Emily is one of my closest doula friends. I was sad to see her scale back some of her birth activities to better fit her family's needs, as I know these activities bring her genuine joy and give her respite from the daily mom-grind. But seasons do truly come and go -- we cycle in and out of being ready and not being ready, for the opportunities life brings. Emily has such a loving, open heart -- I have every confidence, with patience and timing, she will achieve all her dreams.
Have you ever had a dream tucked so neatly inside of you that you almost overlooked it? Something that took years of baby-stepping, life experiences, and moments of solitude to really awaken? And then, after the dramatic awakening of a new beginning, the sudden need to tuck that dream securely away again – maybe for a season, but maybe forever.
Midwifery school was that dream for me. This dream was born when I became a doula 7 years ago. But I didn’t know it then. A little more than a year ago I began attending births with my midwife, my mentor, in her birth center.
It was seeing her in action that allowed me to unpack the fullness of my dream. We had many discussions about the depth of the calling of a midwife. The beauty and demands of the work. The logistics of schooling and clinical work. I had even taken a big step and applied to a midwifery college, for the Fall 2017 term.
Then life happened.
As my family has evolved, and the birth of my last child dictated the ebb and flow of my professional life, it became clear that I was needed more as Mom than Midwife. I had to make the choice to serve my family, before serving other families.
It is a strange feeling to give up on something that has just begun, but already begun to unleash the power of great transformation. The time had come to tuck that dream away again. So now, I sit and wonder if that dream has come and gone.
Is it forever?
Is it for a season?
Where can I hold the power of that dream while it waits?
Emily Willett is a doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding counselor and owner of Mommy Matters in Bakersfield, CA. She is the current chair of the Bakersfield Birth Network, and works at Bakersfield's only free-standing birth center. Always increasing her knowledge-base, she strives to familiarize herself with evidence-based information and practice. Emily is the mother to four children, including a breech baby born safely at home with the assistance of a midwife (when it was still lawful).
Day 7: Our Doula
When it comes to doulas and the support they offer, I'm a sucker for a good, old fashioned, positive birth story! Today's feature is just that. I also appreciate how Dorothy shares she did all she could to prepare herself for birth, yet she still credits luck and genetics for her experience, because when it comes to birth experiences, we don't always get to pick how things will go.
“Why are you still working?! Your due date is next week, what if your water breaks while you’re at work?”
“Oh that’s not going to happen to me, they do that in movies for dramatic effect. In real life, the water breaking in a gush only happens to about 8% of women, that won’t happen to me, I will be fine”
This was a conversation between myself and my good friend Jammie one week before my October 13th due date with my first child. I had an easy pregnancy, no morning sickness or vomiting, and I had not taken a single day of work off the entire nine months. I manage an office, it’s not physical work and since I had felt fine, I felt no reason to stop working even with my due date right around the corner. I wanted to maximize my time off after the baby arrived. Little did I know, I was about to be one of those 8%...
On the morning of October 14th, one day overdue, I awoke to my dog barking. She doesn’t usually bark at night unless she needs to be let out to answer the call of nature. I groaned internally. “Ugh, it’s 2:30 a.m., I don’t want to get up and let her out,” I complained internally. Then I thought, well I probably have to pee anyway, it’s only been an hour since last time I peed and everyone knows how often pregnant ladies need to pee. I heaved my big, pregnant belly up and began walking to the bathroom. "Oh, I guess I really had to go," I thought, as I felt fluid trickle. By the time I got to the bathroom, there was a gush and a lot of fluid. Apparently my water had broken, signaling that the arrival of my baby was imminent. I called to my husband and told him to get up and let the dogs out while I cleaned up.
The first call I made was to our doula. I had made the decision to hire a doula fairly early in my pregnancy, and she came highly recommended from a mother of 6 that I have known my whole life. I hired a doula because I was afraid of having a hospital birth, I was afraid of being forced into taking unnecessary medical interventions during labor, and afraid of being bowled over by a medical team that had never met me, knew nothing about me or my baby, and didn’t know what I wanted from my birthing experience. I envisioned an intervention-free birth, preferably at home, with a midwife. My husband, rightly concerned with my health and that of our unborn baby, objected to my home birth plan and preferred a hospital setting. The compromise came in the form of our doula, who I wanted to help me through an intervention-free hospital birth.
“My water just broke, should I go to the hospital?”
“How do you feel? Have your contractions started yet?”
“I feel fine, I am not in pain and having no contractions yet.”
“It’s up to you whether or not you’re ready to go to the hospital. However, it can take some time for the contractions to catch up once the water breaks. Since your water is broken, if you do go to the hospital, it's likely they won’t allow you to leave once you’re there.”
“Ok, well I don’t want to go too early, I think I will wait a while and go later. I should not go to work though, right?”
“NO!!! Do not go to work, and keep me updated.”
After getting off of the phone, I called my mother and told her the news. I told her I wasn’t going to the hospital yet and I didn’t expect the baby to arrive for several hours, probably not until late evening. I expected a long labor, everything I had heard and read said that most first time mommies have a long labor so I was prepared for a marathon. With this in mind, I decided to go to work. This decision was made because I knew I couldn’t get someone to cover me, I work at 4:30 am, and I just planned to go briefly to give a quick morning meeting and inform my staff that I would be out until the end of my maternity leave. My husband got dressed and drove me to work, and I was there for half an hour before we left and drove through McDonald’s for breakfast to be fueled up for all the work ahead of me!
At home around 6:30 am we both laid down, I wanted us both to try to get some rest for the long day ahead. I was having minor contractions at this point, 15-30 seconds long and 5 or so minutes apart. At about 9 am I sent my husband to drop our dogs off at a friend’s house. My contractions had increased in frequency and length but I was still not ready to go to the hospital. I was texting our doula and asked how long I could safely wait to go to the hospital? She said it was up to me how long I felt safe staying home, and she advised me to contact my doctor for an appointment to check my progress. If I had progressed enough, I could go directly to the hospital, but if I wanted to go back home, I could do that too. That sounded ideal to me, my doctor’s office was located in the parking lot of the hospital I would deliver at.
This is why I wanted a doula and why I decided to go with our doula specifically; she listened to me, asked me how I felt, and asked what decision I thought was best for me. Essentially, she helped me to decide for myself instead of just telling me what to do or what she thought was best. From our prenatal courses, she knew my concerns about having a hospital birth and advised me with that in mind. Our doula knew that I was concerned about going to the hospital too early in labor, and that I was concerned about having my movement in labor restricted by monitors and hospital rules.
The most important thing that I learned from our doula was that I had choices for this process. I could be in charge. There were productive ways to communicate with hospital staff to facilitate the birth that I wanted, and decisions that I could make to affect my birth, like the decision to stay home and labor for a while instead of going straight to the hospital when my water broke. I didn’t have to be merely a participant in my labor, I had choices and a voice. In our prenatal courses, we had talked extensively about my birth plan, making 2 or 3 drafts before we were satisfied with it. I also made a gift basket for the nurses and doctors in the hospital, to thank them for their hard work, and partly to schmooze just a little bit! The birth plan would help to communicate what I wanted in the heat of labor, and the gift basket would help them to remember me in a positive light.
I called my doctor’s office. When I told them my water was broken, they told me to go straight to the hospital. I explained that I wasn’t ready yet and that I wanted my doctor to check me first. Fortunately my doctor was working and agreed to see me at 11:15 am. I took a shower, which was the best shower I have ever taken in my life, so relaxing! And my husband and I departed for the doctor. We pulled into the parking lot shortly after 11 am and I knew in my heart that we weren’t going home. My pain level had increased significantly since 9 am, but I was still unsure whether or not to go straight to the hospital. In my mind, I was clinging to the 4-1-1 rule (contractions every 4 minutes, 1 minute in length, happening for at least 1 hour) and I wasn’t there yet! My contractions were only about 30-45 seconds long, and I didn’t think they were long enough for me to go to the hospital.
Once in the doctor’s office, I had trouble disrobing from the waist down and getting up onto the exam table. When my doctor arrived and checked me, we were both surprised to find that I had already dilated to 5! It was time! I was going to the hospital! I was put in a wheelchair to go across the parking lot. I texted our doula: “I am at 0 station and 5 centimeters dilated, I need you here ASAP!” “I’ll be there as soon as I can!” My husband accompanied me to the room and I sent him back out to the car for the hospital bag. The desk nurse gave me a hospital gown and asked for a urine sample. I got into the gown but the urine sample wasn’t going to happen. I was in too much pain, and I curled up on the hospital bed in the fetal position instead.
When my husband got back from the car, I was crying. “I need an epidural, I can’t do this, I’m going to die!” Cue the theatrics! He went for help. The nurse checked me and immediately ordered a birth kit; baby was coming faster than any of us anticipated. I asked for an epidural. My husband asked if I was sure, and in that moment, I certainly was! The nurses told me it would be at least an hour before I could get one; in retrospect I am sure they knew there simply wasn’t going to be time. The baby was going to be there before the anesthesiologist anyway! Our doula arrived around noon I believe, and everything became a blur. I was very lucky that my doctor was on duty and was there for the birth. Between her, our doula, my husband, and the nurses, everything seemed to happen at lightning pace. Almost immediately, they had me pushing, I had plenty of help and support. My dear husband, who had pledged to stay by my head during labor to avoid the potentially traumatizing show, found himself holding one of my legs up while I pushed, after a nurse said “here, help her." Before I knew it, baby was crowning. My doctor asked if I wanted to touch the head? “No! What are you talking about?! We are wasting time, let’s get her out of there!”
At 1:13 pm, Tegan Janine arrived. 7 pounds, 3 ounces and 18.5 inches of pure, healthy perfection. I remember seeing her for the first time, her arms outstretched. As they laid her on my chest, I was overwhelmed with emotion and disbelief. She had arrived so quickly, I was caught off guard and burst into tears, “I’m just so happy." Delivering the placenta was slightly problematic, it didn’t want to dislodge itself. The doctor massaged away at my abdomen for 20-30 minutes, and I cursed loudly…but it was eventually delivered. I was given a shot of Pitocin in my thigh because I was bleeding a little more than they would have liked, but otherwise everything was fine.
All of the preparation and planning were worth it. The decision to hire a doula and educate myself on my choices and decisions was crucial. I am extremely fortunate that I had an easy pregnancy and a fast labor, many mothers aren’t as lucky as I was. I recognize that genetics and pure good luck played a huge part in me having a positive labor experience. I hope that by sharing a positive story of birth, other mothers can feel more confident. There are so many terrifying stories of labors gone wrong, I feel that women need to hear that labor can be a positive experience.
Dorothy and her husband reside in Bakersfield, CA. Along with Tegan, they share their days with two adorable Daschunds. Dorothy is currently pregnant and getting her out-of-the-hospital birth wish: her baby will be born at a local birth center.
Did you know, those fabulous statistics we read about regarding "continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by...a doula," don't diminish if the person in labor also happens to be a doula? That's right! Even doulas hire other doulas, because we know EVERYONE deserves a doula -- even a doula. Are you tired of the word doula yet? Because it happens to be World Doula Week, and I am pretty positive the "d" word will be prolifically used herein -- fair warning! Now, settle back and read why doulas choose to have that unique support and help only doulas bring to birth.
Other reasons are longer, and they still make a lot of sense:
"Preparing for my fifth baby I considered a doula. However, my husband has been such a great support and I found myself using all the common reasons not to have a doula. I worried it may interfere with the dynamic between me and my awesome, supportive husband. I worried about expense. I also have precipitous labors and didn't know if I'd be able to make it to the hospital, much less if my doula would make it. I spent much of my pregnancy helping my own doula clients plan their births. Yet I struggled to focus on my own. Finally I realized that I needed some help to focus and plan on my birth. Talking with my doula was invaluable. She helped calm my fears and work through trauma from a previous birth. I still didn't know if she would be able to make it in time but having her help me prepare and knowing she would be there to help me process afterwards was a big comfort. I also knew that I could use all the hands I could get for counter pressure. When my birth came, it was longer than expected. It was wonderful to have someone that knew what I meant when I asked for different counter pressures or rebozo techniques. She read my mind so I didn't have to verbalize each step. I was able to hold onto my husband while she gave counter pressure -- to hug him while still having the comfort measures. In transition I was grateful for multiple hands providing relief. I have birthed four times without a doula. I have supported countless families as a doula myself. However, having a doula for my fifth baby, I will never personally go back to not having one again. There is always a use for one. You never know what may happen or how useful a doula may be."
-Becky Hartman is a doula, photographer, and energy worker in Davis County, Utah. She just birthed her 5th baby this past week, so this is all fresh in her mind! To learn more, visit her website and go "like" her Facebook page.
Sometimes the decision seems made for you:
"I didn't actively choose to have a doula for my births -- it just happened that the universe provided them. They were just the right amount of hands-off until absolutely necessary, and then hands-off again -- which is exactly how I work. I felt so relieved I could let myself fall into the network provided for me by my community. I'm eternally grateful to these women who gifted me their work, both emotional and physical! My midwives through the years have been amazing support, as well. There's nothing I would change about my births, thanks to their skilled care."
Bryna Sampey is the creator behind the Portland-based Doula My Soul. Always about community, she and the others at Doula My Soul offer birth and postpartum doula support, breastfeeding help, classes, and more.
(I love this picture -- these are some of my fellow doulas in the Bakersfield, CA area.)
For three years now...
I have hosted a celebration of doulas on my blog. The original idea was something I thought of, literally, on April 31, 2014. I was struck with the idea of trying to feature 31 days of guest posts written for doulas, by doulas, or about doulas. International Doula Month is every May, so this didn't give me much time to act! I quickly contacted a doula friend who had recently shared a blog post about all the things she learns at births, and that was Day 1 of 31 Days of Doulas, 2014. As the days progressed, I sought out other pieces, either crafted for this project, or previously written, to feature on my blog. This was overwhelming to tackle, but so rewarding! So rewarding, in fact, that this project carried into 31 Days of Doulas 2015, and 31 Days of Doulas 2016.
Sometimes doulas or families approach me with a piece to share. Sometimes I know something of someone, and I ask if they would consider contributing an original essay or article to the project. I have also stumbled upon other blog posts related to doulas, and sought permission to repost them on my blog. My most favorite thing ever about acting as editor in this role is when I know there is a story in someone, and I can encourage them of its value and help bring the words to life, now having meaning for someone else -- people who never thought they could write, people who never thought anyone else would care to hear that story -- proud of what they created and pleased to see how that helps others.
Because I love to blog, I created a Facebook group Blogging About Birth. My intention is for this to be a place where birth workers can share ideas, new bloggers can be mentored and buoyed up, and experienced bloggers can be challenged and revived. I love seeing what members share and what projects they are up to.
Each year I prepare a little earlier, because the 31 Days project is a hefty one! Generally I spend one hour a day editing, formatting, putting together the layout, creating or procuring graphics, linking, posting, and writing introductory/closing remarks for each post -- and that doesn't factor in the time connecting with the various authors. If I am lucky, I can stay one or two days ahead of schedule, and beg, borrow, or steal from friends and people I know if contributions are coming up short.
I am always looking for posts that relate to doulas -- if you are interested, please, let me know! And now, I end stealing words I wrote to close out the first 31 Days of Doulas: "At this point, I feel I am out of words! I can only say amazing so many times to describe this project. I am grateful for all I learned. I am grateful for the help you gave when you participated. I appreciate the time it takes to dig deep, sort, and get it all out on the computer screen. Thank you. I have learned so, so much from all of you.
All you Doulas out there, keep loving and serving families and being shaped by your experiences. And when you get a few minutes, don't forget to write."
Some of my favorites from past years
Do Birth Plans Leave You Drifting?
For almost two months, I have been faithfully blogging once a week. I had the opportunity to leave my doula world here in Bakersfield and visit Scottsdale with my kids -- so I took it! I had this experience, which I knew fit right in to what parents face as they create their personal plans for birth.
A family member works at WestWorld of Scottsdale. This is a huge venue where they host horse shows, rodeos, expos, and auctions. We had been invited to the Barrett Jackson Auto Auction -- we watch this on TV every year. With four boys from 3-17, this show did not disappoint!
Our family member showed us the following video, in anticipation of our experience -- she was giddy with excitement as the boys watched with dropped jaws:
After we viewed it a few times, I had some questions for my family member.
"Did you guys know they were going to do that?"
"Did they ask your permission?"
"If they had asked your permission, would you have allowed it?"
Even though she and her whole office couldn't stop watching this video, the answers to all three questions were, "No."
No, they had no idea this was being planned.
No, permission wasn't asked.
No, it would not have been allowed.
There are some scary scenes in this, right? The car drifts past people, past doors, around Mr. Jackson's Bugatti! Things are loud, dangerous-looking, out of the norm for the venue. But the driver has the experience of drifting, and he knows his car. He has learned how the car works, how best to throw a drift, what his car can and can't do. It is obvious he has had a lot of time behind the wheel.
This fits into how we can craft our birth plans.
I recently sat with a couple as they worked to put their birth preferences together. The example they were using was mighty -- like four-pages mighty! Four-pages mighty suggests you list every little thing you might even think of doing or accessing or trying. I suggest a less-is-more approach. Include 6ish of the most important choices you want. Now all the others fall under the umbrella of, we will try them if the time arises and the situation fits, generally without getting specific prior approval, but utilizing something until someone says why we can't. Do you see the parallel now?
So you want to use a peanut ball? Bring it out when it's time -- but you don't need to take up space on your birth plan stating, "Mother will use the peanut ball we brought to optimize baby's position if Mother becomes tired or needs to stay in bed."
Do you get sick or grouchy or faint when you don't eat frequently enough? Instead of writing, "Mother has snacks available and will eat as she feels necessary in order to maintain energy for labor and birth," just pack your food and snack as you need to.
If your goal is to be active in labor, you need not put, "We wish to labor out of the bed, so we will be walking, using the shower, sitting on the ball we brought, and rocking in a chair to achieve this." You can simply show the bed isn't where you want to stay, and get up and get moving.
Ideally, talking to your doctor ahead of time to discover what specific choices your situation warrants provides leverage. What if your doctor says no to everything you want to try? Then look for evidence. For example, in November 2015 the American Society of Anesthesiologists stated, based on evidence, that "Most healthy women could benefit from a light meal in labor." If your provider isn't keen on that, ask about this ASA recommendation -- why does it not apply to you? You can do this for many of your choices -- find the evidence and ask why you don't fit the recommendation. What is often termed as "hospital policy" can be broken down into "provider preference"; ensure you are getting accurate information.
Learn your choices. Understand how your body and your baby work together towards birth. Decide how you want to shape your experience by the options you face. And go for it. If you aren't "allowed" to do something, assess the risks and the reasons, and move forward. Try something else. Keep asking questions. Stay busy and active. This is your machine and you know it best.
Remember that saying: "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission"?
It absolutely applies here.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)