Monica shares her thoughts about the differences she noticed between her midwife-supported birth and her midwife-and-doula-supported birth. There is good information about roles here as well -- helpful when trying to explain to family and friends what your midwife will do, and what your doula will do.
I had a doula at my second homebirth. A lot of people asked me why. Here is what I have come up with.
1-First, a doula is not the same as a midwife. Your midwife takes care of all your medical needs and your baby’s medical needs. Your doula isn’t a medical professional. She gives understanding and support for you while you are in labor. She also gives support to your husband.
2-After my first birth at home with a CNM, everything was great. My midwife came with all her supplies. She was perfect at helping me get the birth I dreamed of in the medical way. But I did feel I needed more of the kind of support a doula could give, meaning, just focusing on me and my emotions and physically having labor and my baby. My midwife was taking care of me and my baby, but it was hard to get the support I needed to cope with everything I was feeling.
3-My doula came before my midwife. This was great for me and my husband. He was very worried the first time around. He kind of hung around not sure what to do. I know he was worried and even with good classes he didn’t know what to expect. When our doula came it helped my husband see that laboring was going smoothly. He was also able to relax and know we were both being watched out for.
4-My midwife wanted me to tell her when things were happening with labor. But that didn’t mean she was ready to come and stay with me yet. My doula was able to come be with us earlier in labor and just hang out. She went for a walk with me, and she made me and my husband some sandwiches. She suggested I lay down for a while to rest. She helped remind me of how to take care of myself.
5-My doula and my midwife made a great team. They had worked together at births before. My midwife said I might want to look into a doula the first time but I felt secure with my midwife and her help. Even if the second birth was just like the first with only my midwife, it would have been good. I wanted to try a doula the next time. And I am glad we did. With a doula, I felt like I was being catered to more and taken care of more. It was the difference between a homemade chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven, or a homemade chocolate chip cookie from the oven with ice cold milk. I am glad I had the full experience. Now I know the best combination for me is a doula and a midwife.
Monica is a Respiratory Therapist who currently stays home with her two girls. She often worked on the OB floor of a major hospital in Florida. She became friends with, and developed a deep respect for the midwives there. When she was pregnant with her first baby, the midwife she wanted to see was relocating across the state, but this midwife suggested a friend who offered homebirth, and Monica was hooked. She, her husband, and their girls love hiking, camping, and of course, the beach.
I have been a couple of days ahead of these 31 days' posts. Yesterday, on day 8, I was ready through Tuesday, including a special Mother's Day post for day 10. All I needed to do upon waking up today was hit "publish" for day 9's post.
I was called to a laboring mom in Tulare at 2 am, yet I knew I could use my website's mobile app to publish from the hospital -- but not so, I kept getting an error message (while mom was being triaged in a Visalia hospital and I was in the waiting room). I finally gave up and focused on this birth, knowing I could figure it out later.
This birth! This birth was amazing. My friend and fellow doula, Denise, asked me to support her during her surrogacy birth. Her husband, Chris, was a huge helper -- after all, he has supported her through her natural births before. That left me wondering, what would my place be when the partner is already doing great? I did doula the dog while we labored at their house; poor Buddy had been hiding under the bed until I arrived. I walked in to lay my hands on Denise's back to let her know I was there, and from under the bed, something began licking my feet. Buddy!
What we couldn't predict was, once we got to the hospital, Chris started feeling very sick to his stomach. He needed to go to the car and rest for a while, and he was kind of in and out of the scene. When he was present, he was very present, offering everything he could to support Denise (and the way they worked together was inspiring). And when he needed to step out, he knew things would be okay.
Denise had an amazing midwife, Rita. Rita is a powerhouse. She had five children of her own, and when she enrolled in a midwifery program Stanford offered for three years back in the 80s, she was pregnant with her 4th baby. Many doubted she would finish, but Rita is nothing if not relentless! And this shows when it comes to supporting her patients. Not only did she go to bat for Denise's comfort and preferences, she also knew how to talk to Denise to keep her courage up and help her move forward when she hit emotional and physical walls.
The intended mother was at the birth, and she quietly witnessed the whole thing, very concerned for Denise's safety and comfort. When this little baby girl was finally born, she was laid on Denise's chest, with her mom right there, awestruck and deeply moved. I don't think any one of us in the room had dry eyes. Soon the mother sat down in a rocking chair and baby was placed skin-to-skin with her. We all watched this new mother interact with her baby -- the sweet words, the lilting voice, the facial expressions and the snuggling; it was an amazing peek into the private world of a mom and her infant. Soon the new dad joined mom and baby, and again, the tender voices and touches were sweet affirmations to those present that this new gift was one worked hard for, one cherished.
I didn't intend for this to be anything more than a short Day 9 post to stay on track, but it is hard to withhold the beauty of birth -- every birth. I am amazed at Denise's strength and her generosity. She truly went through one of the hardest physical and emotional experiences in her life to grow and birth a baby for a family who did not have this ability. Four hours or so after the baby's birth I finally left, but one of Denise's last comments to me was this: "I am so grateful I could do this for them."
And I am amazed.
With my 4th and final baby, after some conflicts with finding a local hospital-based midwife and hospital I was comfortable with (we had moved away from our homebase of fabulous midwives), I chose to birth at home with a licensed midwife. I was offered a few names by families in the area, but one name kept standing out: Linda Cowley.
If I was impressed by my hospital midwives and their relaxed ways in the office, being at home for my prenatal appointments was even better. When I told Linda I wasn't sure if I wanted to do the gestational diabetes lab work, she encouraged me to trust my gut and make the decision I was comfortable with. Knowing she trusted me to make decisions about my health helped me trust myself. I do believe we have inner wisdom that guides us, and this was a way I could build that up instead of the scare-tactics and what-ifs that often push us into making choices we don't feel good about.
Something I still find amazing is what was going on behind-the-scenes when I was in labor. I waited until 5:30 am to call Linda as I didn't want to wake her too early; little did I know, she was already awake because she had another mama in labor. This other woman had a history of fast labors. I am so grateful Linda was calm and selective in what information she shared with me that morning, meaning, she didn't say, "Oh, I was already up because another client is in labor." I would have panicked! Instead she said she would get ready and come see me...and we live about 45-ish minutes apart.
With my third baby, I returned to the same practice of midwives I loved. When I went into labor, the midwife lived about a half an hour out of town. I called their answering service at about 7 at night. She was soon on the phone and she asked me, "Should I come to the hospital now?" I didn't want her to drive down if things weren't going yet; I told her to wait until I or a nurse updated her from the hospital. Carolyn decided to come down the hill anyway. Shortly after I was settled into my room, she walked in, and I felt an immediate release of tension I didn't know I was carrying.
After witnessing the incredible midwife-assisted birth of my nephew, I did, indeed, avoid an OB the next time around. We moved when I was 7 months pregnant, and I had this idea I would return the three-hours home to have my baby with the original midwifery group I started with. After a few trips, though, I decided I was finished with the traveling, and traveling in labor would be even worse. I found a midwifery practice in my new town of Chico, CA.
At my first appointment I was struck by how quiet the office was. I liked that I checked my own weight and dipped my own urine -- I was trusted to report my own findings and they were noted in my chart. I had my almost-two year old with me, and I was worried he would be a burden and get us the nod of disapproval from this office; instead, at my first appointment with Karen, she had a puppet on her hand with which she entertained Jacob while she and I had a great discussion about my fears and concerns. She took a full hour with me that first appointment, and the office immediately scheduled me weekly so I would have a chance to meet all three midwives.
When it came time for the birth, I knew it would be one of the three on-call for our hospital birth. I soon learned it was Karen, and it all just felt right. She was there with me during my labor and drawn-out pushing phase (as my baby was posterior-born, weighed 9 pounds, 9 ounces, and took 90 minutes to push out). She never rushed me, she helped me try different positions, and she filled the room with positivity when it seemed I was cursed to push forever.
There are two conversations we had during prenatals that have never left me.
The First Midwife I Ever Met...
The first midwife I ever met was Sharon, the amazing Sharon. She was my sister's midwife, and my sister was three months behind me -- we were both pregnant with our first babies. My sister planned to have her baby at home, and I planned to have a traditional hospital birth with a female OB -- I thought that would close any gap there might be between me and a doctor.
I actually knew Sharon before she became my sister's midwife -- we went to church together. She was a good friend to me while I despairingly tried to get pregnant. Sharon understood the depths of worry and sorrow I experienced. She truly offered me empathy when others were telling me to just "relax." Because of our relationship, once I was pregnant, I brought all of my questions to her.
I don't think I knew enough about birth in general, and homebirth specifically, to think my sister's plans to birth in her bedroom were anything short of crazy. I was able to be there at her birth, and although she did birth in the hospital due to her water breaking 5 weeks early, the difference between her experience with a midwife, and mine were burned into my brain. As Sharon massaged my nephew's head out, gently coaxing, "Come on, Baby, your mama still has room to stretch," I felt a thousand tiny knives pierce my heart for the loss of that kind of nurturing during such a miraculous, life-altering experience. That was when I decided I would never birth again unless I had a midwife assisting me...and the next time I did birth in the hospital with a midwife.
All my love, appreciation, and gratitude to Sharon and the amazing way she served families for years by helping them birth safely within the walls of their own homes. She will always be treasured by our family.
These pictures are from the triumphant homebirth of my sister's second baby.
There is a lot of talk about what your ecological footprint is -- meaning, what impact do you have, because of your lifestyle, on the earth and its resources? Being in the world of moms and babies as a doula and an educator, I have seen a different footprint we can leave, a Birth Footprint.
Basically, your birth footprint is a combination of your personal experiences, beliefs, biases, and philosophies that could be projected onto other women and families -- instead of the pressure you put on the earth, it's the pressure you put on others.
Here are a couple examples of exerting your birth footprint (and they happen to be mine!):
Giving clients opinions instead of actual facts. We don't try to do this intentionally, but rather, we give anecdata from what we have seen or experienced, versus evidence-based information that comes from reputable sources such as Cochrane Collaboration.
With my second pregnancy, on my due date, my midwife asked if I would like my membranes stripped. I was tired of being pregnant (who isn't by 40 weeks, huh?) and I willingly agreed. Nothing happened, not one thing -- I was pregnant for another week. In my mind I equated membrane-stripping with a low-risk intervention, not inclined to do much.
Back when I was certifying I had a client who was offered a membrane-stripping by her practitioner. She agreed, and immediately began contracting every 9 minutes. This was the start of hours of uncomfortable, non-progressing labor. She went to the hospital after 12 hours with contractions still no closer together or longer in length. She begged her practitioner to allow her to stay the night and he agreed. The next morning, 24 hours after the membrane-stripping with still no change in contraction pattern or cervical dilation, her practitioner broke her water, offered her an epidural, and began induction procedures. This mama hadn't slept all night, her epidural wore off three different times, and by six pm, she was offered a cesarean birth -- exhausted, she agreed.
I had no part in her decision, we had not discussed this topic beforehand; but if she had asked me about membrane-stripping, I might have said, "It's no big deal, it doesn't do anything anyway." My answer would not have been true! While Cochrane states, "to avoid one formal induction of labour, sweeping of membranes must be performed in eight women," it goes on to mention "sweeping can cause discomfort during the procedure, bleeding, and irregular contractions" -- all of which my client experienced. Her contractions didn't change her cervix, but they did wear her down, diminish her spirit, and factor into the making of decisions she previously wanted to avoid.
Letting personal biases interfere. As we work with different practitioners in the birth world, we get good ideas about who we like, and who we would like to avoid. A woman sought out my doula services, and I was thrilled when she shared her midwives were my midwives. An assumption came from this: I knew these women well, I valued their skills and their style, and I had two of my babies with them in amazing-to-me births -- I guessed my client felt the same. But guess what? I was wrong. My client was having doubts about her connection to the midwives, and while she tried to process her own feelings, I was trying to talk these women up, in the hopes that my client would feel better about her choice to birth with them.
What I didn't realize was, this chipped away at my ability to be the non-biased sounding board my client deserved. My attempts to smooth the rough feelings my client had were actually setting us up for division, as I was supposed to be on the mom's side, and it seemed like I was on the midwives' side. Before things got to an uncomfortable point, I saw my job wasn't to fix the situation. Instead, I offered communication strategies my client could implement, including role-playing with her so she could practice conversations before her appointments. She had a memorable birth with just the right midwife, and I had a memorable lesson in my client's needs and feelings coming first.
Questions to ask yourself if you are a birth-worker:
1-Do I bring up my own experiences of birth and share them readily with my students or clients? No doubt having babies is exciting and life-changing. We do have a need to share our stories, this is human nature. I have joked that every woman has to share her birth story 78.4 times before she can move past it to help another woman. If she tries to move into birth work before she is ready, her expectations can be either to help women avoid an experience like she had (if it was less-than-satisfying), or to share a formula that other women should follow to have an experience identical to the one she had. This is the client's experience, let it be shaped by her education, desires, personal beliefs, and choices, and she will come out with an incredible story of her own to share.
2-Do I encourage her to find her own way? Another trap if you already have children is, when your client is presented with a decision, she asks, "What would you do?" It can be the easy way to just simply answer -- you have experience, you know what you are comfortable with. But that would be taking away this family's experience of facing a tunnel of indecision and coming out the other side with an answer they feel fits for them. In the short run, you can look like a hero with the solution, but in the long run, that doesn't help this family build up their confidence in parenting and making choices for their baby.
3-Do I have strong feelings about choices families make regarding birth and parenting? I have a close friend who admitted she couldn't work with pregnant or new moms because she can't handle when they make choices she feels are wrong. Instead of trusting parents to make their own educated decisions, she wants to "bully" them into parenting as she does. For example, she has always co-slept with her babies, and it drove her mad to see parents put their babies in cribs. Instead of offering evidence-based information such as Dr. James McKenna's research, she wanted to jump to scare-tactics to push parents into making their decisions. This is not choice, this is force fueled by strong statements full of fear. We must trust families to make the choices they feel are right for their situations.
4-Do I include myself as an integral part of their birth story? I admit, it feels good when a family says, "We couldn't have done it without you!" And it would be great if I could really believe that and walk around with that feather in my doula cap. Maybe it's altruistic (more likely, insecurity!), but that doesn't rest well with me. I once read a birth story where the doula went on and on to list all the things she did (10+, all numbered and acknowledged) to make this birth experience amazing for the mom and dad. Did the parents walk away feeling the power of themselves and their baby? Or did they walk away feeling like without their doula, they would not have been equipped with the tools and strength to have their baby? My response in situations like these is the same: "You could have done it without me -- I could not have done it without you."
5-Do I have specific requirements for parents? I had a former doula client who moved states away after the birth of her first baby. She was pregnant again and interviewing doulas. She texted me: "Is it normal for doulas to say they will only take you as a client if you agree to specific things?" The doula they interviewed said, she taking them as clients would be contingent upon them taking "approved" childbirth classes, committing to breastfeeding, and signing a statement to say they would agree to "nighttime gentle parenting." This family already believes in breastfeeding and the family bed, but they weren't prepared to take additional classes. Equally upsetting was, they were prepared to interview the doula, and instead they felt they were the ones being interviewed. "This was not what we were looking for, it kind of goes against the reason we wanted a doula in the first place." After a few more interviews with different doulas, they were able to find one that better fit their family. Of course as doulas we need to take clients we also feel fit our needs, I understand that. The process, though, can still be about the parents while we quietly assess how the fit feels for us, and then act accordingly after the fact if we know we aren't the right doula for this family.
There are many ways we can shape the births of our clients, these are just a few to consider. Doulas, what other ways can we impose our birth footprint on our clients, and how can we best avoid these roadblocks? I would love to hear from you.
Before I start I must share, I do realize "animal midwife" isn't a real term. I guess if a veterinarian is who you call when an animal needs extra help birthing her young, I am calling the person who is "with cow" (or ewe) during a spontaneous, normal birth an Animal Midwife. This Animal Midwife is a former childbirth student of mine (currently pregnant with her third baby -- so it's been a while!). After she read my first baby's birth story, she reached out to me to share her thoughts. The following is our conversation...
Animal Midwife: I loved your blog post! I shared it since I have so many friends and family expecting their first babies. I just had two friends a week apart go in for inductions and both (one not even 12 hours later), were rushed in for c-sections. I almost hurt for them knowing what they missed out on and the trauma physically and emotionally they might feel.
Me: I know what you mean. I was lucky I didn't end up with a cesarean birth.
AM: That's how I feel! If I hadn't had the midwives, that would have been my case! Luckily, I made some good choices and knew I wanted a midwife versus an OB. I think it's mostly because I grew up with livestock. I was telling my mom the other day, if I ran out and gave Pitocin (oxytocin) every time I thought a ewe or cow was done and ready to just get it over with, the lamb or calf would die nearly every time, and possibly the momma. Babies come when they are ready!
Me: Do you have Pitocin that you can use for your animals?
AM: Yep, it's called oxytocin, but it's the same thing. I have used it to treat a retained placenta. If I were to give it even a few days early there's a good chance the lambs or calf wouldn't be in the right position causing major problems! We would never break our livestocks' water either. My friend was being induced and they broke her water resulting in a cord prolapse and an emergency c-section. I just wish she would have waited, but they told her 2 weeks ago the baby was already 9lbs, and at birth he was 8.6.
This is long! Be warned!
I think when a person in is a position to serve a woman while she is in labor, that person should have required training every few years, like a recertification, on what it feels like to have a baby. I am not certain how this certification could be obtained, virtual reality plus some sort of pregnancy suit? Actually having a baby? I haven’t figured out the logistics, but I have recently had a recertification of my own, and that is called, my fourth child.
This fourth pregnancy was a surprise. Technically, I got pregnant at a time when no one would be able to get pregnant – only I guess more like I got pregnant at a time I felt I was highly, highly unlikely to get pregnant. My last menstrual period was June 10th. I did not get pregnant until July 13th at the earliest (a time when I was waiting for my period to start), to July 20-ish at the latest; looking at the date he was born now (April 6th), July 13th seems closer to the target date…we were on vacation.
I had lots of irritable contractions combined with irritable baby movements (probably more of the latter versus the former) that would happen around 10 pm to 1 am. The week before labor began I pretty much experienced these every night and I hated them. During these times, I would have waves of panic and anxiety about the reality of actually having to go through the birth process again, and I was always grateful when they were over and I could finally climb into bed.
Friday the 5th of April was pretty normal except I had two very serious bouts of grumpiness that made me feel deeply in touch with someone who was (hopefully!) going to start labor soon -- it was like total,
irrational, not-triggered-by-much anger that switched on so fast, I knew it was something else with some other root than just me being moody.
We had pizza for dinner, and like I had for the last week, I restrained myself from eating too much (“If labor starts tonight I don’t want to be too full,” was my rationale). I had two pieces and then cut myself
off. I took a little nap in bed, which I hoped would actually be “going to bed,” but I woke up at about midnight when I couldn’t ignore the antics of Wild Baby any longer. I watched TV a little and sat on the ball to try and bounce my guy into a calmer state. At 1 am I decided to watch the last episode of Mad Men on Netflix so I would be ready for the new season, with the intention of going to bed after that.
At 2 am, just when I was settling into sleep, I realized I was contracting, and these contractions felt different. They came 5-6 minutes apart, were totally manageable, and lasted about 40 seconds. I tried to sleep, but I was also mindful of needing to recognize true labor so I could get my sister and my mom on the road from two and a half hours away if this really were it.
Everyone was asleep, and as long as I was okay, I felt no need to wake them. I was feeling hungry, so I ate half a lemon Chobani (again, not wanting to eat a lot) in the morning quiet. I did call my sister at 3 am to let her know it was go-time. I labored longer, in the quiet of my living room, tending to small errands and tasks between contractions. At 4 am I woke Brad up to tell him I was in labor. He came out to the living room and asked, “What can I do?” and I immediately answered, “Take the recycling out, it’s driving me crazy and I have contemplated doing it myself for the last 2 hours.” I was hoping he would just lie back down on the couch and snooze a little, but he was up and ready to go.
I thought I would wait to call my midwife until 5 am, but at 4:30 my contractions began to get stronger and longer and closer together, just as they should, and I finally had some show. I phoned Linda to let her know I was in labor. She asked me a few questions, and then said she would be over soon. She lives about 40 minutes from us.
At 6 am, Linda arrived, and things were beginning to feel real. We had our tub set up in the dining room and I was feeling a pull to climb in, but I didn’t want to stall labor if I wasn’t that far along. I asked Linda to check me and she said I was 3 centimeters (“Not quite active labor!” I thought with a little disappointment), about 90% effaced, baby maybe at -2 station? I can’t remember that part. I mentioned I wanted to get in the tub, but I should probably try the shower instead (so gravity could keep helping my labor), and Linda agreed.
I got in the shower, and I really don’t know how long I was in there. The water felt great on my belly and during contractions I would swing from side to side so the water could fan over me. In between contractions I alternated putting my foot up on the side of the shower to lunge, in case my baby was posterior like his two brothers before him. Soon I found I had to vocalize during the contractions. I was in the bathroom alone and I had a lot of time to think. The thought that kept coming back to me was, “All is as it should be,” which was part of a prayer Brad had said earlier in the week when I was feeling really overcome with fear. I rubbed my belly and talked to the baby and told him to hurry, it all felt like it was happening in slow motion.
When I got out of the shower it was about 7 am and Linda checked me again. I was 5 centimeters. I went straight for the tub at that point, dropped my towel, and climbed in.
Jacob and Jonas were awake and had been for a while. Soon Isaac woke up and came straggling out of his bedroom in his standard sleeping attire – undies and a t-shirt. Brad told him we had company and he might want to put clothes on. Before Isaac woke up I remember Brad asking Jonas if he knew why Linda was at our house so early? Jonas admitted he didn’t, and we made a joke about Linda just coming for an early-morning visit. Brad then said, “Your mom is going to have the baby today.”
I looked to the tub for the relief it had brought in the past; with both Isaac and Jonas I got into the Jacuzzi tub at 5ish centimeters and after an hour was at 9ish centimeters, and I was hoping for the same, with the addition of having the baby in the water. After 30 or 40 minutes it seemed the tub wasn’t going to work as I had planned. I had intense pain in my lower abdomen to the point of not being able to sit in a relaxing position, so the whole time I was in the water I had to be on my hands and knees, and I didn’t want to stay that way much longer. Also, Brad started making pancakes in the kitchen.
At about 7:45 my mom, sister Shiela, and her two boys arrived. I headed to my bedroom, finished with the tub. Linda had set things up around the pool in preparation of a water birth, so some rearranging was in order, moving things to my room, getting equipment ready if needed. Once in my room it was just Linda, my mom, Shiela, and I. Brad had the boys going with pancakes and if they were making any noise, I sure didn’t hear it.
I asked someone to bring the piano bench into my room as I was laboring standing up, and I wanted to continue to lunge in case I had a malpositioned baby (which I don’t think he was, but I was a little gun
I think I had Linda check me again, and I think I was 7 centimeters? I am not really clear on this part. I wasn’t ready to sit down, so I continued to labor standing up. Shiela was a super doula – she would squeeze my hips during my contractions, and it brought so much relief! One thing I know about that double-hip squeeze is, it is hard to do when you have to press your arms together at the height of a woman’s hips – you get tired fast, and the laboring woman usually doesn’t want you to stop. If the
mom can get on her hands and knees on the floor, you can squeeze her hips with your own inner knees by straddling over her back, but I didn’t even want to try or offer that as I didn’t feel good in that position.
Over and over, a contraction would come, and I would tell Shiela, “Hips, hips, hips,” and she would start
In reality I have no idea what kind of time span this all happened in, I say over and over, but maybe it was only about 5 contractions? Or maybe it was 10?
I did finally sit on the bed for a bit. I remember taking my watch off and handing it to Shiela with the feeling that this was taking too long. I know for a fact I wasn’t looking at my watch or paying attention to how long it was taking in a linear fashion, but it was more some sort of symbolic resignation that I
would try to just flow with the timetable my body and baby presented even though I am as impatient as they come; in the last picture of me with my watch on, I see the time is 8:55 am.
I decided to visit the toilet. I spent a couple of contractions there, and Shiela was with me. She said my noises changed and she knew I was getting closer. As I sat laboring on the toilet, I opened the shower door next to me and contemplated getting back in -- I was looking for anything to comfort me at this point. Then I decided to see if I could feel anything inside of me, so with one finger about one knuckle in I was shocked to find something! “Is that a head?” I asked. But then I realized it was a bulging bag of water, with a head behind it. After all the years of hearing practitioners say, “I feel a bulging bag of water” (which I did remember Linda saying when she checked me last), I finally knew what that felt like and what it meant. I think I almost gingerly hopped off the toilet at that point, feeling remotivated.
I had one contraction standing up, with Shiela at my hips. Then I had another, and my water exploded all over the floor. There was a little meconium but Linda said it looked old and there was no reason for concern. I finally climbed into bed.
At this point I knew it would soon be time to push. I suddenly had the need for Brad to come and be with me, so I called to him and patted the side of the bed next to me, I just wanted him to sit with me and be near. Shiela was on the other side of me, and Linda was at the foot of the bed. My mom was by the door, ready with the camera, and the boys were in the living room playing Legos (again, I never heard anything from the boys, and there were 5 of them. Actually, I think after they ate pancakes they walked to the park with the dog to play for a bit. But I do know when the baby was born, they were playing Legos in the living room).
I did begin pushing at some point, and Linda said I still had a rim of cervix and she was going to try and move it, and I was totally fine with that because if anything was holding this baby up, I wanted it gone. So for a couple of contractions she worked on that and I guess it went away. I was pushing with such intensity but it felt fruitless. I truly felt nothing moving or changing and I imagined pushing forever
and not making any progress. It was at this point that I remember thinking, “I should have gone to the hospital so I could have the drugs!” (Interestingly enough, when I had my babies in the hospital, I never thought to ask for drugs, because I know if I had had the thought, I would have asked; maybe at home when it is not an option, my brain safely went there, just as a way to cope and vent.) Brad and Shiela were helping me pull my legs back during the pushing. Instead of rolling my chin to my chest, which I have helped women remember who-knows-how-many-times, I arched my head back against my pillows. I also had my body twisted in some way, crooked a little. Linda gently reminded me to get better aligned (with words and heart I could understand at that point), while giving me positive encouragement for this task I had to undertake.
Linda! What else could you want from a midwife? Really, not one thing. As a doula, I get really uncomfortable when people say, “Stacie, I couldn’t have done it without you.” Because, come on, you could have, and you would have. I don’t want anyone’s birth experience to have me entangled as an
essential ingredient; it should be all about the mom and her family, not me. But I have to concede that
when the right person is helping you with the right words and attitude and presence and spirit, it helps make the experience even more amazing, if that is possible. When you have the right midwife, the feeling is similar to being in your own home – the comforts of being in your own bed, using your own bathroom, lunging on your own piano bench – Linda was a natural extension of that. It felt right that she be here, in our home, unobtrusively watching over the birth of our baby.
The support Shiela gave me was also invaluable. Family members don’t always make the best doulas.
Shiela actually has taken a DONA-doula training, and that coupled with what she knows about me (just about everything), made her perfect for the job. She stayed by my side, she gave me verbal encouragement, she wished she could help me more. The truth of the matter is, only the mother can have the baby, but she doesn’t have to be alone while she is having her baby. I will forever treasure that my sister was there to support me during one of the most intense experiences of my life.
Pushing was hard, it was really hard – it seemed harder than it ever had been. I know I was lost in my head, and in there, the storm was raging. Every push came with screams, I hate to say it. I have never screamed with any of my other babies. And also, I cried, which was something new for me. In hindsight I probably could have pushed more effectively keeping those screams to myself, but they just came out. I know the boys didn’t appreciate the noise (although they all later admitted they weren’t scared), I am thankful my neighbors didn’t call the police, and the screaming is not my favorite thing about the birth video – oh well!
After so much pushing (again my sense of time is really off here), finally his head emerged. I felt his head with my hand, but it really didn’t mean anything to me, I just wanted the rest of him out! I pushed for one or two more contractions, maybe three, and then his shoulders popped and he tumbled out on a
wave of fluid and tons of baby poop. Linda helped bring him to my chest, all the while rubbing him and talking to him and watching him carefully. I was so relieved and instantly went from that person experiencing the very hard work of pushing toward a goal, to that mother experiencing her baby
for the first time. I was rubbing him and toweling him off and just taking him in, my body relieved of the burden with the prize in my arms. He was born at 9:42 am.
We all watched as he turned from purple-y to pink. His apgars were 8 and 9. Very soon after birth he wanted to nurse and he seemed to know just what he was doing. The boys peeked in one by one, only appearing mildy interested (we had two 13 year olds, two 11 year olds, and one 7 year old), and then backing out of the room again.
There were lots of things in the birth kit we didn’t use. My perineum didn’t need massaging, which Linda was prepared to do. We didn’t need the bulb syringe to suction the baby’s airways. There are lots of Chux pads that didn’t get used. Everything just happened easily and well, as it so often can when left to its own devices. I am sure the level of comfort and security factored into that for me as well. I am still struck by how ordinary things were and how extraordinary they were. Within a couple hours I was back in my shower. A little while later I threw a load of laundry in. My mom bought donuts and I happily ate three. Our new (nameless) baby was being admired and touched and held by his cousins and brothers and dad and aunt and grandma, while also nursing and visually taking in all he could. In many ways it was like a normal Saturday morning at home, but then, it was also like some rare, high holy day, calm with introspection, peace and joy.
Ezra Christian was 8 pounds, 1 ounce. There was much debate about his name – the other choices were Benjamin, Ruben, and Abraham. He was born on what we in the LDS religion believe to be Christ’s birthday, and also the day the LDS religion was restored; Christian is my brother’s middle name, and we
felt it appropriate for Ezra as well.
Moving through that birth, I didn’t feel alone. I remembered so many births and situations and strong mamas moving gracefully through this work. I could name each and every one that came to mind, but hey, this one’s my story. Just know if I have been with you for the birth of your baby, you were with me during mine in spirit and endurance and admiration. This has brought me so much more appreciation and compassion for birth and women while experiencing it – that’s why I feel there should be something birth workers can do every few years to get back in touch with what it can really be like to physically grow and have a baby. It changes you, and sometimes we forget that.
Tuesday night I was called to the home of N and J – N had been having contractions since 2 pm and now, 9 hours later, they decided it was time to go to the hospital. After being monitored and checked, and N being pronounced 1 centimeter dilated, they were sent home.
N continued having contractions and the next morning they were starting to pick up. Around noon, they headed back to the hospital and this time they were admitted – N’s dilation was now 3-4 centimeters. N coped beautifully, and J was one of the most connected partners I have ever seen. We took a walk around the hospital campus and noted such things as the cell phone tower that looks like a tree. N would pause during a contraction and lean into J, and then we would continue forward once the contraction had passed.
Around 6:30pm N was checked again and found to be 5 centimeters. Not what we wanted to hear! But N was motivated to stick with it even though she was tired. The shower worked well until the Jacuzzi tub was filled, and from about 8 until 10 that evening we were all stationed in the tub room. N was getting more relief than before, moving in the water to a hands and knees position during contractions, and then to a sitting position to rest.
N had been having intense back labor this whole time. It became obvious her little guy was in a posterior position. At 10pm, 32 hours into the process, N was checked and found to be 6ish centimeters open. Her midwife offered a couple of suggestions --one being to break the bulging bag of water to see if this helped labor and dilation, the other to assess the pressure of the contractions to see if, after all this time, their strength was adequate to make the necessary cervical changes. As their midwife spoke with N and J, answering questions, encouraging them to make the decisions they felt most comfortable with, and assuring them they had time to think about it all, she then left the room to let N and J talk it over. They decided to have N’s water broken, and N also wanted to try some pain medication.
With the bulging bag of water N was dilated to a 6.5, but once it was broken, she went back down to 5. This was disappointing news for N and J. After all these hours, though, the fast-acting narcotic pain medication was giving N a little bit of respite. Thankfully, N’s baby finally moved into a better position, relieving that unrelenting back pain. After 70 minutes or so of J and I standing vigil at the bed, and with the medication mostly worn off, N was found to be 8-9 centimeters. Her contractions never decreased in intensity or frequency and she was getting so close to being done!
At this point, J and I got her into the shower to sit on the ball. This is where the last of her cervix would melt away in preparation of the baby’s birth.
When we came out of the bathroom, J was feeling like pushing, and we were all happy to learn that yes, her cervix was gone. It was finally time to fill the birth tub!
J climbed in and, as she had many times before, she settled in to listen to her body’s signals. She began pushing. Their midwife said to Dad, “Hey, J – once the baby starts to come, do you want to help him out?” I don’t think this was something J ever imagined, and if the idea had been brought up at any other point than this precise moment, I wonder if he would have agreed so quickly? But the right question from the right person at the right time was the perfect set-up for this dad to help catch his baby.
N pushed on her hands and knees. In no time we saw the baby’s thick, dark hair waving in the water. Unlike the movies or television, N’s midwife relaxed and watched N follow her body’s cues. There was no “Push, push, push, pushpushpushPUSH!” –ing involved. All was quiet and peaceful as we eagerly waited to meet this baby.
At 3:05am, Baby Austin was born -- his daddy’s secure hands brought him up through the water to the safe harbor of his mommy’s chest. 37+ hours after labor began for this couple, they held their new baby and whispered elated words of joy and love to him.
The birth team worked incredibly well together, and the midwife was aptly soothing and intuitive. All of that aside, though, this couple was exquisite. When it's all said and done, this new family has their own story to tell, a story where no one else stood out as heroes except Mom and Dad. This couple shared an experience they will forever treasure: a long labor, on the longest day of the year, that brought them their summer solstice waterbaby.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)