Last-minute maintenance before I go to bed: load dishwasher, brush teeth, wash face… it’s nearing 11:00 when my cell rings. I know who it is even before I look. Oh, WHY didn’t I take a nap this afternoon? Unable to keep from smiling, I answer the phone, “Are we ready to have a baby?”
The mom-to-be on the other end questions her feelings… Contractions? Gas pains? Wishful thinking? “Are they consistent?” I ask. She thinks.. maybe 15 minutes apart, but she’s just not sure. I ask if she wants to “rest” or “rock and roll”. She thinks resting sounds nice. (It sounds nice to me too, but it is not my decision.) I advise her to drink a glass of water and try to sleep – I will come whenever she wants me.
I am a doula. A birth doula, to be more specific. I support women during childbirth. Over the years it has become a job, a hobby, a ministry, a passion.
I sleep off and on for a couple of hours, anticipating the next call. This time from her husband – a sure sign she is ready for me. I dress quickly (forgoing my usual hour-long routine), grab my emergency birth bag, and drive the 27 miles in the middle of the night, meeting only a few other headlights. The roads are quiet at 1:15. I turn left onto a dark street where all the houses are resting except the one expecting me. Porch light is on, door unlocked, waiting for me to let myself in. I change shoes, wash my hands, and slip into the bedroom at the top of the stairs where she is laboring with soft moans and gentle swaying. “How we doing?” I whisper after her contraction. She looks at me with eyes that say, “This is not what I was expecting. Is it supposed to hurt like this?”
Dad-to-be informs me she woke nearly an hour ago to steady contractions, about 8 minutes apart. She has now moved to 7 minutes and no longer wants to communicate when a contraction rushes over her. They sit together on the bed and with each wave of tightness, he holds her hand and rubs her arm. Her feet are cold, so I put socks on her, and remind her to breathe deeply through her nose and blow slowly out her mouth. I bring her a glass of water and rummage through the bathroom drawer for some much-wanted chapstick.
She’s been side-lying for the last hour, so I get her up to walk. The house is small, but open, allowing us to make uninterrupted circles. Hubby tries to catch a nap as she and I walk and talk, then stop and rock. When a contraction begins, she leans against a wall and I put pressure on her lower back with a distinctive move I learned from an Amish midwife. Other times, I put my arms around her back while she leans her head on my shoulder, and we do a little rocking dance. Back and forth. The waves strengthen and move closer. We rotate between walking the house, squatting on the birth ball, and standing in a hot shower. Time passes, marked only by the increasing daylight and the increase in the intensity of her moaning. Her deepening vocalizations are the marker I need to decide it is time to transfer. We load her bag, grab a pillow and move to the car, pausing for each contraction.
When we arrive at the hospital, dad helps settle her into the birthing room while I greet the nursing staff and go over her birth plan. By the time I get to the room, she is having a hard time opening her eyes. Dad is holding her hand and kissing her lightly on the forehead, but she is focusing on the pain and starting to become overwhelmed. A quick check shows she is only dilated to 5. She looks disappointed, hoping this would almost be over. I reassure her 5 centimeters is wonderful, she is working this labor like a pro, and I am proud of her. I really am.
She can’t seem to get comfortable in the hospital bed, so we stroll the halls, hubby and I taking turns in the rocking position. I encourage him to take the lead as often as he wants, completely if he wants. He is grateful for someone to help him know what to do, how to respond, how to help. It is hard for him to see her in pain. With every contraction now, one of us massages her lower back while the other whispers words of encouragement into her ear.
Back in the room, we drop the lower half of the bed down to the floor and I get on my knees in front of her. She sits on the edge of the bed, her arms draped over my shoulders, her face glistening with sweat, long blonde hair in her eyes. I tuck the hair behind her ear and tell her what a trouper she is, but now it’s time to stop focusing on labor and start focusing on holding her baby.
With renewed determination, she moans uninhibitedly, less out of pain and more out of hard work. Deep, guttural moans that seem to push the pain away from her body. In between, we breathe. Her husband lightly strokes her back and affirms how amazing she is. They are incredibly sweet. She is now in tune to the rhythm of her labor, staying on top of each contraction as she nears the final stage. Almost in an instant, her eyes grow wide and she starts to breathe fast, shallow breaths. Another check shows she is dilated to 8.5. I cannot contain my smile and she starts to cry. “You’re rocking this, and it is almost time to push.” But the reassurance is not enough to overcome the panic of transition. Her moans turn to low cries of doubt (“I can’t do this anymore! I just want it to be over.”) I have difficulty stifling a giggle, as EVERY woman expresses this during transition. I tell her, not only CAN she do this, she IS doing this, and it. is. almost. over.
The hospital staff begins to descend upon the room, readying equipment and lights. We have been blessed this morning with a great nursing staff who respects the need for a peaceful environment. This is a real birth, the kind our bodies were made to do, not the kind you see in the media. Lights are dim, no one screaming or yelling, no drugs being administered, no one wielding a scalpel.
Mom asks to change positions, so we help her get into a squatting position, and then everything goes quiet. No contractions, no moaning…no pain. A mini-reprieve. Time to breathe. Time to rest. Time to wipe her face with a cool washcloth. The OB confirms that her cervix is ready if she wants to push. And with the next contraction she does. I talk her through HOW to push (yes, there is a “right way”) and her husband keeps eye contact with her. Thirty seconds of pushing, then a rest. Another push, another rest. With each push, the baby inches downward until his crinkled little gray scalp is visible. Finally, the OB instructs her not to bear down. I remind her while the baby is crowning (much like putting on a new turtleneck) she wants to ease the baby’s head out slowly. So we pant. Short quick blows in and out of our mouths as we stare at each other. Her attention now moves to her husband, and I find the camera and get ready for baby’s first photo. Once the head has emerged, she closes her eyes and bears down hard with a primal noise until she hears the midwife’s words,“There we go!” and opens her eyes just in time to see a tiny wet little body slip out and hear his new lungs quiver and cry. Her hands instinctively reach down to comfort him.
“It’s a boy!”
She leans back and he is brought to her now-squishy belly and covered with a warm blanket. She melts into tears and smiles and relief as her baby’s cries subside and he settles next to her heart. “I love you so much,” she whispers as she glances from her son to her husband and back again. There is silent chaos all around as the hospital staff does their job, but she is oblivious to it as she puts him to her breast, enamored with the perfection in her arms. After a few minutes, she starts to weep and laugh at the same time.
It is a mere 10 ½ hours since the first contractions began. Much shorter than the average first labor. No drugs. No interventions. No complications. Mom is exhausted, elated, empowered, in love.
A beautiful new family. A beautiful new day. Time for me to sleep.