I’m new to assisting at births. Honestly, if you had told me a few years ago that I would be taking on the role of support person to a birthing woman, I would probably have been a little shocked. And going into it isn’t at all what I thought it would be. Having tackled the process and the medical system myself as a pregnant and labouring woman, I thought I knew it all. But being a doula isn’t about knowing it all. It’s not about what I think about anything. It’s about that woman, that family, that baby at that time. It’s about being what they need and offering the support and information that they want. It was quite recently that I attended and assisted with a birth that really opened my eyes to the importance of the simple act of supporting before, during and after birth. Not only that but I truly saw the spiritual, intuitive experience of birth before my waking eyes.
Looking at birth throughout history, and in raising children in general- it was traditional to have the village of women around the new mother. She would have the knowledge, support and encouragement of those women that had come before her and she would be empowered and made stronger by their presence. This is sadly not something we do all that much anymore in western culture. Our recent history has caused us to unlearn it all. Of course women are such powerhouses of strength and pride so they can often overcome isolation if they need to. But I feel like as we learn more about contemporary birth and motherhood, that community aspect is really making a comeback. And despite my own unfamiliarity on the matter, I feel so blessed to be able to simply be there for mothers and families in the early days.
After 6 days in hospital following her waters breaking early (35 weeks gestation), and a long day of being moved in between exam rooms and birth suites, Nicole was induced by the IV drip of synthetic oxytocin. We had been in constant contact over that week and at 6.30pm she texted me to tell me that she was getting scared. She had said from the beginning that she wanted to avoid induction if at all possible having had a bad experience previously with painful contractions resulting from medical induction. So during that week in hospital, we had organised an acupressure specialist to visit her on the ward and pulled all the other natural induction techniques we possibly could to try to speed things along! Nonetheless, medical induction was booked in after stopping labour 6 days prior and Nicole was beginning to feel very nervous about the pain that was sure to start soon. So I jumped in my car and headed over to the hospital right away. When I arrived I found Nicole strapped to the continuous heart-rate monitor (another thing she was less than happy about in the lead up), sitting on the bed in the birth suite. She had only just had the drip turned on and so nothing in particular was happening yet. Her husband was on his way and I made a dash downstairs to get Nicole something to eat before the hospital café closed.
When I returned and as her husband, Harrison arrived, we began to organise the room to reflect the kind of birth space that Nicole wanted. We dimmed the lights, we burned some Clary Sage oil on the electric oil burner and popped on Nicole’s ipod. As her contractions started, I suggested Nicole sit on a fitball to get her off her back and a bit more mobile as she considered movement to be really important in her birth experience, despite the monitor. As it turned out the fitball just made her feel really unstable so we quickly swapped it for a birth stool and it was there that Nicole really found her groove. As first stage labour began to move along quite swiftly and only took about an hour to really establish, I sat behind Nicole and she leaned back on my lap and Harrison held her hand. She felt it was very important that he was there to hold her hand as he had been with all her previous labours. With each contraction, at her request, I pressed firmly down on Nicole’s shoulders and she tightly squeezed her husband’s hand. Each contraction seemed to have 3 stages and in between each stage I reminded Nicole to breathe deeply. She also asked for a wet wash cloth to bite on as each contraction peaked. It was at this point that I really saw the beautiful rhythm that Nicole got herself into. Although we were there to encourage her and remind her of the magnificent job she was doing, Nicole knew exactly what she needed. At one point I found myself so connected with her wonderful process that I was subconsciously nodding along with her contraction. She trusted her body and found a ritual that she could perform to get her through each strong, beneficial contraction. We were just shadows, holding her up as she progressed.
The fantastic midwives moved around quietly, monitoring everything that was going on and holding the space. They held back and made sure not to intrude on Nicole’s space. And as first stage labour peaked, two of Nicole’s female family members arrived to complete the circle of support. It seemed to be just as birth should be, everyone focused on the birthing woman, assisting her wherever possible and marvelling at her power and perseverance.
As transition hit and rapidly became second stage labour, Nicole lost her cool. And as she did so, her baby’s heart rate began to drop. The birth suite was suddenly filled with medical staff, Nicole’s family (with the exception of Harrison) were sent out of the room and the decision was made that Nicole needed to change position. We moved her up onto the bed so that she could be up on all fours, which was her desired position for birthing. Still, as the nature of her contractions changed she panicked. Those methods that had earlier been so useful and productive in first stage labour were total history now. Her clear, deep sounds and breaths became screams and she became much more acutely aware of the pain. I tried my best to put my ‘good doula’ hat on and reassure her. I told her this was right, that she was absolutely rocking it and I meant every word. Things were moving so fast and before we knew what was happening, that baby was on her way into the world. And then, just when it looked like chaos has taken over altogether- the most amazing thing happened- Nicole got her groove back. The quiet came back. Doctors and midwives stood back motionless and allowed the process to take place without intervention. I quickly took some photos for Nicole to later look through as she reverted back to her low, deep groans and focused all her energy on breathing her baby out. The leading midwife instructed her not to push but instead to just allow her body to take over. It was magical to see how the simple act of breathing brought a new life into the world. Harrison and I continued to provide physical support and emotional encouragement as little Miss Peyton was born. She arrived right on 11pm after barely 90 minutes of first and second stage labour combined!
As Nicole picked up her new little girl and struggled to turn around and lie back, she looked around the room with an expression of total relief and elation. Upon realising that the baby was generally healthy, many of the medical staff now quickly congratulated and darted out the room. After the umbilical cord stopped pulsating, Harrison cut it (much to his own surprise it seemed as he had not intended to do so beforehand) and Peyton was whisked off to special care to be warmed and checked over as she was so early and slightly grunty in her breathing.
Third stage labour was medically managed but far more painful than Nicole had ever experienced before. The other women and I held her hand and her shoulders as she came through this final trial. Once the placenta was born, Nicole’s body caught up with recent events and she began to shiver all over. Harrison soon returned from special care and gave his wife an awe-filled congratulatory hug before heading home to their other children. Nicole’s other family also left to retrieve her the first McDonalds meal she would have all year. Bypassing a shower, as soon as she felt able to stand, Nicole and I went over to the nursery to see the new little person that she had excelled at bringing into the world. I felt so full of admiration for Nicole, her faith in the process of birth and her decision to surround herself with people who would offer her love, guidance and assistance through this marathon which took place in the time of a sprint.
We sat in the quiet, low-lit nursery in the early hours of the morning waiting for Peyton to be warm enough so that Nicole could be allowed more skin-to-skin with her little girl. And I was privileged to be there with this woman and her child in the calm afterglow of her enormous accomplishment.