Day 19: A Borrowed Womb
What an apt title! I was part of a birth in March where I was able to support the gestational carrier, and the biological parents as they worked together to finally meet a baby made of miracles! I was instantly drawn to Nicole's words and pictures in this heartfelt story, where the pictures say all that needs to be said.
A dear friend of mine invited me into some of the most intimate and profound moments I have ever experienced. I met this wonderful friend years ago when we were both at the beginning of our doula work. She invited me to be present at the birth of her son 2 years ago and then again invited me into her journey of surrogacy.
I watched as her belly grew, housing twins so gracefully. The journey was unique and had it's challenges, but the gift she offered withstands it all.
The biological family had experienced the lost of a previous baby after years of fertility struggle. The ache they had to hold their own babies could be felt in their presence.
We had all hoped and planned for a vaginal twin birth, but one of the twins was showing some concerning signs with growth and nourishment so it was decided it was best to get the babies out at 34 1/2 weeks by Cesarean Birth.
The wonderful doctor spoke to the surrogate mother throughout the whole procedure, keeping her informed with each step. He kept each babe connected to their umbilical cords for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. I thought this was amazing considering that the babies were born so early and had some potential health concerns.
Fortunately, the babies are both thriving! These two families are now forever intertwined. These images give you an idea of the emotions on this sacred day.
Nicole Edwards is a DONA-certified Birth Doula, a trained bereavement doula, and a childbirth educator in the Denver, Colorado area. Her first pregnancy ended in a loss that tore her down and built her up. Despite her fears, she gave birth to a daughter in November 2011 and a son in April 2015. Before becoming a doula she worked for a variety of non-profits in the Denver Metro Area, assisting the emotional/educational needs of children. When Nicole is not supporting a family before/during/after childbirth, you can find her with her dog, in the garden, gathering chicken eggs, hiking, drinking loads of coffee, reading a novel, studying for her pre-nursing classes, baking bread with her daughter or attempting some new adventure with her family. Find her on Facebook.
Day 27: Living the On-Call Life
Being on-call as a doula can be hugely stressful. I appreciate hearing how other doulas manage their lives and calendar -- there is always something to be learned from the experiences of others. Thanks to Staci Plonsky for this helpful guest post sharing the ways she keeps it all together when she could be pulled up away from daily life at any moment to support a woman in labor.
I get asked a lot, “How does your family manage when you’re on call?”
Here are a few things we do to make life manageable for the on call times. (Typically, I’m “officially” on call 5 out of every 6 weeks. “Officially” means I have 1 or more clients at 37 weeks pregnant or greater.)
1) Flexible husband. My husband has some flexibility in work and can take off enough time to pick up the kids from school and man the fort until school the next morning. He puts in extra hours when I'm on call to prepare. This picture shows my husband treating our youngest to lunch in their favorite restaurant.
2) Backup babysitter. My mother has finally retired! That means she’s my new backup babysitter. The kids love it when Nana comes over to take care of them. She's much nicer than I am, they claim.
3) Frozen meals. I try to keep some frozen dinners on hand. I make a double batch of pancakes, meatloaf, chicken noodle soup, etc. when I make dinner and then freeze one for times when I’m not home. The funny thing is, my kids usually talk their Dad or Nana into McDonald’s. Then I use the freezer meals when I’m home recovering from an overnighter. Here’s a great meatloaf recipe, by the way.
4) Google calendar. I religiously record all events and upcoming activities and kids’ school project deadlines. There shouldn’t be any surprises, as long as the calendar is checked.
5) Schedule caveats. “As long as I’m not at a birth” is added to any invitations I accept when I’m officially on call. And I try to purchase (and gift wrap) birthday gifts, teacher appreciation gifts, and other items before the day of the event to save my husband trying to figure out what to buy.
6) Reasonable expectations. I don’t expect the home to be spotless (although my husband usually cleans better than I do.) And the family knows when I am on call. There are no surprises if I can’t make it to a function, although I do try to give the kids a heads up so they’re not missing me.
7) Excellent backup support. I know that if my children have a medical emergency, I can trust one of the Brevard Doulas to provide excellent doula services to my client. (I’ve never needed to use my backups so far, but I love that they are just as committed as I am.)
8) Professional approach. This is my profession. I realize it’s unpredictable in timing, but I am as committed to my work as the 9-5ers are to theirs. My family understands that I get paid to support clients and that income enriches our lives.
Those are just a few ways we prepare for a spontaneous work week!
Serving families on the Space Coast and Brevard County area since 2010, Staci Plonsky CD(DONA) is a certified doula, committed to providing exceptional support to families through their pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience. Passionate about keeping her skills sharp and her knowledge current, Staci is also a certified childbirth educator through Florida Outreach Childbirth Education Program and pre-certified as a Labor and Postpartum doula with ProDoula. Along with these certifications, she stays current with Spinning Babies, VBAC Facts, La Leche League, midwifery assistant training and pre-nursing college classes. She achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida Southern College in 2001. Staci serves as the leader for the local Brevard chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (inspired by her own Cesarean and subsequent vaginal birth after Cesarean "VBAC".) She has presented on the benefits of doula support, Cesarean prevention and natural comfort techniques in labor. A native Floridian and 14 year resident of Brevard County, Staci lives with her husband, 3 children, and Basset Hound. She enjoys riding her Irish Draft Cross Horse and gathering eggs from her resident hens.
Day 9: The Gift of Life
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.
Today's post is done anonymously for now. This doula/mama/surrogate may share her information at a later date, but she is currently working with a family that has requested she maintain a low profile...so let's call her Z. I was aware of Z from an online doula board we have been a part of for years. I asked her thoughts about her decisions and feelings as she extended past doula work to surrogacy, and I am happy she has this to share with us.
I have been a doula loving my work with families for over 10 years. It was accidentally that I even became familiar with what doulas are. In college I took a womens’ studies class in college and this lady came to talk to us about birth as a tool of the feminist movement. She listed many of her credentials but didn’t talk much about them (I had them on her handout). A couple years later when I graduated and was sorting through old papers and books I came across her handout. I wondered what (CD)DONA meant and that began my search. I was hooked! The idea that someone could kind of walk you through the birth process was amazing to me. Little did I know that two years later I would find myself pregnant with my first baby and you can guess the first thing I did (behind telling my husband I was pregnant)! Find a doula.
Six years and 2 kids later I was finally a certified doula and I loved it! In my community there was one small hospital. Things are slower paced and we don’t have that many terrible birth interventions. The doctors are friendly and there isn’t much trouble working in the hospital. After I had been doulaing for a couple years I heard from a college roommate that she was having trouble getting pregnant. She and her husband were trying in vitro and after that they were going to look into adoption or surrogacy. About a year later after failed IVF she shared they had a surrogate they were working with.
Now I was curious. Again. I looked up surrogacy agencies in the bigger cities around me. I read stories. I learned about traditional and gestational surrogates. My husband had a vasectomy and we were done with our family. I thought how incredible it would be to help a family start even though mine was finished. I contacted an agency and it wasn’t long after that I had a couple interested in me as a surrogate.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was how long things can take. It was a number of months before I finally found myself pregnant and things were looking good (I did have a miscarriage the first time around). The parents lived about 5 hours away and we would email frequently. “Dena” (the mom, not her real name) tried to take the train down to my appointments, and sometimes “Steve” came with her. We all seemed to get along pretty good. I created my plan for birth on my end while also trying to include Dena and Steve’s wishes. Also I hired a doula (or course!). It happened to be my friend who is a L&D nurse.
The day of the birth was perfect. It was the Tuesday before my due date at around 4 pm and I had an appointment. Dena had arranged to be there. The doctor checked my cervix and then he looked at me. Then he looked at Dena. Then he looked back at me. “You’re 4 centimeters dilated. You need to go to OB.” I didn’t believe him. This is the same doctor I had for my daughters and I knew him from doula births. He is kind of like Patch Adams the way he jokes. “I am serious. I am calling over there to tell them you are coming.” I had been feeling kind of off, my stomach was giving me some trouble and I was having some bowel issues but I thought I had eaten too many apricots or something.
Steve was just leaving work when Dena told him and he grabbed their bags and drove like a maniac to make it. My husband also came to the hospital, and Christina our doula. Labor went fast and we all laughed a lot. I don’t know why but everything was funny (and laughing helps you cervix dilate).
At 11:34 pm a sweet baby girl was born. Her mom and dad were in the room and Dena actually helped catch her. When I saw how Dena and Steve looked when they saw their baby girl I felt I had just done the most amazing thing in the world! I helped them become parents! It was incredible and besides having my own two girls it feels like the most miraculous thing I have ever been a part of.
I love being a doula and being a woman. Surrogacy for me was a way to extend that to feel good about doing something so amazing for a couple who couldn’t do it alone.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)