Alicia Wild is a doula and mother of two near the Bakersfield area. Many women experience healing from their successive births. In today's guest post, Alicia shares how she found a second healing in an unlikely place -- by the side of a doula client.
Every birth is different. This is a motto that we, as doulas, reiterate to our clients time and time again. It is something that birth entusiasts from all across the spectrum believe fiercely in. It is a saying that is proven true again and again with every birth we witness, hear about and have. No two births are alike, but just because one birth is different from another does not mean that it cannot heal the long held wounds of someone else's birth story.
Like many birth workers I've met, I too have a traumatic first birth story. While we often share these stories with sadness and often anger, it is usually these stories that brought us into birth work to begin with. I was 23 years old when I became pregnant with my first baby, our rainbow baby, but even as that was the case I still felt in my heart that he would be a boy. I loved being pregnant. The feeling of growing a person inside of your body is unlike anything else, and with little to no negative pregnancy effects I had nothing to complain about. I could feel that my baby and I were both healthy and I continued on in my pregnancy, soaking up as much information from the internet and the couple of mainstream baby books that I had. My mother-in-law repeatedly told me how proud she was of me for educating myself and being more prepared than she was when she had her own children. I was young and smart and I really did feel prepared.
At a 37 and a half week appointment my doctor told me that I was going to have a "big baby" and that she wanted it born that week. I was naive and trusting; every resource I was looking at told me to trust that my doctor had my best interests at heart. I now realize that while this is sometimes the case, it is not often so. She did my first ever vaginal exam and said that I was 2 centimeters dilated and 50% effaced. The problem is that this exam hurt more than I had ever been led to believe from friends and family who had had babies before me. This was painful. I cried because it hurt and I was not ready to go into labor while my husband (a forest firefighter) was out of town on a fire. She hugged me and told me again that I would have my baby in the next couple of days.
Immediately after leaving the appointment I began having small contractions, and within two days my water was leaking. The mainstream books I was reading told me that I needed to go to the hospital right away and so I called my husband home from his out of town fire and we went to the hospital. The first hospital that we went to said that I was not leaking amniotic fluid and released me. My husband and I felt a sense of urgency based on what we had been reading and decided to go to another hospital. They also said that I was not leaking amniotic fluid but since I was now dilated to 3, they would keep me and start pitocin. 9 hours after my induction was started the partner of my doctor came in and told me that it was time for a c-section. Being the informed but not selfishly stupid parents that we were, we accepted the word of this doctor whom we had never met before this moment.
After about half an hour I was prepped for surgery and quickly after that my son, Jacob, was born. I was given the briefest of looks, and I gave my baby a quick kiss on the cheek, and he was taken away to the nursery with my husband. I was cold, scared, alone and desperately longing to hold my new baby. After two hours of mandatory post c-section isolation, also called recovery, I was released to my room where I would surely get to be with my new baby. I quickly found that that was not the case. It would be another 4 hours before I would finally get to hold him and an additonal 6 after that before I would get to keep him for any length of time.
What amounted to essentially 12 hours without my baby became some of the most traumatic hours of my life. Even after we were finally released from the hospital I longed for those hours back. But I had a beautiful new son and certainly had nothing to be sad about. Yet, I still found myself secretly crying and mourning my experience. I had done everything I was supposed to so why was this feeling not going away? I did everything right? Didn't I? After 18 months of research from less mainstream sources, I realized that the number one thing that I had done wrong was that I did not properly educate myself.
I discovered that the reason my first vaginal exam hurt so much is because my doctor had stripped my membranes without my consent or knowledge. This is also why she was so sure that my baby would be born within a few days. I didn't realize that this procedure can cause waters to leak or even rupture. It can be especially dangerous in women who are not ready to go into labor and at 37 and a half weeks, I was certainly not ready to go into labor. Next I discovered that leaking waters is not nearly as dangerous as those mainstream books make it out to be. Women have gone up to 72 hours with complete ruptures and have had no ill effects. Lastly, after getting my medical records, I was able to refute every reason for having been given a c-section. My 7lb 12 oz baby was no where near "macrosomic," the records themselves indicate that I did not have a fever and my waters were not actually leaking. So why is it that these things were all written as reasons for my c-section? I can't honestly answer that, but I can speculate that because I was scared and started to get vocal and because it was 11:00 on a Saturday night that the doctor on call simply ran out of patience. But the only factual answer I can come up with is because I just didn't know better. It's a reason that I find many women end up with the births they are given and not the ones they want or could have had.
When I became pregnant with my second son, I did things differently. I had a home waterbirth with a midwife who I love and cherish. My baby was never taken from me and I do not still yearn for any missed time as I do with my older son. I was healed, completely and wholly. At least I thought so.
Fast forward another 2 years. My oldest is now 4 and a half and my youngest is 2. I have been a part-time doula for about a year and while every birth I had been to helped me to grow as a doula and each one was unique and beautiful, none of them reminded me of my own births. They were indeed different. I have one client who I have known since kindergarten but we were acquaintances at best. I would soon grow to love and cherish her as a friend, which is so often the case with doula work. The time spent sharing and talking with women cannot be erased just because the job is done.
My new client is pregnant with her second child and she is also looking to overcome a traumatic first birth experience Though her first birth did not end a c-section, it still left lasting scars which she, too, wore upon her heart. She calls me one May day to let me know that her water was leaking and she thought they would be heading the hospital soon. Like my first birth, she was not having any significant contractions at this point. Immediately I felt a similarity to my own birth and I encouraged her to weigh her options versus going in right away. I let her know about the studies I had read. She agreed that it was probably too soon but she wanted to be near the hospital in case she changed her mind. Since we live about an hour away from the hospital where she was going to deliver, we decide to make the trip sooner rather than later.
Ordinarily a doula would not go so early in labor, but I felt that my presence was needed. We spent the day window shopping at the mall, watching a movie in the theatre, and having dinner together. I joke that I was dating my client and her husband as we are all out enjoying each other's company and waiting for labor to kick in so we can go to the hospital. By nightfall we are all starting to get tired so I suggest that they get a hotel room and I will stay with a friend. All through the night and into the next day still nothing has happened, labor has not kicked in. Her waters have been leaking for more than 24 hours and nothing we try is moving things along. She is growing increasingly worried so we decide to go to the hospital.
At the hospital she is told she can't get out of bed anymore. She refused to use a bedpan and fought for the birth she wanted. She accepted the pitocin but not the epidural, something I know she is still so proud of having accomplished for her and her son. Pretty quickly after the very low dose of pitocin started I looked on the board and saw that the on-call doctor is none other than the woman who called my c-section. There is a sinking feeling in my chest and throat as I look to my client who is in the same position I was in 4 and a half years ago. Waters leaking for a day and a half, pitocin started and not yet working, the same time of night and this doctor. This doctor whose face is at the front of every sad memory I have about my older son's birth. I prayed I wouldn't see her, but knew I would need to hold back my emotions for the sake of my client.
Despite the similarities between our stories up to this point one key thing made all the difference in the world: my client really was educated and more than in the mainstream way I had been. She knew what she wanted and she had support to achieve it. Just when it seemed like she was destined to have the same birth experience that I had life reminds us that every birth is different and this was no exception. One simple turn and she dilated from 4 to "can't help it pushing" in 15 minutes. She pushed her baby out into the arms of a very shell-shocked nurse. When that doctor did finally show up the dread I was feeling was not there. My client did it and I helped her! I realized that the doctor wasn't the evil I had been imagining for so long. She was just a fallible person like us all. And while this was not my birth and I did still end up with a traumatic experience, my client's birth was like a second healing to me. It was a do-over in a world where do-overs don't exist. I was given the chance to change my own circumstances through her and for that I am thankful and I feel healed.
I am a mother to two wonderful little boys. I was born and raised in Kern County and though I moved to Orange County for college, my heart eventually found its way home in the end. I possess a Bachelor's Degree in Social Sciences from Chico State University, and while this is one of my biggest accomplishments, my heart truly lies with birth and ensuring that women receive their own perfect birth. I believe that women relying on women is crucial to seeing birth dreams come true, and I believe that every birth is unique, just as every woman and child are unique. What may be my perfect birth may not be yours, and that's okay. My job as a mother's assistant is to ensure that you get your best possible birth. Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments that might you have.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)