The Birth of a Doula
At 20 years old I was working as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor and half way through my third year in community college. It was late at night and I was restless. Although I didn’t believe it was possible I was now a week overdue for my period. I tossed and turned until finally I decided to get up and go to the 24 hour pharmacy for a test. The instructions on the package said to wait until morning, but I couldn’t wait. Within minutes, there it was, the faintest of pink lines. The next few hours were filled with a myriad of emotions, and the next several months seemed much the same.
I was due to birth what I learned was a daughter sometime in late August. I’d been busy planning to get my life in order, but I hadn’t really thought about my birth. For some reason, I just believed I could do this. I was a woman after all and my body was made for this. My partner John and I took the hospitals childbirth class where they taught me some breathing techniques, showed me around the facility and assured me I would be well cared for. My due date came and went, and finally three days post due date I went into labor. Everything was going so well, my contractions we’re coming and going just like they taught me. My mother wrote them down on a piece of paper as we watched the movie Little Women to pass the time. Somewhere around 11PM my contractions reached the magic 5 minutes apart for an hour and we headed in. This was 1992 and I was at a medical center in Fort Smith Arkansas. As was standard care at the time I was given a gown, hooked up to monitors and my cervix was checked by the nurse. After checking me, the nurse looked up with a smile on her face, an announced that I was 4cm and 50% effaced.
At the time this meant very little to me, but she smiled and I felt reassured. The nurse suggested I try to rest while I can. My mother and John sat in chairs, wrapped in blankets and we all tried to rest. Much of the next few hours were uneventful. I can remember the nurse coming in and checking on me from time to time. Every few hours she would check my cervix and ask me if I needed anything for pain. Each time I was making small changes and I reminded her that I was planning a natural childbirth. It wasn’t until around 10am the next day that things took a bit of a turn. I had been open to 7cm for a few hours now and didn’t seem to be making any progress. Fatigue was setting in, I was hungry and was told I couldn’t eat. At this point I really just wanted to meet my little girl.
Our overnight nurse had gone home around 7am and with her went the reassuring smiles and gentle looks of encouragement. My new nurse was abrupt and seemed irritated when I told her I wanted to have my baby without interventions. I asked her what I could do to help move the baby along and she told me I would need Pitocin if things didn’t change soon. She never suggested moving, or walking, or squatting or visualization or any of the wonderful things I know about today. Finally at 11:30am the nurse made another visit to check on me. Once again my cervix had made no change. I still remember the discouraged look on her face when she told me I needed to do something. By something she meant an epidural and Pitocin. She followed her suggestion by telling me that the anesthesiologist was just about to leave the floor and if I wanted to see my baby soon I better say something now. I declined, but within minutes of the door closing behind her I felt an overwhelming sense of fear. I asked my mom to track her down and tell her I changed my mind.
After 12 hours of laying on my back strapped to monitors, hungry and now scared, I didn’t know what to do. There seemed to be no solution and no one to help. – If only I knew then what I know today. ~ My baby girl, Allison Nicole, was born perfectly healthy only 30 minutes after the epidural was in place. I didn’t feel her leave my body like I wanted to, but I felt her warm tiny self on my skin minutes after she was born, and I held her for hours despite my nurses insistence on taking her away for some required procedures. I may have lost control at the end of my birth but this was MY baby and she was going to stay in my arms for now. Breastfeeding at the hospital in 1992 was a battle as well, but I will share that story another time. Allison was 7’9’’ and beautiful. She was my only child until 8 years later.
Fast forward to 2003
I was pregnant with my second child, a planned pregnancy this time and I was starting to think about how I wanted this birth to go. It was important to me that I experience birth completely, without interventions this time. That’s something that doesn’t make a lot of sense to some people, but for any woman who’s felt that desire, you can understand where I’m coming from. I was 28 now and I’d learned a lot since my first birth. Not only that but so much had changed since then (like the internet, and to my excitement, maternity fashion!) and information was right at my fingertips. So, I began to do the research. It was a relief learning that I wasn’t the only person who valued this and that there were all kinds of methods to achieving it. One of the articles I read spoke of something unfamiliar called a Doula. At first I didn’t understand, but as I began to read more I was intrigued. When I introduced the idea of a Doula to my husband he was a little unsure. After all, we had already agreed it would be just he and I in the room. A few months and some research later and we agreed to use my sister as our Doula. She had been a labor and delivery nurse for 7 years and it seemed a good compromise. After days of start and stop contractions, I woke in the early morning hours of July 21st feeling like something was very different. My inconsistent consistent surges (as I called them) started to become closer and stronger. By 6am I knew I was in labor and we headed to the hospital. To my surprise I was already 6cm when we arrived. Then it hit me….. 6. My mind went to my first birth when my body stopped opening at 7. What if this happened again. What if I couldn’t do this. Only this time everything was different. As soon as my nurse felt all was well I was taken off of the monitors and told I could do anything that felt good for me. My sister encouraged me to sway my hips, walk and even get into the jacuzzi tub. Everyone was so encouraging and before long the fear disappeared and I was refocused on my intention to have a gentle easy birth. I didn’t know it was happening, but I soared past 7cm, and within 2 hours I was resting in the Jacuzzi tub feeling an urge to push. No one had even asked me if I wanted anything for pain. I’d had bites of delicious food, sips of water and I was alert and excited. My second baby girl Anna Christine was born while I was squatting upright at the end of the bed. She was perfect and I had never felt such a sense of accomplishment in my life. In that moment I knew that that strange word Doula was something I was being called to explore. Six months later I was nursing Anna in my first ever Doula training class. I’ve been advocating for families rights in birth ever since.
We all have our reasons for choosing this path. Since making the decision to become a Doula I haven’t looked back. If you’re just starting your own journey please consider joining our wonderful community at IAPDoula. You have my commitment to you and helping you succeed every step of the way!
Please comment below and tell me why you became a Doula?