What do you remember of yor births? Are there thing you would change? Things you are surprised you did that didn't follow what you learned about or expected? In this feature, a doula shares her birth story with additional hints and advice as seen through her professional lens -- what a great idea!
On my first born's 6th birthday, an idea popped into my head to share the story, but this version will be injected with Doula Tips and new discoveries I’ve made since being a natural health educator.
When you get to know me, you know that I’m a big planner. Fortunately, we got pregnant the first month of “trying”. I took the pregnancy test in the morning, saw the + sign and danced with delight. I brought the test into our room to share the news with my husband. We instantly prayed together to thank God that pregnancy happened easily, and asked Him for health and well-being. I didn’t experience morning sickness. There were a handful of times I needed to vomit in the morning, but as soon as it came up I was ready to rock ‘n roll. I figured out that I was taking my prenatal vitamin on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning. DOULA TIP: purchase a natural prenatal vitamin.
One issue I experienced was the increase in headaches around the beginning of the 2nd trimester. My midwife advised I needed to drink more water. I remember one day driving home from work, and I had to pull over and vomit in a plastic bag because my headache was throbbing. Ouch + ick. The headaches didn’t last long. DOULA TIP: essential oils can address head tension. I wish I knew about them when I was pregnant the first time.
I have fond memories of prenatal yoga. It was so fun being surrounded by other mommas and baby bumps. Another great experience was our antenatal childbirth education class provided by BirthCare. It’s a 6-week class and they structure it so you have a coffee group once all the babies are born. We met weekly for about a year (when we all went back to work). To this day, these mommas are some of my favourite people in the world and I miss them dearly. DOULA TIP: create your supportive group of peers while pregnant.
Her due date was Friday … but she arrived three days early on Tuesday.
I woke up before midnight to use the restroom and when I wiped there was a “bloody show”. Exciting! There were mild tightenings, so I went to the living room to watch the wall clock. Sure enough, those tightenings were coming and going every 10 minutes. I remember our midwife telling me to sleep at night and not wake my husband (if at all possible). DOULA TIP: let your partner sleep and you really need to sleep too!
Back to bed I went to try to sleep, but let’s be honest, this is an exciting moment. I laid in bed, took a nap, then eventually woke Brad around 3am. In his delirium, he started to pack and wanted to throw things into the car. I laughed at him and just told him to calm down because it would be a while before going to the birth center. Brad started to time the contractions. We got ourselves organized, packed the last minute items, made some toast and a smoothie, and walked around the house. At 7am, we called the midwife to tell her what was happening. She encouraged us to keep moving at home and call when the contractions got closer together. I got into the shower, washed my hair, shaved my legs. I had rented a TENS machine, so we tried that around 9am. This was not comfortable for me, so we ditched that. Bummer that we wasted over $100 to rent it. DOULA TIP: ask your maternity provider about TENS because this can be an effective pain management tool for you.
We put on a Grey’s Anatomy as a distraction… do you remember the theme song? When you play the DVD, that song just keeps rolling over and over again until you press “play” so that was on in the background as the contractions started to get more intense and closer together. My husband was amazing. We found a groove of him massaging my lower back during the contractions.
After talking on the phone again with our midwife, she agreed it was a good time to head to BirthCare. We arrived around 11:30am and she said I would probably have to leave because I was smiling upon arrival. When she did the vaginal exam, I was 6cm dilated. She filled up the birthing pool (huge, Jacuzzi style tubs in the birthing room). I noticed that she dropped a couple drops of something in the pool. Later on, I found out it was clary sage. She is amazing. I didn’t know of essential oils back then, but I was so glad she used it in the pool. We got settled into the room and kept moving/ massaging/ going in and out of the pool. My midwife provided a carrier oil (probably sweet almond oil) for my husband to use on my back. DOULA TIP: I always have fractionated coconut oil in my doula bag when I attend births. A carrier oil helps hands to glide smoothly on momma’s back, even in water.
Both of our girls were born at BirthCare, Auckland – a primary birthing center across the park from Auckland City Hospital. No doctors, no epidurals… just large birthing rooms with pools and midwives and oxygen/ gas if needed. My main motivation for birthing here was that if you birth here (instead of the hospital), you get to stay in a PRIVATE postpartum room for three nights. Everyone else has to share a room with another momma + baby, or pay a ton of money for a private room. Looking back, the other part I love about BirthCare is that there wasn’t anybody else coming and going (no nurses, no lab techs). It was just Brad and Christine as my birthing team. It’s like a home birth, just in a comfortable space with more tools (and the freedom to leak blood and fluids and water from the pool/ shower all over the place). DOULA NOTE: find a birth space your are comfortable with
At some stage, my water broke (but I didn’t feel a pop or gush). My midwife noticed leaking and some meconium coming down my legs. Darn. She did a great job of protecting me from this information. She mentioned it, but did NOT say it was an “issue”. She let me keep labouring comfortably. My husband kept massaging my lower back. He only missed two contractions during the whole labor experience. What a champion. His hands must have been so tired. My midwife was on the phone with the Charge Midwife up at Auckland City Hospital. She was checking in with her decision making to keep me at BirthCare as she monitored the meconium situation. There was potential that I might need to transfer up to the hospital since meconium can be dangerous for baby. Did you know that I didn’t need to be on the fetal monitor until towards the end of my time in the birthing room? We used a doppler to check baby girl’s heart rate while I was moving in the pool and around the room. Due to the meconium, I was hooked up to the electric monitors to make sure Madam Blueberry was safe. DOULA TIP: you can request intermittent, portably fetal monitoring if birthing in a hospital.
I started to feel the urge to push! A couple of deep growly grunts were let out because I could feel my body taking over. I wasn’t fully dilated yet. So my midwife gave me some oxygen to breathe deep and regain control. The entire birthing experience was very calm, quiet. At this stage, I was up on the bed being monitored. I was checked again and given the go ahead to push. Another midwife came into the room to assistant mine. They had my legs up and coached me to “bear down” to push. My midwife wanted to get baby girl out as fast as possible because of the meconium. I was still oblivious to this being an issue. I took deep breath and pushed so hard that I burst a blood vessel in my right eye. Yikes! DOULA TIP: I now suggest that mommas “breathe” the baby out and spontaneously push instead of “bear down” coaching that most nurses and care providers use. But every situation varies.
Because I was so internally focused, I wasn’t honing in to my midwife's voice. With the last push, baby girl’s head came out at the beginning and I didn’t hear my midwife telling me to stop pushing… so out came the rest of her body all in one fast swoop. Whoops. That’s how you get tearing. DOULA TIP: listen to your lead maternity carer’s voice right at this moment. They are there to protect your perineum.
Baby girl was instantly placed on my chest for skin-to-skin time. She was born at 4:50pm, about 16 hours after seeing the bloody show. Talk about love at first sight. Whew. I didn’t know I could love a creature so much. It’s like loving a pet only times a billion. Baby girl was breathing fine -– she did have some meconium on her, so they wiped that off. My husband cut her cord, then my midwife waited for the placenta (we took it home and planted it below a lemon tree) and started my stitches. We started breastfeeding right away. I was able to take a shower in the birthing room before waddling over to my private postpartum room. Stitches on your bottom are sore. DOULA TIP: I recommend a blend of helichrysum and frankincense essential oils to help with perineum healing.
I felt so loved and safe and cozy in our room after that epic experience. BirthCare is like a hotel with midwives. The food is delicious and plentiful, the midwives help you establish breastfeeding, and there are educational video streams on the TV in your room. It makes me so upset that mommas of O’ahu don’t have access to the same maternity care experience covered by insurance. You can hire a home birth midwife and pay out of pocket for a similar set up. I count myself monumentally blessed to have been living in that part of New Zealand with my incredible midwife and our amazing natural birth experience at BirthCare. After three nights there, we headed home with our treasure. My midwife visited us at home for the next 6 weeks to check on my stitches, help with breastfeeding, and track Madam Blueberry’s growth. We did well. My husband had two weeks off work, then Mom and Dad came from Hawai’i for two weeks. We cherish this birth story and are so grateful to our midwife and all the midwives at BirthCare. DOULA TIP: postpartum blues are normal and the American maternity system is NOT mom-centered. Ask for help. A postpartum doula can provide references to services and can support you with newborn care, routines, sleep solutions, etc.
Jenna Clarke is a doula in O'ahu, Hawaii. She is the owner of Malama Momma, where she shares "Mālama" is Hawaiian, and it means, "to care for, to protect." Jenna provides labor and postpartum doula services, as well as lactation support and education. She is the happy mother of two little girls, born in New Zealand. Jenna and her husband are passionate about natural health, the importance of reducing toxic load, the science and pathology behind illness, and how to treat illness with plant-based therapies, whole food, exercise, and reducing toxic exposure.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)