothing more important (even at the most inconvenient times), than their call of: “we need you.”
I have heard from many women over the years, words and situations that haunt them, where a professional’s business was made the mom’s business (which is really bad for business).
-A mom was waiting for her midwife to come for a postpartum home visit. The midwife told the mom she couldn’t find childcare for her little boy, so she would need to reschedule. The mom experienced a pretty traumatic birth, and she was eager for this visit and the need for someone to look over her baby again. She was so worried she took her baby to the ER just to have someone tell her the baby was safe and healthy (which she was).
-A mom who wanted a TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean) ended up with a repeat cesarean birth. It was very emotional, everything leading up to this and ultimately, having an unexpected surgical birth with an unexpected provider. Toward the end of the birth, the doctor said, “Can someone take over for me? I have to get to my granddaughter’s piano recital.”
-A mom who experienced terrible postpartum anxiety and depression who was desperate for support. She sought out a therapist recommended to her by a friend. Once there, sharing her story in an uneasy fashion, with tears, and memories, and guilt, the therapist let this be an opening to share her own struggles with depression after her brother’s suicide. Suddenly "a little postpartum depression" felt minimal compared to this professional’s loss.
We pay professionals for a service. They should be taking care of us. When the tables turn and we are suddenly made aware of their personal lives, it can stir up feelings of empathy and sympathy. It can make us feel like we should be the caretakers now – we need to look out for this person and not bother them with our trivial matters. “I don’t want to load too much on her, because she has struggles of her own.”
But then, what are you paying that person for again?
Professionals need to leave their personal business out of their professional lives.
That’s not to say clients are rude or uncaring – they aren’t. And the focus still needs to be on them. What can we do when something comes up?
As a doula serving Bakersfield and Visalia, California, I strive to build families up and let them know I will be there for them, come hell or high water. I also contract personally with a back-up doula who attends prenatals with us, thus laying a foundation of support in the small chance I am unable to attend a birth (it rarely, rarely happens, and the cost of paying for a back-up’s time is absolutely worth my peace of mind). It shows a family: I am committed to you, and sometimes things come up; if that happens, here is my trusted back-up so you won’t be alone in this journey.
Ultimately, I believe me making my business your business is bad, overall, for business!
Emily is the mother of two. Her story shows not only how we can interfere with the birth process, but also the ways to overcome our fears when we plan to work toward a different result. VBACs are hard to come by, and they require much preparation on the part of the mom. Often women don't have the support they need from their providers, and one scary word about something that might go wrong can be the chair out from under the backside of our plans. Emily shares what it looked like for her as she worked toward her VBAC.
When we got pregnant with my daughter, I knew that I wanted an unmedicated, natural birth. We prepared the best way that we knew how -- took a crash Bradley Method course, went to classes, read books and listened to other mothers. But nothing you read or hear prepares you for childbirth and I distinctly remember my inner voice telling me that all my tenseness and anxiety was making my labor pains worse and less effective. I knew it, but I could not relax myself - I was making my own labor harder and it ended in a c-section.
Even before we were pregnant with my son, I decided I would have a VBAC, and I can say with 100% certainty that having a doula was how we achieved that goal. My doula, Lisa Lute, helped us actually enjoy our labor. My husband hated the experience we had trying to labor alone - he felt helpless to help me. He felt like a huge weight of need was on his shoulders without the experience to know what to do. With Lisa there, she facilitated everything I needed from him. He was still my laboring partner, but he didn't have to figure out what I needed. She gently made suggestions - using her experience and knowledge to help me relax and have productive contractions. She knew exactly what to do and just her presence removed a great deal of stress.
During labor, she was such a blessing, but even so, beforehand. If you listen to certain doctors or read things from the ever-dreaded Dr. Google -- you can be scared out of a VBAC. You can decide a repeat cesarean is less risky. But Lisa addressed all my fears -- all my anxiety -- with a library of good information. She had the VBAC success statistics to give me, she had the history of attending many successful VBACs already in her arsenal. She had the reassurance that helped me VBAC. The doctor on-call when we arrived at the hospital was not overly supportive of our VBAC plan. It was a blessing to have Lisa with me and my husband. It was a blessing to have my very own experienced team member facilitating a wonderful birth experience. I would never choose to have a baby without a doula again.
"This is my favorite photo of my labor. Look at how relaxed my husband looks...he loved having Lisa there with us."
My step-sister, Michele, had her first baby via cesarean birth. She was set up for an induction, and after many hours she heard the label "failure-to-progress." To the brain, induction sounds good -- let's get this show on the road. The body doesn't always have the same plans, especially when a woman hasn't had a baby before. Even with the medications and procedures offered, the body may not make fast enough progress for the medical establishment. In these situations, a cesarean birth can become necessary.
With her next baby, Michele wanted to try a VBAC. She chose a doctor who was comfortable with vaginal-birth-after-cesarean (although it required her to travel to a bigger city an hour away), and dreamed and planned for her son's birth. As Michele's confidence grew in her body's ability to birth her son vaginally, her fears of the pain and work of labor didn't ease. In order to cope with these intense feelings, she made the decision to get an epidural pretty early on in labor.
Last summer Michele learned her family would grow yet again, and this time she was determined to step it up even one more level -- try for a VBAC with no pain medications. Although she chose her same doctor, she did make one change - she decided she wanted a doula to accompany her and her husband during this birth. That's where I come in!
Every baby and every birth is different, and this was no exception. Michele's labor seemed to drag on and on and on this time. I ended up at her house at about 3 am. It felt a lot like a slumber party, and we let her incredible husband take a nap in bed while we laughed and swapped gossip and stories. I knew we should try to get some sleep, seeing as how any time labor could pick up and we would all be exhausted, but we were truly having too much fun. We finally decided to try resting, but Michele wasn't really able to get any sleep.
The next day (or later that day) found us still puttering around their house, playing with the kids, watching movies (Puss in Boots, Toy Story, something else, I think, and then Baby Mama!). We were still waiting for labor to start rolling...we really had no way to plan for the baby-sitter, or my mom to travel to the hospital -- oh, and Michele's little sister just happened to be flying in that night, of all nights! And my mom was going to pick her up in the event we were off having a baby (Murphy's Law!).
At one point during Baby Mama I had Michele stand through a contraction in a deep lunge position, and I asked her to switch to the other leg during the next contraction. It seemed after that, Michele's contractions really started to pick up. That silent energy that so often comes when the invisible switch flips on inside the mama was humming around us. Michele was buzzing around, calling the baby-sitter, pulling together the kids' supplies, finding her shoes! It was finally time to go!
We climbed into the car, Michele in the back seat and her hubby at the wheel (I had shotgun) and we hit the road. After about 75 minutes we walked into the hospital. There was a woman ahead of Michele in line, but the receptionist could tell Michele needed to be the priority! They quickly got us a room and let Michele start doing her thing. After an intense 90ish minutes of labor, Michele was holding her new, sweet baby girl!
And it was intense! Michele was amazing. She coped in many effective ways. She moved around and changed positions. She verbally told us what she needed. She even prayed outloud (although she said at the time she thought she was praying in her head). I know it is hard to prepare for the unknown urgency of how labor feels, and Michele was able to take each contraction one at a time, focusing her attention on her loving hubby or me -- sometimes both! so she could keep her head above the water of the labor-waves instead of being tossed and turned about in the surf.
I can't say how proud I am of this mama and her decision to seek something different in our not-very-supportive VBAC society. The fact that she challenged herself even more by deciding to work toward a birth free from pain medications is something I am also impressed by. It is scary to do something you have never done before, and armed with support and education, she not only set the goal, she achieved it. Michele, you are amazing! I admire and love you tons, and I will always remember the power and beauty you shared on the day your sweet little R was born.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)