Women Empowering Women: Having a Doula at Our Daughter’s Birth
There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.Laura Stavoe Harm
Your body is not a lemon.Ina May Gaskin
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.Psalm 30:5
She’s On Her Way
“You’re going to have a baby today,” my doula said smiling. It was an obvious statement, but also one that took me aback.
“Really?!” It’s how I wanted to respond, but I didn’t let the word slip from my mouth for fear of sounding ridiculous. For some reason my brain hadn’t fully wrapped around the idea that my labor contractions would lead to me meeting my daughter that same day.
“Yeah… that’s crazy,” I responded. Not really sure that this was the “real deal”.
In our dark living room, I was resting over a birthing ball between contractions that were roughly 5-6 minutes apart. I had just awoken a couple hours before with contractions that wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. My husband was now going through kitchen cabinets putting snacks, drinks, and other last-minute things into the labor bag. For those that know him, I’m sure it’s no surprise that he was concerned about the snacks.
I had prepared for a med-free VBAC this time around. My hope was to have as little intervention as possible based on past experience and through the vast amount of research that helped me make the best decision for my body. Clearly, a lot can happen in birth, but my decision wasn’t made on a whim. I knew that if I wanted to have additional children after my daughter, the VBAC route would be best. Also, the med-free decision would be best for my body in birth and recovery. Every woman’s decision is her own and should be respected. These were the choices I desired for my birth plan. I had talked with my OB-GYN, listened to the podcasts, read the books, hired a doula (only 3 weeks before my due date thanks to some persuading), talked with friends, did the meditations and prep-work. I wanted to have as much information on birth and postpartum plans so that I could feel confident and informed before and during the big day.
With the contractions now growing closer together, it was weird to realize that the slowly growing pain in my body wasn’t signaling something wrong, but rather it was my body’s way of laboring in order to birth my baby. In the back of my mind, I was still convinced that this little girl was going to come into the world by me being cut open. I had accepted it as a possibility, but it wasn’t what I wanted this time around. My son was born via c-section, and since it was the only thing I knew from experience, it’s what my brain automatically jumped to “telling me” was going to happen.
Back in the dark living room, it was right around 6am when my husband and doula called the hospital to let them know that I’d be coming within the next hour. Thankfully, this helped to reserve the exact birthing room that I wanted. I also appreciated that one person was able to call while the other person continued to stay with me and support me in my labor. That was one of the best benefits of having a doula. My husband was always right by my side, and my doula was there to support, encourage, and direct as we needed. I have never once regretted hiring my doula, even so close to my due date.
As I continued to labor in the living room, I changed from kneeling to standing and leaning over the couch. The contractions were coming closer together, roughly 4-5 minutes apart.
“How far away is the hospital, again?” My doula asked.
“Roughly 25 minutes,” my husband replied.
“Okay, well this would be a safe time to leave.”
As soon as I stepped out into the cold morning air, I stopped. The stark contrast in temperature sent my stomach churning, and I turned to throw up on our front lawn. Unembarrassed, and half curious, I turned to see if any neighbors were out this early to watch a clearly pregnant woman vomiting before the sunrise. No one else was out, which was probably a good thing. We quickly and calmly loaded up, and the nerves escalated as we headed to the hospital.
I remember the drive well. I was not safely buckled in the car, nor was I sitting forward in the passenger seat. Instead, the front passenger seat was tilted slightly back, my arms were wrapped around the upper part of the head rest, and I knelt on the seat cushion. I did the “moans” with each contraction and jokingly commented to my husband on how I sounded like a cow. Clearly focused on driving, my husband didn’t say much and kept his eyes on the road. I think one of his worst fears would have been delivering our baby on the side of the road.
“Don’t’ forget to call my parents,” was the last thing I remember while resting between contractions. For some reason, I thought he would have the time to call between driving to the hospital and me having our baby. Needless to say, that phone call didn’t happen before the baby came.
When I was able to rest once more, I looked outside.
The sky was bursting with burnt orange and bright yellows as the sun began to come up.
The road was quiet.
As we continued to drive on that Palm Sunday morning, I was more excited than anything, and it was starting to set in: I was going to have a baby today.
My dad wasn’t doing well at that point with his cancer, but he was holding on and seemed to be in better shape than he was a few months before.
“She’s on her way,” I thought, “You’ll get to see her, Dad.”
Fear & Encouragement
After arriving at the hospital, the first hour was pretty unpleasant. The initial check-in and move to the birthing suite went smoothly, but I wasn’t prepared for how disruptive the questioning and extra monitoring would be after my check-in process. Because of my previous cesarean section, I needed to be monitored more frequently at the hospital.
The nurses were kind enough not to ask me questions while I was having a contraction, but at that point I was in full labor. My rest needed to be a rest and not a time where I was answering questions or thinking about how to answer. I realize it’s a part of their job, and I was as respectful as I could be, but it would be similar to asking a marathon runner on mile 17 about their medical history and what their plans were for the rest of the race. Clearly, that wouldn’t go so well.
All of the questions, extra monitoring, and checking lead me to a place where I was out of “my zone”. I threw up some more. I was in a place of doubt and uncertainty about my ability to birth. With some gentle pushing from my doula and my husband, we stopped the questions.
More vomit and tears came from my body as I tried to disrobe in order to make my way to the large tub.
“I don’t think I can do this.” It was my first verbalized sign of doubt. The questioning had worn me down, I was out of sync, my concentration wasn’t there, and I was fearful that I couldn’t handle the increased pain with this type of environment. I kept picturing someone coming back to ask me more and more questions.
“Let’s move to the tub now. It will help,” my doula reassured me.
As I knelt on my knees and leaned over the side of the tub, my doula applied pressure to my back. My husband held my hands and wiped my face with a wash cloth. The nurses brought me ice chips, and I sipped on cranberry juice continually throughout my rest. The contractions were getting stronger, my low moans were getting stranger, and the doubts were creeping in again. We had been in the tub room for about 45 minutes, and I was afraid that I wasn’t progressing.
My face cringed as I gave into the pain and my concentration was taken away once again, “I don’t think I can do this. I think I want an epidural.” A silent whimper was let out as I rested my head on my right arm and turned to peek up at their faces. Both my husband and doula knew that my limit was asking for an epidural three times. This was the second time I had asked. I had talked to both of them about how I wanted reassurance, I wanted to be distracted, and redirected each time that I asked.
In that moment, I was scared. I wanted someone to tell me that I could do it, that I was getting close. I knew so many women before me had done this, and I was encouraged and amazed by that. I hadn’t made this med-free decision on a whim. It had been a prayerful plan after the birth of my son.
My doula was absolutely perfect in my moment of doubt. She looked at me and said, “I think you’re transitioning (which means getting close to pushing). Let’s pray, and we can decide from there. Are you okay with that?”
I nodded my head, feeling defeated. My husband continued to hold my hands, as we knelt in that bathroom praying. My doula prayed that God would give me strength, power, and encouragement in this time of transition, and that I would I could rely on His presence because He never leaves me.
After that prayer, I knew the contractions were going to get stronger and the pain was going to become harder to bear, but I focused on the prayer. Mentally, I accepted the pain and went back to my meditations and strange moanings. I made a point to make my moans a slightly different sound. I needed to distract myself by holding a different key.
If I left my focus, every inch of me would have caved. Nothing was wrong with my body, but the pain of childbirth wanted to send signals to my brain that something was wrong. When in reality, pain is often a part of the birthing process for the majority of women. It was strange to realize that nothing was wrong in my pain. What I was feeling was just a part of bringing my baby into the world.
It was time to move out of the birth tub, to change positions. I had gone from 4 centimeters dilated to 7-8 centimeters in a little over an hour. Laboring outside of the tub was challenging as we moved from position to position. I was doing a supported squat, then I moved onto the bed and tried kneeling and resting my arms on the back of the bed, and then I moved back to the ground for more squatting and leaning.
It didn’t matter what I was doing, there was no way to get comfortable, and so I had to continue to accept being uncomfortable.
As I stood and squatted, I felt extreme pressure. My water hadn’t broken yet, and I literally felt like I was pushing/bearing down each time I had a contraction. It just felt natural to go with what my body was telling me to do, and so I responded in a way that almost felt like pushing as I continued to moan through the contractions.
Thanks to the nurse’s suggestion, I decided to move back on to the hospital bed to try the peanut ball between my legs. The pain at that point was the worst I had ever felt. I knew I had to be getting close to the end, as I didn’t know how much longer I could bear the incredible pain now surging through my body with less and less rest. I couldn’t think straight. All I could concentrate on was my moaning, as I switched from side-to-side every 10 minutes hoping that it would be time to push soon.
The doctor had come in at one point to break my water, as I continued to use the peanut ball. She asked if it was okay, and I delightfully agreed because I was hoping the pressure I was feeling would reside a bit.
“Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” It’s all I could keep repeating in my head. In my weakest moments and times of doubt, I felt closest to Him. Throughout my whole birthing experience, I felt unbelievably close to God in the pain. So much so, that I don’t think I could put into words exactly how I felt. He was truly the only One who understood my pain and fears in those dark moments. It was truly a beautiful reminder that He was present through it all.
I don’t know how much longer it was after my water broke, but the contractions started doubling up, and there was no break. I was sweating, my voice was breaking into high pitched sounds as I grasped to get my “low moan” sounds back. High pitches, like screaming, aren’t good in keeping pain at bay and the pressure down below for the baby. My doula gently encouraged me to control the pitch of my moans.
I tried, but I couldn’t get back to the same moan, so my moaning now sounded like a half-laugh because I was literally in the worst pain of my life. I wasn’t screaming, so I figured it was okay. It was somewhat humorous and yet absolutely awful at the same time. My eyes remained closed, and I only opened them for the reassurance that everyone was still really there supporting me.
The words slipped from my mouth once again, “I don’t think I can do this. I think I need an epidural.” This was the third time I had asked.
The nurse looked at me and kindly stated,
“You’re at a 9.5, almost a 10. If you get that now, it will really slow things down.”
“You’re so close, Amber. You’ve got this,” my husband shared.
In reality, it was a silly request. I didn’t really want it, but I wanted someone to tell me I was going to make it. I wanted the reassurance that I would be pushing soon.
Everyone continued to be supportive and encouraging, and I began to question if I would even have the energy to push when it was that time. So, we continued on. I switched from side-to-side for maybe 10 minutes more, continuing to double contract, until I knew.
As I lay on my right side, I opened my eyes.
“She’s coming!” I exclaimed.
I can’t remember how it happened, but I remember the doctor being there in almost an instant of me saying those two words. I moved to my back, where I felt most comfortable pushing, and it was time. I was so excited, I didn’t care. I couldn’t think or hear what anyone was saying, I just kept telling them when I was ready to push and when I needed a break.
I pushed and rested when I needed, but it seemed like all I could do was push. As I turned to my husband, I knew our daughter was almost here. He began to cry, as he saw her body slowly come out of me and into the world. It was one of those moments I didn’t expect and couldn’t have anticipated, but one that will stick with me forever.
A short 11 minutes after pushing, my daughter came healthily into the world. My husband was in tears at that point. And I was completely shocked. She was here. I was holding her. I survived. We soaked it in, and I was amazed at all the emotions that came rushing through my body at that point.
“I can’t believe I just did that!” Literally, the most difficult experience of my life, but the most joyous feeling in the entire world.
My daughter comfortably lay on my chest, and we just stared. So much had happened in such a short amount of time. Our world had changed once again, and we were now a family of four.
Reflection on the Power of a Doula & Strength of Women in Birth
Looking back on my preparation and birthing experience, I was so happy that my husband and I did the prep work beforehand. Because of other women before me, I felt confident in my decision and empowered to make a decision that was best for my body.
My doula truly helped me stick to my birth plan as much as possible and encouraged me in my weakest moments. She also reassured my husband in times of questioning or doubt as my labor progressed. If he was tired, had to use the bathroom, needed a snack, or needed to talk with the nurse or doctors away from me, my doula was still right there with me, supporting me and my birth plan.
As women, I believe it’s important that we talk about birth and share our stories. God has given us such a wonderful gift by being able to bring life into this world. Birth doesn’t make us any more or less of a woman, but it’s a gift given only to women.
Birth is such a grand e
Birth is a life-changing and transformative experience that shapes our hearts and minds and changes us both physically and emotionally. Let’s share our stories of real birth with the women around us and shine a light on women helping other women.
This post is overwhelmingly dedicated to the support and encouragement from my doula and the many other women who gave birth before me.
Additional Resources that Aided us in Preparing for Birth & Postpartum Planning:
I know that I used additional resources beyond the ones listed, but these were my absolute favorite.
Blog: Mother Rising