Most people think of labor and delivery and think of pain. There’s always this need to compare how painful labor is to what most other people can relate to, as if that’s the most impactful part of labor, as if that’s going to keep anyone from doing it (ha).
Honestly, I think we do all new moms-to-be a disservice by warning them only of the pain, which (let’s face it) is experienced in various intensities for each person and able to be managed far more easily with epidurals and the like. What everyone (especially mainstream media) doesn’t prepare you for is the loss of control you feel.
I think the most terrifying thing about having a baby is that up until the moment they lay him on your chest, you’re filled with this overwhelming belief that you have no idea how you’re going to give birth or that you even can.
Even if you’ve studied birth and have been around it or even done it before, that feeling of utter helplessness to control the situation is completely unnerving, and it’s scary.
You are left with no way to know when or in what way this baby is going to make it earthside, while experiencing sensations so powerful that your brain simply does not function the way a sober person’s does. Your body betrays you in all kinds of ways, giving out or stepping up in ways you’re not controlling. You just want to be able to look at your support people and WILL them to know what you want because even words sometimes fail you in the throes of working baby down.
That feeling, that inability to know what is happening or how to proceed and having zero ability to dictate a damn thing as to how it’s going to play out: that is why we hired a doula.
I love my husband. He was amazing at the birth of our first son. After 21 hours of labor, I thought I had about killed him. He held me up (no small feat by that point in pregnancy) and held my hand and rubbed my back, and then he stood by helplessly as our son’s heart-rate dropped lower and lower and steps were taken to retrieve him as quickly as possible in an emergency forceps-assisted delivery. Things didn’t go as planned, but we had a beautiful, healthy baby boy, and that is all that mattered in the end.
But when it came time to plan for our second son, we both knew that extra support during such a trying and unpredictable time would be invaluable to both of us. After struggling to get pregnant and maintain a pregnancy, I was a mess of anxiety about delivering. We wanted someone else to be there with us to reassure us and guide us through it, so we hired a doula.
So, what did our doula do for us?
Called at regular intervals during the pregnancy to check in, chat, answer questions, calm fears.
Offered immediate assistance, guidance, motivation, and encouragement throughout the labor and delivery process and even into the post-partum period well after I came home from the hospital.
She was there to answer the phone once labor started at 9am after waking up after a long night of mild contractions and little sleep to find that my water broke as soon as I sat on the toilet. Contractions were overwhelming, strong and long right from the get-go: BAM – 4 minutes apart and lasting for a 45 seconds or longer each time. She kept me calm and focused.
She met me at the hospital and immediately made me feel safe and supported as part of a team with my husband.
She kept me from losing my focus to the anxiety and overwhelming pain. “Those sound like really good contractions. It sounds like you’re working hard, and you’re on your way to seeing baby soon.” It gave me hope. It gave me strength. I could do this. I was doing this.
During labor she provided counter pressure in my back, massaged my legs or my feet, walked me through procedures, talked me through options and next steps, filled my labor tub, held peppermint oil under my nose when I couldn’t breathe due to congestion, placed warm washcloths on my back, placed cool washcloths on my neck, held my hand, encouraged me, reminded me how to focus, how to breathe, how to survive the contractions, stayed with me while my husband took a break to use the bathroom, make phone calls, (and had he needed it- grab a bite to eat (well out of my view lest I injure him)) held the water bottle so I could sip water, got me different things to try to position myself during labor (peanut ball- NOPE, labor ball- eh), suggested different positions to labor more comfortably (who knew standing with my elbows on the bed would be the most bearable?), and helped me move about the room or into said positions.
When I got in the tub, I thought the warm water and weightlessness were going to make it all bearable and give me strength to labor all day if I had to, and I was so wrong. But my doula helped me focus on relaxing between contractions so completely that I felt almost asleep for those 45 blissful painfree seconds in between waves.
She helped me be brave and strong and to trust my body when contractions were 1-2 minutes apart or one right on top of another and really taking the mickey out of me.
She helped me feel brave and strong and intuitive when I begged for the epidural after they told me he was OP, and my spine felt like it was going to break with each contraction. I felt like I needed it to relax to progress, and she did not make me feel guilty or like a failure for “giving in” the way I felt with my first son.
She read my mind and told me what I needed to hear while waiting what felt like an agonizingly long time for the anesthesiologist to get there (20 minutes and 10 contractions later). Once I had made up my mind about getting the epidural, I had already started telling myself in my head, Just one more contraction like this; then, I’ll have relief. Just one more. Just one more. And my doula knew to tell me: “Okay, you know that you’ve been working really hard. Your body has been working really hard and has been doing a great job. You’re making great progress. And even though you want the epidural, we need to take this one contraction at a time. It’s going to take a while for them to get here and for it to start working, so let’s just focus on getting through the next one, okay?”
She held my hand and helped me breathe when I was close to tears and almost hyperventilating from panic from the pain because the epidural was still not working.
She assured me that I still had made the right choice for my body when I progressed from 5-10 in the span of 15 minutes, before the epidural even had a chance to kick in.
My doula reminded me and kept me thinking, I can do this. We can do this. Babies can still turn during delivery.
She reminded me that the crushing feeling of pressure in my ribcage, that feeling that you’re sitting on my chest just below my neck meant that it was time to push, and she cheered me on quietly, smiling, so proud and as excited as I was.
She took photos as our son was born because our photographer couldn’t make it on time, and we wanted my husband to be the one on my other side holding my hand (and my knee) and helping me push.
Everett James was born at 3:08 pm after 11 hours of early labor and 6 hours of very intense active labor. They laid his warm body straight away on my chest, and he reached out and touched my face as he arced his head up and looked right at me with big wandering eyes.
This birth, my wishes were granted, and I got to complete delayed cord clamping and immediate skin to skin. My doula photographed as I held him there for a few minutes before they had my husband cut the cord, and then the doctor delivered my placenta.
My husband got to cut the cord, and they were gentle when helping me birth my placenta. My doula reminded them I would be taking it home. My doula packaged up my placenta for encapsulation and put it immediately in the fridge for us.
He kept looking all around the room, squinting and then looking with wide eyes like, “What the heck just happened?! Where am I?!”
His complexion was so dark, and I couldn’t stop saying, “Look at all that hair!” and “Hi, buddy! I’m your momma! Hi, handsome!”
He was 8 lbs 1 oz at birth and a short 19 ” long with a mess of black hair and two swirls on the back of his head, each going a different direction (they call it a double crown).
My doula helped me order food because I was starving and my husband had been busy informing our families on Everett’s safe arrival.
She made sure we were both okay and nursing well before she left to give us time alone as a brand new family of four.
The day after we came home, another of my doulas came by to encapsulate my placenta for me. While that was processing, she talked to me, entertained my toddler, made lunch, and even folded clothes and cleaned my kitchen.
My doulas gave me the support to fight through the the fears my body had instilled in me to have a healthy, informed, happy birth and a supported postpartum experience.
Thank you, Lauren. ♥ We know we could have done it without you, but there’s no way we would have wanted to! Thank you also to Indianapolis Doulas, to Colleen my postpartum doula and placenta encapsulator, and to Jordan, my other doula who helped take care of me during my pregnancy but was not on call during my birth. ♥
If you’re in the Indianapolis area, I cannot recommend Indianapolis Doulas strongly enough. I had an amazing experience with my team, and I always felt supported and heard.