This post inspired by a blog carnival I ran across on the subject of doulas, and, more importantly, my fantastic doula.
I swear I'm trying to keep birth related posts to a minimum, but as Dahlia passes the two month mark I find myself still wanting to shout to the masses how not scary, wonderful, and uncomplicated birth can be. I feel like I owe four people huge thank yous: my husband, my mother, my midwife, and my friend and doula, Talitha.
As of late, I've sung freely the praises of my midwife to anyone who will listen. She was and has continued to be a very positive influence on my life, and she made the birth of my youngest child the joyous event it deserved to be. I believe I've also made no big secret of my extreme pride in the degree to which my husband stepped up and supported me. It might not hurt to tell him that a bit more often though. I have a long thank you letter I've been slowly writing, editing, and adding to that will eventually find its way to my mother. My doula, however, has gone essentially thankless to this point.
Let me remedy that. Thank you. Thank you! THANK YOU!
For full disclosure, for anyone reading this who does not know me, I am a doula and therefore carry a significant degree of bias regarding the usefulness of the profession. That said, I came to be a doula after having my eldest left me really wishing I'd had one. I won't go into the details of her birth, but I will say it made a doula a requirement for the births of any other children I should happen to have after that.
That whole being a doula myself came with some pros and cons. On the up side, I already knew a number of other local doulas and had a pretty good idea of who lived close enough to me for comfort (I have fast labor and deliveries), I felt comfortable around, and had a philosophy that meshed well with my own. In short, my interviewing process was very brief. On the downside, these other women are essentially professional peers. Did I want someone I occasionally work with or might in the future seeing me stripped down and groaning? What if this birth wasn't as minimally physically painful as my first (it wasn't)? Would I be self conscious about screaming or crying in front of them if I really needed to during labor? If I found myself asking to transfer for pain meds, would I be made to feel like I failed?
After a discussion with my doula-to-be, I felt infinitely better. I didn't bring up most of my concerns, but still came away with those fears quelled. I suspect she's psychic. After an official interview that included the hubby, we were set. I was comfortable with her, hubs was comfortable with her, and Talitha would be our doula.
Most of my pregnancy was uneventful. It was mostly eight months of feeling like we had all the time in the world to get everything done and one month of panicked unpacking of baby gear saved from when the eldest was an infant. I didn't have any great deal of questions or concerns during most of that period. The last month changed that.
I repeatedly told myself that I wasn't "due" until 42 weeks. I had delivered a bit early with my eldest, but was determined not to count on a repeat of that experience. This approach kept me feeling fine with continuing to be pregnant, even through the heat of a southern summer, until baby decided it was time. What I didn't consider in this plan was prodromal labor. I really dislike prodromal labor. The first couple of times I shrugged it off. After five or six rounds I was frustrated. After several weeks of contractions that would get down to 4-5 minutes apart and feel very intense, then just stop, I was ready to tear my hair out.
After one particularly annoying day and night of contractions that had stayed twelve minutes apart for most of that time, I started to meltdown. I felt like I was on a timer. I needed to go into labor when both my husband and my babysitting were available. At that moment my daughter was a few hours away from coming home from spending the night with her grandparents and my husband had just left for work. It was like I had missed my window and would have to wait another week. It wasn't rational, but it was the place my brain was at that time.
I sat in my glider bawling my eyes out and texting my doula. She calmed me down and offered to come be with me while hubby was out. I told her I would be fine and I was pretty sure it wasn't happening today. At that point I don't think I believed it was EVER going happen. I was wrong.
I'll spare everyone the whole birth story, but shortly after that conversation my contractions went from twelve minutes apart to three. I still didn't believe I was really in labor, but my husband thankfully realized that something was very different in my behavior (over text messages, if that says anything about how well he knows me); he called me back after one batch of texting and told me he was coming home and I needed to call my midwife and doula.
Once again, I'll try to spare everyone a huge tangent into birth story, but hubby arrived first and was trying to get everything ready for the birth while I labored. What I really wanted at that moment was my loving partner and father of my child to sit in front of me so I could lean on him, be held by him, just have some kind of physical contact, but I knew I would be really stressed out about everything that wasn't done if he didn't do it (getting the birth kit out, setting up and filling the pool, and cutting up some melon for me to snack on in case it was a long labor).
I often run into the perception that a doula will intrude on a birth or take over the father's support role in the birth, but mine gave me back my husband. Upon her arrival she took over all the tedium so he could give me that physical contact I needed. She gave him a quick refresher course in counter pressure so he could apply it. In all honesty, I don't know what all she said or suggested to him beyond that; I was very inwardly focused at that point, but I know she was helping him and the two of them together made for the most intuitive support I could have imagined. There was only one point in the entire labor and delivery where I didn't feel like they were practically reading my mind. It was amazing to get the support I needed, when I needed it, and all without any hint of complaint or irritation when what I needed changed every five minutes.
Aside from general support, I really owe some major thanks to my doula for a few specific moments. The biggest one involves the birth pool. I wasn't totally sold on a water birth, but laboring in water was at the top of my list as a backup plan if I found myself with a long, painful labor. Despite everyone else's convictions, I wasn't convinced I was really having a baby, or that it would be any time soon, until Dahlia was crowning. That whole prodromal labor bit really did a number on my mental state in that area. I was urged on a few occasions to give up the attempt to fill the birth pool under the idea that there was no way it would be filled even a minimum amount before baby was born (which turned out to be true).
Only Talitha seemed to realize how desperately I needed to know that I had that backup plan in place if I found myself with contractions of the intensity I was experiencing for hours more. I was terrified that if we gave up the effort, we would only find ourselves desperately trying to resume it several hours later. She continued efforts to get the tub ready, surely knowing as well as everyone else in the room (myself excluded) that it wouldn't be done in time. I know that seems like a terribly small thing, but keep in mind how little room for logic there is in a laboring woman's mind, compared to the incredible degree that fear and stress, rational or not, affect labor.
After the delivery, she, along with other parts of my birth team and my mother, made most of the evidence that I had just had a baby in my living room disappear before most of the family appeared. All this freeing my husband to help me clean myself up and get settled into bed to rest and snuggle my new baby. I think my house was cleaner when everyone left than it was when I went into labor. To top it all off, my wonderful doula even cooked us dinner before she headed out.
I can't imagine any better start to motherhood than relaxing with my partner and our newborn after a peaceful birth with nothing feeling like it needs to be done and a wonderful meal on the table. Can you?