I had the privilege of attending this homebirth -- one of the longer births I have witnessed as a doula, 38 hours. Had this been a hospital birth, I am positive it would not have been allowed to progress at its own pace. All the while, Mom and Baby were perfect, healthy, and happy. Baby just decided to come out OP, face-up, and that made things happen a little slower than what we expected. There is just nothing like watching a woman bloom in labor -- no matter where she is -- when she feels safe, cared-for, and in-control.
I want to share what I think and how I feel about pregnancy and birth. I believe so much in respectful, evidence-based care for women and their babies. To me it's about choice; the choice to choose a care provider you're comfortable with, the choice to deliver your baby in the place you feel safest, and the choice to surround yourself with the people who will best support and love you during labor. Not everyone will make the same choices, and that shows how important it is for women to have safe options for whatever method they choose. Below are some photos of me in labor with our sweet baby boy and right after birth. We are all familiar with what hospital birth looks like, so here's a look at the other side.
Here my midwife's apprentice is showing my midwife how to hold up my belly and gently shake it side to side. This was heavenly! It got the weight of my baby off my back and was such a relief. and my husband has his feet up, too! Power of an effective birth team!
Here we were trying to get my labor to progress. I had such a strange labor (to me at least, no one else seemed that surprised!). It was a lot of intense contractions followed by long breaks. It didn't progress normally and we were surprised when my midwife would check my dilation and said there had been significant progress. The sweetness and patience of my support team is not lost on me. I would probably have not been able to labor so long at the hospital without intervention and augmentation. I'm thankful I got plenty of time to labor, even if it was unconventional.
"This may just look like a picture of two blurry feet with toenails of pink. But what you don't see is the AMAZING way a woman blossoms while laboring at home with the support of her family, her midwife, and her birth team. One foot is mine -- offering leverage and stability to the other foot -- a woman as she works to push her baby out. Not seen is the midwife using creative means to look for baby while not disturbing mom's floor-crouching position, dad who is behind mom physically supporting her, a student midwife simultaneously uplifting mom while preparing to serve birthing women in the future, and grandma who takes care of us all with homemade food and hospitality. Homebirth with a midwife offers a respect and kindness for the woman that is hard to find in the hospital, at least I can say that is my experience. What a joy to witness the simple miracle of birth and the power of a woman in her home who has choices and support."
I just love this picture and think it sums up homebirth perfectly. My midwife and her apprentice are studying me and waiting patiently for my next contraction. The equipment behind them is ready for use if we need it, but do not rely on it, trusting that my body knows how to birth this baby. I remember them encouraging me; telling me what a good job I was doing and that soon my baby would be in my arms. My husband sits behind me, a rebozo around his shoulders so I can use the scarf to pull on while I push through a contraction. Not pictured are my mom and Stacie, who are also watching and waiting, ready with a drink of water or a cool washcloth to wipe my forehead. What a privilege it was to be surrounded by this excellent, prepared and encouraging team!
Our baby is finally born!! We eventually moved onto the bed and were surprised to see him come out face first! My midwife rubs him down and checks to see that he's breathing. I am pretty much yelling about how much I love this little guy. Haha! What a rush of emotions!!!
For us, homebirth was where we felt safest and most comfortable, and where we believed our choices would be respected, while still having professionals available to advise us on risks and look out for potential problems. It is how I have birthed all three of my babies. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Any doula knows, this profession can be taxing to family life -- who hasn't missed a holiday or milestone? Chelsea is a local doula and friend. Here she shares the struggles of not only working toward doula certification, but also what life is like for a busy mom whose passion is doula work.
From the beginning of my research about starting my doula career, I’ve heard nothing but: “You should wait until your baby is older.”
I started my certification just shortly after I found out I was pregnant with my second baby. I had just decided the month before to start the process of certification when I got two pink lines on that beautiful test. As I went through my certification, the process was slow and hard. I had a hard time concentrating on my assignments and getting my births done. Every time I started to struggle, those negative thoughts came into my mind time and time again: maybe I should wait, maybe I can’t do both.
But I wanted to. I wanted to be not only a great mom, but also a great doula. I persevered. I did assignments as often as I could, and I kept at it.
We then found out just three short months after giving birth to baby #2 that we were expecting baby #3. That’s right folks! Three babies in three short years.
Again, the thoughts came.
But I stuck through it. And you know something? I’ve learned that I can love my job and my babies at the same time. I admit it is hard to leave my babies for a birth sometimes. I just had a birth whre I was gone in bits and pieces for 38 hours. I had to pump every time I got a break! It was hard. No sleep. Missing my babies. First time away from baby #3 for more then a few hours since he was born. That's tough stuff.
I’ve missed putting them to bed and reading them goodnight stories. I’ve missed them having fun. I miss family events because like most doulas, I don’t travel within my on-call period.
The one thing I’ve had to learn as a doula, and as a mom of 3 under 3, is the importance of self-care. I was going to births, being there until the early hours of daylight, then coming home and trying to be super mom. I was trying to clean house and take care of all 3 babies. I was exhausted after my first few birth. I was already burning myself out.
I realized I needed to come home and eat, shower, and sleep, and with a supportive husband, I get help in this area. Bubble baths are still my favorite thing to do post birth -- you can’t give what you don’t have right?
Being a mom of 3 under 3 while balancing doula life is hard, but I get to see women at their strongest moments. I get to see life come into the world. I get to be a part of a family's greatest moment! And I can’t see much changing in the foreseeable future!
Chelsea is a birth doula in the Bakersfield, CA area. She is married to a strong, supportive husband, has a daughter and two sons, and loves Disneyland. She is a passionate breastfeeding advocate, and is happy to still be nursing her third baby after struggling with undiagnosed low thyroid and losing her milk with her first two. Chelsea is also a proponent of informal milk-sharing, as it has helped her little guy grow and thrive before she understood why her milk supply was decreasing. Find out more on her Facebook Page.
I fell in love with this birth story! I have a penchant for birth stories written by doulas, and this one does not disappoint! As a woman in labor, I can also relate to how incredible and soothing water can be -- one midwife I used to work with called sitting in a big tub of water an "aquadural," and I know many find this to be true. I hope you enjoy this uplifting tale of birth!
I find childbirth to be an absolutely beautiful event. It is certainly not at all glamorous by any means, but it is such an amazing experience to view not only as a bystander, but also as a participant. I have had 4 children, all girls, with 4 completely different experiences. All 4 birth experiences, in addition to my losses, have shaped me into the woman I am today.
My youngest daughter is now almost 4 months old, and she was conceived the same month I had a miscarriage. The pregnancy went very well, but I was very afraid that my labor and delivery would mirror the delivery of my third daughter, Spirit, which was extremely traumatic. This led to a lot of anxiety and fear, despite my knowledge on the subject. It was for this reason that I hired a birth doula.
My due date was Saturday 11/21 and absolutely NOTHING was happening, only slight Braxton-Hicks here and there. My older kids were at my parents’ spending the weekend, so I figured it was the perfect time to put together my bed frame and make sure the room was arranged for baby’s arrival. So I took everything out of our room, and with a little help, put the bed frame together. My boyfriend Jermaine wasn’t too happy about it, but it needed to be done so I had access to our bedroom closet and I could start setting shit up. That probably should have been my sign that something was up since I was so determined to get it done RIGHT THEN, lol. Mind you, I had already partly cleaned my kitchen (still had dishes to do, but had cleaned the floor by hand and had already done enough dishes to fill the dishwasher and dish drain by the sink), and had cleaned my bathroom the day before.
Once I was done, I wanted to start putting everything back in our room, but Jermaine was hungry so we ordered food and I went to go get it. By that time it was about 8-8:30p, and still nothing was happening. I was exhausted and my back was starting to hurt a little, which I chalked up to it being from bending over to clean and work on the bed frame. We started getting ready for bed and I left the place a complete mess thinking “Oh, I’ll just get up early and move everything back, etc etc”.
So around 12:45-1a, the back pain was still just annoying and then suddenly got really intense. I posted on Facebook in a pregnancy group I was in asking if anybody had experienced back labor and what it felt like, and called my OB as I had began feeling some pressure as well. He told me to wait it out a little since I wasn’t having any contractions at all, but said he would call the hospital just in case I decided to go in so they knew to keep me. Right after I got off the phone with him, I used the bathroom and then went to bed. I woke up at about 3:45, 4a because I had to pee again (had been drinking tons of water to see if it would help the pain, which it had) and began feeling the intense back pain and pressure again. Still no contractions at that point, but I just couldn’t move much anymore so we decided to head to the hospital.
Because of the pain, it took me awhile to get dressed and then at about 4:30a, BAM! First contraction hit! And the back pain and pressure literally stopped and I was cool. Started timing the contractions and they were 3-5 min apart straight off the bat and lasting from 30-45 seconds each. So, through all the mess I had made, we grabbed my bag, got as dressed as I could, and we were out the door. In the hurry, I tried calling my doula, Sam, and couldn’t get in touch with her since my phone was acting screwy so to keep my anxiety down I just texted her what was going on and updates as they happened.
When we got to the hospital, we were immediately taken to triage after they verified my documentation and weighed me. In triage, they hooked me up to the monitors and checked me. I was a stretchy 4-5 cm dilated, had bulging membranes, and was almost completely effaced, this was at about 5:15a. They moved me into my room, which had a relaxation tub, and immediately started filling it up for me. That tub was AWESOME!!!!!! Definitely consider laboring in a tub of warm water if you can, it feels ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!
So, my doula comes and having her there was so relaxing and completely made the difference between a good, stress-free experience and a stressful, anxiety filled experience. I labored in the tub for about 2 hours and only got out to use the bathroom. At about 7:50, the contractions that hadn’t been bothering me suddenly felt different and I was feeling much more pressure so I asked to be checked. I told them that if I was a 7 or less, I wanted the epidural but if I was more than 7, I would tough it out. As soon as I stood up, I got hit with the most intense contractions back to back that I had EVER felt. After about 5-10 min of contractions where I couldn’t move, I finally made it over to the bed. I couldn’t sit, it was unbearable so I was on all fours moaning through the contractions.
The nurse checked me and I was at a 7, so they hooked me up to fluids and called the anesthesiologist for my epidural. My Dr. and a midwife came in and right then I got the unbearable urge to push and couldn’t stop, so they helped me roll over, my water broke, and in 2 pushes (about 2-3 minutes), my little rainbow was Earthside and super alert! 6lbs, 19.25in long, no stitches or repairs needed, and the anesthesiologist walked in not even a minute after she was born to give the meds, lol.
Oh, and did I mention that this was my second VBAC!
Jennifer Silvera is a pediatric LPN, RN BSN student, and mother to 4 beautiful little divas. She loves all things to do with birth and has a passion for birth and helping others. Ever since she can remember, she has loved pregnancy, children, and learning. In 2005 Jennifer was motivated to learn all she could about birth when a close friend became pregnant -- and she delved even deeper during her first pregnancy in 2007. Since that time, she has had 4 completely different birth experiences ranging from your typical hospital birth to an unmedicated almost home birth. She is a Birth Arts International trained birth doula. "I believe every woman should feel supported, educated, and empowered in her decisions regarding her pregnancy and child's birth, none of it has to suck or be a horrible experience."
Jennifer is currently working toward her BSN, hoping to work in L&D. Once that is accomplished, she plans to continue school and become a CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife). She truly believes an informed woman is an empowered woman. You can find her through her website, as well as on Facebook.
All images copyright Wanderlust Birth & Photography 2015 -- go and visit her website, her images are amazing! Find her on Facebook as well.
How fun to have the first English/Spanish contribution for 31 Days of Doulas! Clara is a doula in an area of Argentina with a high cesarean birth rate. She told me, a woman basically has to be progressing very fast to have a vaginal birth. When faced with so many obstacles to normal birth, it is important to retain your passion for doula work -- what brought you here in the first place? And to have an incredible support system in place. I am confident Clara has both. I am also confident that she will make a difference in the lives of the families she serves. I can't wait to see where doula work takes Clara!
The night after my first birth as a doula I couldn’t sleep -- I was very sad, very tired, and very quiet.
“My water broke, no contractions yet, the midwife told me to go to the hospital at five.” I was on a bus, busy with formalities when I received the mom’s text. I went back to my house as soon as I could, checked-in with my doula group on WhatsApp, washed my hair, got my doula bag, printed DONA certification papers, and left. Filled with excitement and adrenaline, I was happy. At last, 2 years after my first doula course, 3 months after my DONA training, a mama had trusted me to be her doula, and I was over the moon; although I knew this wasn’t the best scenario.
“Remember all our plans? Well, we are going to let them go.” I said that to the mom, but I was saying it to myself, too. An hour later I was in her bedroom, had turned the lights down, and understood that the couple’s choice was to go soon to the hospital. I had half an hour to time contractions. With the birth ball, rebozo in dad’s hands, and massage, a few contractions came -- shy, like someone who comes into a new place and doesn't know what to do. Respecting their decision to leave for the hospital at five (we had an hour or so of driving), I suggested we go.
“Wait, I have to do some stuff before -- get me the hair iron.” So there I was, with a mom about to go to the hospital not in labour -- but I was supporting with love what was important to her though it wasn't ideal to me. I took the iron, and while she was on the birth ball I did my best so she wouldn't realise I have no experience with hair irons (my hair is so straight!), and my fingers were burning. I took my time, this was important to the mom, so it was important to me. When I finished I helped the dad so he wouldn't forget anything. She put on perfume, called for a car, and we were out.
“It’s not a big deal, just relax yourself.” The driver had been a policeman, and he had attended three births himself. I think this man knew more about births than a lot of OBs. The energy in the car was pretty high, there was confidence and smiles, but the mom already knew that as soon as she entered the hospital, the interventions and protocols and rules would start.
“We’re going to try a vaginal birth, ok? But you know that at 37 weeks, your cervix is immature, and a c-section, is always a possibility, ok?” The midwife talked to the mama, but she was in another place. She sadly signed admission papers -- each form was a broken expectation given away with her street clothes and her credit card.
“Everything is perfect, Clari. There’s always a bigger plan than the one we can see or understand.” The WhatsApp group of my doula-mates was strong, careful, douling the doula. The same group that replied when I asked for a photo of “Labouring in bed” by Penny Simkin. In the hospital, I learned I would not able to be with the couple in the room -- rules are rules and only one person goes with the mama. We all sat in the waiting room. I lent my doula stuff to the dad and gave him some advice and information. When the mom was finally called, she was so upset I didn’t know what to say as they walked away.
The waiting room was full with grandmas, aunts, sisters and expecting couples. Absolutely every birth of that afternoon/night was a cesarean birth. C-sections were so many that the OR was full all the time. I cried a little, then got calmed -- I did my best, there was nothing I could do but wait, think positively about them, pray a bit, and wait some more. We were on the 10th floor, and as I watched elevator numbers rise up, I tried to visualize it was the mom progressing to 10. I listened to sticky-sweet love songs on TV, and whenever I opened WhatsApp, my doulas were always there, supporting me.
No news. I texted the dad, sending him inspirational pictures, advice, good intentions -- they knew I was there. Time passed and I thought that maybe so many scheduled c-sections (Easter holidays were coming) would give her some time to progress. Five hours later, I saw the OB, and then the midwife.
“The baby was born.” I never, ever wrote a message so fast. I needed them, I needed my doulas. Their experience was my support, their words, my relief. I asked the midwife if everything was fine and she said yes, “she didn’t progress and she had a c-section." She said I was able to see them now. I started to go down the stairs. I cried. I cursed. I read messages of support, of the lovely presence beyond this hospital, doula sisters. I held my tears and entered the room.
“You know how this works… doulas, midwifes, the more you know about it, the worse it is.” I thought the worst was over, I was wrong. There was the midwife, putting poison in mom’s mind with her words, blaming the c-section on a painful tired new mama who knew too much or had too much support, who was still dealing with anesthesia. I turned down the lights, stroked the mama, and watched a new mama with her baby -- the greatest love that exists, the one that heals everything.
Mi Primer Acompañamiento
La noche de mi primer acompañamiento como doula no pude dormir, estaba muy triste, muy cansada, y también muy tranquila.
“Rompí bolsa, estoy sin contracciones, la partera me indicó que me interne a las 5.” Estaba en un colectivo yendo a hacer trámites cuando recibo el mensaje de la mamá. Volví a mi casa lo más rápido que pude, di aviso a mi grupo de doulas, me lavé el pelo, agarré las cosas, imprimí los papeles de DONA y salí. Después de la excitación y la adrenalina inicial, disfruté. Por fin, después de 2 años de mi primer formación de doula, a 3 meses de la capacitación de DONA, una mamá había confiado en mí, y yo estaba en las nubes de la felicidad, aunque sabía que el escenario no era el mejor.
“¿Viste todos nuestros planes? Bueno, los vamos a soltar.” Se lo dije a la mamá pero me lo dije a mí misma. Una hora después estaba en su cuarto, había bajado las luces, y comprendido que el deseo de la pareja era llegar pronto al sanatorio. Tenía media hora para llamar a las contracciones. Con la pelota, un poco de manteo de parte del papá y masajes, fueron llegando algunas contracciones, tímidas, como quien recién llega a un lugar nuevo y no sabe bien qué hacer. Respetando el deseo de llegar puntual a la institución (teníamos una hora o más de viaje), sugerí ir saliendo.
“Esperá, antes tengo que hacer cosas, alcanzame la planchita.” Ahí estaba yo, con una mamá a punto de internarse sin trabajo de parto, acompañando con profundo amor lo posible, lo real, dejando de lado lo ideal. Agarré la planchita y mientras ella estaba en la pelota, hice mi mejor esfuerzo para que no se note que soy casi inexperta en el tema (mi pelo es hiper lacio) y que me quemaba los dedos. Me tomé mi tiempo, esto era importante para ella, así que fue importante para mí. Al terminar ayudé al papá a que no se olvide nada, ella se puso perfume, llamó al remís y nos fuimos.
“No es nada del otro mundo, solamente hay que relajarse.” El remisero había sido policía, y había atendido él mismo 3 partos en vía pública. Hoy creo que el remisero sabe más de partos que muchos médicos. La energía en el auto estaba alta, había confianza y sonrisas, pero la mamá ya sabía que apenas pise el sanatorio, empezaría el baile del protocolo institucional.
“Vamos a tratar de que sea por vía vaginal, ¿sí? Pero igualmente vos sabés que en semana 37 el cuello está inmaduro y que la opción de la cesárea siempre está, ¿sí?” La partera le hablaba pero ella estaba en otro lado. Firmaba los papeles de la internación con tristeza, cada formulario era una expectativa que se iba, que debía entregar junto con su ropa de calle y la tarjeta de crédito.
“Todo es perfecto Clari. Siempre hay un plan más grande que el que podemos ver o entender.” El grupo de whatsapp con mis compañeras doulas atento, firme, douleando a la doula. El mismo grupo que respondió de la mejor manera cuando les pedí una foto de “Trabajo de parto en la cama” de Penny Simkin. Ya me habían dicho que no podía pasar, que por normas sólo pasa una persona, que es la misma que luego entra a sala de partos. Nos sentamos a esperar la internación, le pasé mis cosas de doula al papá, le di consejos, y le reenvié la información de Penny Simkin. Cuando la vinieron a buscar, el ánimo de la mamá estaba tan bajo que no supe qué decirle.
En la sala de espera había abuelas, tías, hermanas, parejas. Absolutamente todos los nacimientos de esa tarde/noche habían sido por cesárea, tantos que el quirófano no daba a basto. Lloré un poco y después me calmé, había dado lo mejor de mí y ya no podía hacer nada más que esperarlos afuera, pensar positivamente en ellos, rezar un poco, y esperar. Estábamos en el piso 10, miraba los números que indican en qué piso está el ascensor y visualizaba que era ella quien progresaba a 10. Escuchaba canciones melosas en la tele. Abría whatsapp, las doulas ahí, conteniendo, acompañando.
No hay noticias, buenas noticias. Le escribía al papá por whatsapp con imágenes inspiradoras, consejos, buenas intenciones, ellos sabían que yo estaba ahí. El tiempo pasaba, pensé que tantas cesáreas programadas (ay, los médicos, se acercaba Semana Santa) quizás le den tiempo. Cinco horas más tarde, veo pasar al obstetra, y luego sale la partera.
“Ya nació.” Nunca escribí tan rápido un whatsapp, las necesitaba, necesitaba a mis doulas, su experiencia era mi sostén; sus palabras, mi consuelo. Pregunto a la partera si estaba todo bien, me dice que sí, que no progresó y fue a cesárea y que podía pasar a verlos. Empiezo a bajar la escalera. Lloro, puteo. Caen mensajes de contención, de presencia amorosa incluso a la distancia, mensajes de doula. Bajo la escalera, contengo las lágrimas, espero a que salgan las enfermeras y el obstetra y paso a verlos.
“Viste cómo es esto, doulas, parteras, cuanto más sabés… peor es.” Pensé que había pasado lo peor, pero no, ahí estaba la partera, culpando a una mamá dolorida, cansada, aún bajo los efectos de la anestesia, poniendo veneno en el suero con sus palabras. Bajé las luces, acaricié a la mamá, y contemplé el amor más grande que existe, el que todo lo cura.
“This nurse my clients had – she was excellent. I am wondering if I can send her a card, thanking her?” This is a common question doulas ask other doulas. Even before the ease of gathering in Facebook groups, there were doula message boards and email lists, and for those of us fortunate enough, real-live gatherings of local doulas. This question has come up since the beginning: Can a doula who witnessed excellence on the part of a nurse, send a thank-you?
Many feel a nurse is just doing her job – why should she be thanked? She would be doing it for someone else if not your client. She did it yesterday, and she will do it again tomorrow. That’s what she does – it’s her job, nothing extra is required on a family, friend, or doula’s behalf.
I work as a doula in the Bakersfield, Visalia, Tulare, and Hanford areas of Central California. I was recently at a birth somewhere out there where I truly saw a nurse “just doing her job.” It was the bare minimum required of her. And it showed. Did the mother receive nursing care? Yes, arguably very good nursing care. Was there any empathy, kindness, or understanding with this care? Absolutely none. If left me feeling three things: either she is lazy, power-tripping, or she really hates being an L&D nurse. Whatever the reason, “just doing her job” shone through as her mission statement for that shift.
Fortunately in my experience, this is a rarity. I see nurses smiling, helping, giving emotional support, and scaffolding families as they welcome new babies. So I say it is not only okay and appropriate to send your thanks to a nurse, it is imperative! Even better, send a copy to her boss, and her boss’ boss! As doulas we see both sides of the coin, and there isn’t much we can do when a nurse is “just doing her job.” Let us, instead, send praise forward, and recognize nurses who provide excellent nursing care in conjunction with empathy, kindness, and dare I say, heart!
I don't know about you, but I always love a good doula review written by a dad! Thanks to Russel for sharing his thoughts about his experience with their birth doula. Incidentally, their birth doula was Julisa Lagos, of Lansing, MI.
I was all for a doula, once I realized what doulas do. While pregnant, my wife's idea of a fun night together was sitting at the library, pulling down pregnancy book, after birth book, after breast feeding book, after baby book, and telling me all the things I needed to know. My idea of a fun night together was...not this. Don't get me wrong, when it is time for me to buy a TV or a car or a grill I am all about reading up on all the specs and reviews I can possibly find. When it came to having a baby, I was content to just go along with the flow; I didn't know there was much choice out there or options to decide between. Bottom line: if a doula was an encyclopedia of all-about-babies-and-how-they-get-here, then sign me up...because I need to focus on the best carseat and crib and baby bath.
Our doula came to our house and brought information when we needed it. When my wife had a question and wanted the best information about it, bingo, best sources without having to scour the internet.
When I was out of town for work our doula was on call, ever though it wasn't really close to my wife's duedate. For me, knowing our doula could be with my wife in case labor happened while I was gone, gave me a sense of comfort.
My wife's water broke and we called the office. When we called, the after hours answering service said they would take a message and a doctor would call us back. Panicked about what to do while we waited, we called our doula. She reminded us of the talk we had with our doctor about handling this situation. She reminded us about writing down the time, the color, the smell, and the amount of fluid (yay!), plus how our baby was moving and if labor contractions started yet, and to give all this information to our doctor. She said she was ready and waiting for our next move, and that could be waiting at home, or going to the hospital. It made me feel like a huge weight was just lifted from my shoulders!
Once my wife's labor started our doula was there helping us through the birthing contractions. She reminded me how I could help my wife. Our doula answered questions for me before I could even ask her. She knew our doctor and was very friendly with our nurses. It seemed like everyone was there for us as a team, and I think that shows she had a good relationship with the hospital.
As a nervous dad I suddenly felt like I was getting a pop quiz for a subject I never studied! But our doula made up the difference in a way that showed me I wasn't a slacker, I was just a new dad. I'm not quite ready to do this all over again since we aren't really even sleeping through the night yet. But I do know, next time, it's doula or bust.
Russel and his, Ruby, have two children now. He wrote this as a review for his doula, who they invited back to their second birth.
I heard a doctor say once, when presenting a pivotal intervention to the family I was working with, "If you were my wife, this is what I would do." It truly does offer the feeling: "He really cares about me." This is actually a fallacy -- faulty emotional appeal. It isn't based on science, or evidence, or the unique needs of mother and baby. It is simply an opinion said with feeling, and it can be swaying. Maddie McMahon hits the nail on the head here, and she offers sage wisdom to those of us who work with families -- families who may be vulnerable to the words we say and feel with emotion, that may not exactly be the truth.
These are the kinds of things I hear parents saying quite a bit, and they always remind me that being kind is just not enough. Meaning well is just not enough. Smiling and speaking gently is just. not. enough.
There is a lot of talk in health care about compassion. And so there should be. It should pretty much be a core quality of anyone working in a caring role. Compassion means having a deep understanding and sympathy for another’s suffering. It also means wanting to do something to fix that suffering and take it away.
The problem is, compassion on its own can be a problem. If we believe we can make this all better, if we believe we know better, if we can’t bear to see present or potential future suffering, if even the idea of risk is frightening, then compassion can be dangerous.
Compassion needs to be tempered and balanced with empathy. The ability to enter into another person’s feelings, to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It is this ability that allows us not to get caught up in our own emotions and not get swayed by our own assumptions as to what might be right of wrong for this person. It is empathy which allows us to step outside of ourselves, just a little, and make space to really listen – and more than listen, understand WHY someone might feel the way they do.
So my plea to you wonderful, compassionate practitioners out there, whether you are doctors or midwives or nurses or lay supporters like doulas: Please try not to coerce with your kindness. Is this mother doing as she’s told because you’re so kind and she doesn’t want to upset you, or is she making a fully informed decision? Are you laying YOUR stuff on her or are you truly holding the space while she looks at the benefits and risks of all her options then follows her heart? True kindness and care means trusting that those we care for can make safe, appropriate decisions for themselves, even if we disagree with them.
My New Year resolution this year is to pour a cup of Alongsideyou Tea and strive to listen harder and longer and deeper, whenever I can to everyone I meet and give my empathy muscles a workout.
Maddie has been a doula since 2003. She is a Doula UK Mentor and runs Developing Doulas, a Doula UK approved doula preparation course. She is a founder-trustee of Cambridge Breastfeeding Alliance and also a Breastfeeding Counsellor with the ABM. She recently achieved her childhood dream of being a published author with the publication of Why Doulas Matter in 2015.
She enjoys blogging on her site for parents and birthworkers The Birth Hub.
Mum to boy and girl teens and stepmum to one all-grow-up boy, she lives and works in Cambridge.
I had been looking forward to Sunday afternoon all week. A local midwife (and friend!) was throwing an open-house party to reveal her new office and birth suite. There was to be a petting zoo, bounce house, food, families, and fun. I couldn't wait, and I excitedly brought my mom and Ezra along for the ride.
LaMonica Bryant, LM, CPM, has been a midwife since 1999. She offers homebirth services to families in Kern, Tulare, and Kings Counties. LaMonica is based outside of Bakersfield, and after moving to a farm with more room, it was time to create a dedicated office space. It was also decided to include a birth suite, for situations when families may want the option of out-of-hospital birth closer to town than they may be.
I arrived to the party, eager to check out the new space and visit with LaMonica. I saw many friends, including my own midwife, Linda Cowley, who had helped me birth Ezra. Tables were set up and food was near, so I sat and visited for a bit, always keeping an eye out for LaMonica as I wanted to tour the new space with her. After about a half hour, another friend came to our table and whispered something about there being a baby born that morning.
Let me back up: LaMonica was pregnant, due around Valentine's Day. Her party's date was supposed to have been far enough ahead of her baby's date to not get the two mixed up. But as we all know, sometimes baby's have other plans!
The night before the party, around 11 pm, LaMonica's water broke! Labor ensued, and at 6:17 am, on the day of the planned party, Jasper was born! A short while later LaMonica's husband asked what they were going to do about the party? LaMonica said, the food was bought, the bounce house was on its way, so the show must go on! A bit bewildered, I would imagine, her husband agreed -- as long as she promised to stay in the house, in bed, with her baby.
After hearing LaMonica's baby had been born (and realizing that was why I hadn't seen her around), I went off to find her. She was accepting visitors, thankfully. I came to her bedroom, where she was skin-to-skin with Jasper. There were a couple other women with her, and it was calm and quiet, despite the party outside. If you are anything like me, though, you know THIS is where the real party is! A mom and her new baby, complete for the moment, happy and resting in a comfy bed with a wall of festive turquoise behind them. LaMonica had such a look of happiness on her face! In truth, she looked amazing and bright -- like she could be out there, showing families the new space! But a woman who has been present for 300+ families when they birthed was having her own moment. And truly, I felt her joy.
There was a buzz at this open house, like all of us were gathered to celebrate the birth of Jasper. Even though most never even saw him, we knew he was near, and we knew he was safe and happy. The most honored guest didn't even come to his own party, but all of us there were aware of his impact. We were reminded that birth is wonderful and unpredictable -- and that birth is safe.
How better for a midwife to know the functionality of her space than to test it herself? It may not have been in LaMonica's plans, but Jasper decided they needed to do just that. Well before the guests arrived, and with the help of her family and her own midwife, the baby was born, the suite was cleaned, and LaMonica and Jasper moved to their bedroom in the house to begin their babymoon (despite the festivities of the day!).
Reflecting back to the spirit of this day, I think I pin-pointed it: As a midwife, LaMonica is with families on these, the most special days of their lives. The birth of a baby -- magical and amazing -- changes a family. What a blessing to us, just to be near LaMonica and Jasper on their own special day, we family and friends who were mostly brought together by birth in the first place. Thanks to Jasper and his timing, to really give us something to celebrate.
Thanks to fellow doula, Melissa Hettick, for sharing pictures of the office/suite.
Joyce learned about doulas during her first pregnancy, and like so many, she went on to train and work as a doula herself. I am a fan of birth stories, of course, and what struck me about this one is how we are not only seeing Joyce's journey unfold, but also we are learning about physical and emotional changes that occur along the way. This is a great example of what loving support can do for a woman experiencing a difficult labor.
First off, my goal, as long as the baby and I were both doing well, was for a nonmedicated childbirth. To help towards that goal, we hired a labor/birth doula, Marsha, as labor support for me and Justin. A doula's presence speeds up labor, reduces mothers' requests for pain medications, increases babies' Apgar scores, decreases postpartum depression, decreases cesarean birth rates, increases mothers' satisfaction with the birth partner/husbands, support, improves the birth partner/husbands' satisfaction with the birth, and more. They're awesome. Marsha brought along Becky, a doula-in-training, as well.
Carol, my midwife, told me to call her when contractions lasted at least a minute long and were 3 to 5 minutes apart. I woke up at 3:30 am on Friday, Nov 7th, and couldn't fall back asleep. I finally realized I was having contractions at 4:15, so I got up and tried to distract myself by putting together a lamp for our living room. However, I was still having them at 5:30, and they seemed to be pretty regular, so I woke up Justin and we started timing contractions. At this point they were about a minute long and 3 to 4 minutes apart, but I was able to talk through them, so I took a shower and we timed again at 6:30. They were still a minute long, but now closer to 2 minutes apart, but I was still able to talk through the contractions, so we didn't know what to do. You're not supposed to be able to talk through active labor contractions. I called Marsha, who was also unsure, but told me to call Carol. Carol instructed us to go to the hospital, so we started packing the car and left for the hospital just before 8 am. Justin sweetly made me a PB&J sandwich, which I promptly threw up about 10 blocks from the house, right on "A" Street during morning traffic. Poor commuters. This was actually a good sign that this was it.
We got to the hospital and checked in, and Jill, the student midwife who's training with Carol, came in and examined me. I was 5 cm dilated and having regular, long, strong contractions that were now difficult to talk through. Marsha arrived soon, then Carol and Becky. Marsha started helping me relax during contractions and keeping my mind clear between them. One of the things doulas do to speed labor is encourage the laboring woman to change positions frequently, every 20 minutes. First, she had me walk through the halls. That made me puke again, which is a pretty good indicator that labor was progressing quickly! My active labor was from about 8 am until 1:30 when I started pushing, just 5.5 hours, which is pretty fast for a first-time mom!
Doulas also help mom move in ways that encourage the baby to position itself correctly for delivery. Baby K started out facing my left hip, and should have been facing my back, so we tried all sorts of different positions to get him to turn. Unfortunately, my son inherited my stubbornness and independence, and turned to face my front instead. This position leads to "back labor," or excruciating back pain during contractions that typically doesn't abate between them. It's just lovely... Luckily, being able to move around helped with the back pain. I didn't want to change positions, but getting into the new one always felt better. I also used the big Jacuzzi tub in the delivery room for pain relief - once you're about 7cm dilated, immersion in a big bath of hot water has been shown to be as effective for pain relief as an epidural and it can speed up labor because it helps mom relax. I still had terrible pain in my sacrum (very low back) during contractions, but I actually felt pretty good between them. Counterpressure on my back helped a ton, but poor Justin's back started hurting from hunching over me. Luckily, he had lots of people to jump in when his back got really tired. He also was able to eat lunch while I was in the tub - the doulas and midwives took good care of him.
After an hour and a half or so in the tub, I was 9cm and completely effaced. I got out and during the next contraction my water broke. This is when I really entered transition, the shortest but most intense phase of labor, right before you start pushing. For most of my labor, I was pretty quiet, but during transition, moaning seemed to be the thing to do. Apparently something like 90% of no-med women scream during their labor - I guess I'm 1 in 10! For me, transition really felt like (sorry!) I needed to have a bm, but didn't have anything in my colon. Like that nauseated feeling several minutes before you throw up. You want to puke, but you just can't yet. I wanted to push, but I couldn't.
Pushing was the most difficult part for me because of the way Baby K was positioned. When baby is facing mom's front, the angle of their head and neck means that the part of their head that has to fit through the pelvis is larger than if they were facing mom's back. I pushed for 2 hours. He actually crowned after about an hour or so, but we just weren't getting anywhere after that. Jill decided to do a small episiotomy to try to speed up delivery, since his heart rate had started dropping during contractions now, and that did the trick. I watched my son being born in the mirror, Justin got to announce to the room that we had a baby boy, and he cut the cord.
Jill and Carol are positive that if I hadn't had Marsha and Becky encouraging me to change positions and move around, or if I had been unwilling or unable to do so, I would have needed a cesarean because of Baby K's position. He just wouldn't have descended at all. I also think that my pelvis was able to shift and move to get him out partly because I was seeing a chiropractor throughout my pregnancy and my joints were nice and loose. I'm also lucky that I had a midwife who let me push for so long. I'm really lucky that Baby K and I both physically handled labor well and I was able to have a med-free birth like I hoped for. I also couldn't have done it without Justin. He was with me through every single contraction, and he helped me focus my energy while pushing. I am a lucky, lucky, lucky woman.
Joyce Dykema, CD(DONA), HCHD, became a certified birth doula in May 2012. She is also a trained Hypnobabies® Hypno-Doula. Joyce is a woman-focused doula. While passionate about natural birth and what research shows is the best for moms and for babies, the goal she strives for with every client is for women to have empowering and positive births, as the woman defines it. In addition to her doula credentials, she holds a BA in psychology and an MS in biological sciences. She breastfeeds, uses cloth diapers, uses baby sign language, babywears, and homeschools because these choices made sense for her family; she encourages others to explore and find what makes sense for their families. Joyce and her husband have three children, and live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area.
Amber is a doula near and dear to my heart. She came to the first DONA doula training we had in Chico, and we fast became friends. Her heart truly lies in serving women during the birthing year. It was a natural bridge to apply and be accepted into Chico State's Nursing Program. Here Amber likens the feelings and changes she has experienced during her first semester of nursing school to those pregnant and birthing moms pass through -- pregnancy and birth -- truly the metaphor for the transitions we face in life.
Doula work made me fall in love with birthing women. The sacredness and magic that surrounds them as they work so hard to bring their babies into the world is intoxicating to be around. After working as a doula for the past seven years, I made the leap to enroll in nursing school, with the goal of working as a labor and delivery nurse for a while, then becoming a midwife.
I had no idea what nursing school would be like, only that it was extremely hard to get in to. I am now in the last week of my first semester, with four more semesters to go, and honestly, I can't believe I made it through my first semester. Nursing school is hard, people told me. I had no idea just how hard it really was. But now I truly do.
As a doula, I have been right there when women who were so elated to be having a baby before labor began, suddenly expressed that they just couldn't go on. And I was there when, indeed, they did go on to birth their baby, despite all their doubts. They made it through the other side of labor and birth. It is this inner journey and challenge that I have witnessed so many times that has helped me get through this first semester.
I have often thought of the strength I witnessed as a doula, to get me through the tough days of nursing school. As I held on for dear life, going through the rollercoaster of emotions, joys, and challenges of becoming a student nurse, I drew some similarities between nursing school and becoming a mom.
Stage 1: Wow! I'm pregnant! (Or I can't believe I got into nursing school!)
When a mom finds out she pregnant, some great emotion is sure to overtake her, whether it be elation, surprise, sadness, or anxiety. At first she might not believe it's really happening, but eventually the reality settles in.
When I found out I got into nursing school, I cried. Getting into nursing school in California is no small feat. I was one of forty students to be accepted (out of 174 applicants!) and I was in total shock that I actually got in. I started dreaming and planning, and getting ready for the semester to start.
Stage 2: Wait, I didn't know I was signing up for this!
After the initial shock, joy, or acceptance settles in, the gravity of the life altering event which is motherhood is realized. Hopefully she won't get too overwhelmed by all of the choices, options, and decisions she needs to make as she prepares to go into labor.
My pride that I got accepted into nursing school was quickly forgotten as I settled in as a student. Beginning the first day, we had reading assignments and a presentation due. It became clear that yes, I had accomplished a huge hurdle by simply getting in, but the hardest part was yet to come.
Stage 3: I can not possibly go on any longer
This is the point at which moms who were planning a drug-free birth use all of their inner strength to just make it through the next breath. Thinking too far into the future leads to desperation and fear that it will never get better.
There were many a days this first semester when I just wanted to curl up into a ball and not deal with the stress, and the huge workload, and the pressure to not mess up during clinical. Some mornings I was in tears as I got ready for school, and I had to take a deep breath and not think too much about what was due the next week, and how I had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning the next day.
Stage 4: I did it!
Whatever her doubts, whatever her fears, she did it. Even if things didn't follow her carefully written birth plan, she accomplished what she set out to do: have a baby. The journey there was important, and she went through many travails to get there, but the fact that she herself grew a baby and birthed it is something no one can take away from her. She feels part of something bigger than herself -- a connection with all other mothers that have come before her and given birth.
Despite my tears, and my anxiety, and my mistakes, I have made it through my first semester. I have one more week left in my first semester of nursing school, and I have so much more respect now for nurses. My aunt who's a nurse recently told me "this will be the hardest two years of your life" and I don't doubt that she's right! But another nurse family friend told me "if you can make it through the first semester, you will make it the whole way."
Stage 5: Be gentle with yourself
New moms might feel lots of different emotions after the birth is all said and done. Maybe they are disappointed with how they acted, maybe they wish they could go back and do things differently. But then (hopefully) they look down at that sweet new baby, take a breath, and realize no matter how they did it, they accomplished a major feat. They deserve to be pampered, and they should know how strong and courageous they really are.
I've made mistakes this first semester that I desperately wish I could take back. But you know what? When I stopped hounding myself, and looked around at my classmates, I realized we're all making mistakes. That's the beauty of being a student. That's how we learn. I know I did my best.
Nursing school is indeed so much harder than I ever imagined it to be. I simply had no idea what to expect. I prepared for it, printed and read all my syllabi before class, had all my supplies in order, but there was simply no way to make this semester easier. There was no way to get around the stress and the emotions, I simply had to go through it.
Just as a mom must go through her labor, whatever twists and turns it takes her on, she will have that baby in her arms. And I will graduate with my Bachelor's of Science in Nursing and become an RN. I just know I will.
Amber is a Birth and Postpartum Doula, certified though DONA. She is also a Placenta Encapsulation Specialist. She has participated in a volunteer doula program, helped start a local doula group, and Was trained to assist midwives at the Farm with Ina May. Putting these skills to work, she has assisted a few different homebirth midwives. Nursing school was her next challenge, with the future hopes of working as a midwife. She is an asset to families with her caring, quiet, compassionate ways, and this will carry over to all she does in the birth world. She is on hiatus from births right now, but continues to offer placenta services.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)