Welcome to our series, “A Doula’s Birth Story: Her Own”. This series focuses on birth stories from doulas, written by doulas. As doulas, we have such an intimate relationship with birth that when our time comes to learn our own birth story there can be a range of experiences from feeling calm, anxious, supported, and at times, challenged. We know that our knowledge as doulas becomes richer and deeper when we learn from other doulas. We thank doula Tara Wallingford for sharing her beautiful story and journey with us. Enjoy!
As we round the corner to your first year on this planet, of me becoming a mother for the third time (one baby lost a couple of years ago), and of our family growing…I thought I would share the post of my thoughts after three months postpartum. So here goes…
I think I might be ready to tell the story of my son’s birth. It has been almost three months since he arrived in our lives and the old cliche is true, I can’t imagine him not here. I am continually processing his birth and will for the rest of my life. The following is a culmination of journal entries, small moments writing notes on my phone and a postpartum-brain attempt at putting it all together.
We waited for you for so long. I know I’ve been waiting even longer. I wanted you long before we made you, but I had to be ready. Well, you’re never ready. All those months of preparation and I still wasn’t ready for my labor with you. I mentioned to your dad last night that having your sister, totally rocked my world. I had never been a mother. But having you, balanced my world. Your body blew through mine at unimaginable speed. It was like I blinked and you were here. I know in the thick of labor, I didn’t feel like it was short, but now it sure does. A total speck in time that showed me what power giving birth is. I glimpsed it with your sister, but you didn’t hold back. I still can’t believe that I was only in active labor for a little over an hour. How did life give me 36 hours and then an hour? The discrepancy is amazing. Is that the lesson I must learn? Change your lifestyle and you will know even more powerful birth.
There is no beginning or end to the story of your arrival, but here is one beginning:
I settled myself amongst my mound of pillows, hoping again for another night’s sleep. As much as I was ready to meet this little man, I really liked to sleep. It was dark as I lay on my left side, with a tiny tic-tock of our new clock on the wall. I don’t think it ever says the correct time, but it’s a cool piece made with spare computer parts. I hadn’t noticed the sound before and thought that was odd that I did at that moment. I was listening to my husband get our daughter settled after a rare accident in bed. He went back down the stairs.
I feel a pop. It is the strangest feeling. My whole belly expanded and deflated a little. Now, here is where I’m a little crazy. After the pop, nothing happened. So immediately, I go to the place of extremes. If that wasn’t my water, maybe it was my uterus? What if my uterus just ruptured? I have no point of reference. With my last labor I had my doctor break my water at 7cm. It’s not quite the same thing as spontaneous rupture. Though they both felt like I had no control over my bladder. I lay there for a minute longer and another wave of pressure comes over me. The water starts gushing out. Phew!!! I jump out of bed and proceed to leak all over the floor. I start waddling through the bedroom, open the door and call down to my husband calmly, “hey, my water just broke.” He starts coming up the stairs as I make my way to the bathroom to change my pants, get a good look at the fluid to see if it’s clear and to clean myself up. I’m having waves of pressure every two minutes or so, I think.
Insert record reversal screeching sound here.
Let’s backtrack a little. I had been having contractions with this pregnancy since about 24 weeks. They would get so intense that I had to stop working at labors of other mothers because I would contract with them. They never hurt, but were concerning as I didn’t want to go into preterm labor (for the health of my baby and I wouldn’t get my homebirth). So, you can imagine my surprise when week 37 came and went, week 38, week 39 and then arriving at my due date that morning. I had my daughter when I was 39 weeks pregnant, so I just assumed that the curve of having your second earlier, would happen. There were many times over the previous 4 weeks that we thought I was in “real” labor (it’s all real, ladies). In fact, it happened so much that I just learned to ignore the contractions, even when I had to work through them. They would start up every night and I would roll my eyes, “oh, hello again.” I never really timed anything. Every once in a while I would, but it was boring and since I didn’t have to go anywhere, what was the point?
So that day was my due date. I woke up that morning and had the theme song from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” in my head. I thought it was funny, like I was facing some enemy…the dreaded due date. That weekend as I was perusing Facebook, I stumbled across a discussion of some local moms and getting babies positioned well. Someone mentioned The Miles Circuit. I remember I had read about it before. It’s basically a series of positions we doulas like to put moms in during labor to try to turn a baby into a better position to descend. It was named after a doula who came up with a specific circuit of poses. I didn’t have anything better to do that day, so I thought I would try it. I knew what position my baby was in, based on my own feelings and what my midwife felt during my visit with her a couple of days previously. He was left-occiput anterior. The mother of all perfect positions (some would argue all positions are perfect, because that’s just how a baby comes out). Two words, back labor. I WAS TERRIFIED OF BACK LABOR! I remember it feeling like my back was breaking in two. I survived it like many other women before and after me, without drugs and with massive support from my birth team. I didn’t really want to walk down that road again, so I was a little paranoid about his position. One issue, was that his head was not engaged in my pelvis. His head was sitting up on my pelvic brim, just hangin’. Seriously awesome, as I didn’t have a lot of pelvic pressure, but not so awesome for coming out. My understanding of this certain circuit was that it might just pop his head down into my pelvis, especially since I was already “good-to-go” in terms of his body position.
By the end of my pregnancy all I wanted to do was sit in that damn glider, put my feet up and rock my cares away. I would allow myself a minute or two, then start the inner panic of not sitting so your little head would position itself funky. Say no to back labor! Another doula that led a prenatal yoga workshop I attended in December had a great way to look at posture in pregnancy. She would say, “always make sure your belly button is facing forward or down.” I think that is such a great way to look at how we carry our bodies and how that can affect our baby’s position. But I admit, I became a little obsessive about it. I’m so glad to be sitting back and typing this. I was so sick of not being able to slouch my body more.
The whole circuit takes ninety minutes. I put on some music that I thought might be meditative for me and listened to it in my ear buds. Now at this point, you may be thinking…oh, yeah, here comes the hippie-dippy doula shit. Yeah, what of it? If it fucking worked for me, shove your sarcasm up…oh, I’m kind of snarky sometimes. Look, I have a method to my madness. Listen.
When I first started taking yoga classes regularly about 3 years ago, my instructor would always play this album “The Essence” by Deva Premal. Besides it being pretty, I equate that album with how I discovered how to relax. That album was the soundtrack to me falling in love with yoga. Relaxation is the name of the game in the birthing business. I figured the music was a queue for my muscles to relax. Plus, I liked listening to her voice. I spent the first two sections of the circuit listening to her and then the last section, listening to chakra opening bell tones. Again, method to my madness.
I don’t know much about chakras. But I know this. I witnessed a very strong mama go through labor while she focused on a chakra art piece she had made. It was a very fast labor and, again, I will take what I can get. The chakra opening tones reminded me of her, and remembering her strength was important to me. Plus, if that stuff worked, well hey, yeah!
I get up from my birth ball (after rotating around on it for the last 30 minutes) and immediately feel heavier in my crotch. I knew it had worked. Little did I know how well it had worked. Little movements are all it takes inside a woman’s body. Babies get in just the right spot for them…whoa here we go!
The contractions start up within a couple of hours or so. I don’t really know. They feel a lot more intense now. Nothing hurting, but more downward pressure. Again, I had this a few weeks before, so I had a hard time believing anything was going to happen tonight. When this happened before, I had to get up every 10 minutes to go to the bathroom with contractions. I was grumbling that it might be another sleepless night.
As the night wore on, I seemed to need to concentrate more through contractions. We had dinner (though I don’t remember what it was) and played a game of UNO. It was at this point that I was sitting on my ball and decided to time the contractions. My husband was on the phone with his guitarist deciding on rehearsal for the night. I looked at my phone and the contractions were about 2-6 minutes a part. I asked him if he could stay home tonight, so he did. As we were getting my daughter ready for bed, I had to kneel on the floor and lean on her bed. She would rub the small of my back and tailbone. Such a good little doula, she just knew to do that.
But still, I didn’t think I was in labor. It…did…not…hurt, do you understand me? Because I would not have believed it if I didn’t experience it. I had to concentrate, but it did not hurt. My husband and I hung out on the couch, while I drank my nightly brew of Red Raspberry Leaves, Nettles, Alfalfa and Chamomile. We watched some TV, I snoozed while he rubbed my feet. A typical night during my pregnancy.
I decided to go to bed. Still having waves of contractions, but they didn’t hurt. As soon as I got settled amongst the pillows…see above.
Back to the toilet. I’m grabbing some Depends (the greatest invention ever). Birth is gooey and I didn’t want to drag around the goo during labor. Once I witnessed a mom using them during labor, I thought, genius!!! My husband is in front of me digging through the shelves in the bathroom, trying to find everything I set aside for the birth. He’s talking to our midwife and she is asking if I want her to come. I start to say no. Then I start shaking. I say, “oh, this is just an adrenalin surge as I get into active labor.” He looks at me and says into the phone, “come over now.” Later, he said he remembered that shaking from the last time and I had our daughter shortly after. I just couldn’t possibly believe that I was in transition. I try to check myself, careful to be as clean as possible because my water had broken. I think I feel like I am 4-5cm. But through those last few weeks, I had only felt my cervix move from posterior to anterior and soften. I could never feel dilation because I have the world’s shortest fingers. I should never be an OB or midwife. That just wouldn’t be a good thing for the women I would serve. OK, back to the story. I look up and he’s on the phone with a pregnancy test in his hand. “Stop fucking around and fill the damn tub.” I think that was when I switched over to “oh shit, this might really be happening” mode.
A lot of people know how I joked about this through my whole pregnancy. But when faced with the reality that I was about to push out and catch my own baby, well, I at least wanted my husband there. I didn’t really want to do that when it came down to it. I wanted my midwife there, I wanted my doula there, I wanted my best friend there, I wanted someone who had seen more than one birth there. My husband is a very calm dude and he knows more about birth than he ever wanted to (endless conversations about what vaginas can get old). But I still wanted my ladies there.I slowly make it back to our bedroom, stopping through each contraction. I am on a mission. I find a lighter and I light all my candles on my birth altar (oh yeah, you read that right. Getting hippie in yo face, yo!). I turn off the light because by this time, my husband had put the two sets of sheets on the bed. I put my ear buds in and crank Ms. Deva. I’m on all fours on the bed, I’m hanging on to the side of my grandmother’s dresser smelling roses a client had dropped off the day before (that thought comforts me greatly), I’m laying over the ball, I’m back on my hands and knees. I moan through each contraction. I have to remind myself to keep it low. It’s so hard! I just want to screech “I CAN’T DO THIS!!!” Over and over, I say out loud, “I can do this!” “Oh baby boy, please come sooooon!” At some point, the tub was filled with air (damn, my husband is good) and he was trying to fill it with water. I remember stepping on the hose in the bathroom and disconnecting it from the faucet. “Sorry, I’m so sorry” is all I could say over and over. I couldn’t fix it. I could only stare at the hose spraying water everywhere and say sorry, then moan some more. I’m back in our room and I have my husband push on my lower back. Everything hurts in the front, but it started hurting in my back then. After that contraction is over, he says he’s going downstairs to boil more water. I’m on all fours and call to him to come back before he is even down all the stairs. I rip off my ear buds, I stare at the sheet on the bed and realize this baby might be coming before anyone gets there.
Right after that, my husband whispered the sweetest words, “Vanessa is here.” I could not wait to hear her footsteps on the stairs. She came in our room quietly and said something like, “what a good baby day!” I just said, “this hurts like a mother-fucker.” I was so glad she was there. I think I had been holding back until she got there. She doula-ed for me at the birth of my daughter. She helped me find my way as a mother and a doula. She saw something in me that I never would have seen in myself. She needed to be there. She had to be there. She was my rock. She had seen me at my most vulnerable and walked with me, holding my hand the whole way. I needed her to be there again. Not much was said, but it didn’t need to be. Words are not a function of transition. I knew that once she got there, I no longer had to think. And thinking is your enemy in labor. God, I do kind of make it sound like a battle (probably just because I’m reading the “Game of Thrones” series currently).
We make it back to the bathroom. At this point, my midwife, Lisa, shows up as well. She comes in quietly. She asks me if it’s OK if she listens to the baby. It was at this point that I remembered there was a baby in there. His heartbeat was great. Lisa got me a pillow for leaning back on for I seemed to enjoy (maybe not the right word there) sitting on the toilet. Every contraction pulled me forward. It was like a weight on my belly, pulling me toward the center of Earth. I would shake my hands in between contractions to loosen them (another trick I learned from a mama). Then I think I grunted (but my mind said, “no way”). I got up from the toilet and hung on to the sink through a contraction. Somehow, I quickly made it from the bathroom to the bedroom before the next wave began. I asked if I could get in the tub. I never peeled off clothes so quickly in my life. I jumped head first (it seemed like) into that tub. It was cold, but I was really sweaty. The hot water had run out and no one had been watching the water flow, since everything was happening so quickly. It was still warm enough to give birth and I wouldn’t have left the tub even if someone told me to. The pressure from the water was a godsend. It immediately took so much of the pain away.
The room was dark. I remember seeing the flashlight come on behind me. Lisa was trying to determine what was going on without having to touch me. When the light didn’t go off, I knew something was happening. From other birth videos I had seen, when that light stays on, there is something going on that she needs to see.
“I’m really scared!” as I cling desperately to Vanessa. Forehead to forehead, my whole body a volcano about to blow. I’m sweating, shaking almost violently, everything is a blur. “what are you afraid of?” someone asks. “that this will go on for hours.”
Fear is not the enemy. Fear can stop us or help us surrender. When we look it in the eye and say, “I am afraid,” one can give the fear away. Naming it releases its power over you. When I said I was scared…I think I meant of everything. Scared labor was going to last forever. Scared that something would go wrong. Scared of becoming a mother again. Scared of EVERYTHING.
I successfully made it through my whole pregnancy without someone else’s fingers in my hoo-ha (OK, my husband doesn’t count). I mean in a sterile, paper-covered, fancy glove kind of way. Lisa later told me she barely got her fingertip in before feeling his head. That would be why I didn’t even realize she checked me after I consented to a check.
It was at this point that I mentioned (out loud I think, I was totally tripping out on birth hormones) that someone should go get our daughter. She was still asleep. How is that possible? I was moaning so loudly. My husband goes to get her, as she wanted to see her brother be born. We had prepared her through the pregnancy by watching videos and talking about birth. I first started her out on videos that looked all peaceful and wonderful, then we moved on to videos where women were loud and cussing. I was under no illusion that I would be quiet during labor. I just don’t labor like that. I wanted her to be prepared for the sound of a cow coming out of me, or whatever. She and Daddy come in the room. She immediately starts giggling and says, “Mommy, you’re funny.”
I guess I was grunting a lot and saying things like, “just get him out!” Her laughing is what saved me. I call it my “it’s just the acid moment.” I’m always telling people how labor is a lot like tripping. Back in my younger days, I had a lot of fun on the weekends. I’m too old for that crap now. But many times, people will start to freak out when they are on hallucinogens. One has to remind oneself (or have someone there who will) that “it’s just the drugs, man.” It was just birth, man. This moment was totally intense for me. But for everyone else in the room, they were calmly watching a mother give birth. There was no emergency, everything was fine. I will be forever grateful to my daughter for giving me that perspective right then.
My body starts pushing. I had forgotten how much that urge was like a reverse vomit. This time I was floating in water, on my hands and knees. No one told me when to push, or when a contraction was, I just did it. I reach down and can feel his head a third of the way out. “his head is right there!” It was different this time. I was upright, in a kneeling type squat. When his body didn’t come right after his head, I lifted my legs, held the side of the tub and wiggled him out. I remember feeling his feet inside me. I actually had to push his feet out separately, as his body was already out. He was a long baby!
I couldn’t believe it was over! I was ecstatic that I didn’t have to endure another contraction. I think I pushed him out in like 4 or 5 contractions (maybe about 10 minutes?). I don’t know. I just know it wasn’t very long, but it took more pushes than my daughter, and I was annoyed by that when I was pushing. Once he was out, I did this weird turn around, lifting my leg over the umbilical cord to sit back and hold him thing. I immediately knew it was too cold for us in the tub, so I had my birth team help me make it over to the bed.
I birthed the placenta. My best friend walks in. She was pretty bummed that she missed the birth. She jumped right in as birth assistant and did a fantastic job. You’d never have known she hadn’t been to a homebirth. We put the placenta in a plastic bag to go in the refrigerator. Another doula friend, Nadah, would be coming by to encapsulate it. I had a little tear that had to be repaired. Much different than the last time around where it felt like I tore hole-to-hole. I think there is something to this whole birthing in water, versus giving birth on your back, thing (sarcasm people).
He stayed with me for at least an hour. No one was trying to pressure me into weighing him, giving him shots, looking him over in a warmer. This was the reason I chose homebirth. I wanted to be with my baby. The only reason a separation should happen is if there is true medical need, not because a nurse wants “to get on with her day.”
When we finally did weigh and measure him, was I in for a big surprise! Little Big Man weighed 9 pounds, 5 ounces and was 22 inches long! I always had a strong desire to do back bends during my pregnancy, probably because Little Big Man needed me to stretch as much as possible to give him room. My daughter only weighed 6 pounds, 15 ounces. If that isn’t a testament to good nutrition and a healthier lifestyle, I don’t know what is! But I’m really glad I didn’t suspect he was that large. It might have scared me during pushing. Another good reason to not get measurement estimates before babies come out. What’s the point? Either baby will come out that hole or not, but we won’t know until we try.
I look at that blue birth ball that I still sit on to bounce you to sleep. I see that day and all the other days of my pregnancy. I spent so much time on that ball, it’s sort of like Wilson. I dreamed of meeting you. And now you are here making all your cute baby noises.
I lived to tell the tale of your arrival and it was so normal. Birth is life-changing, but it doesn’t have to be a big to-do. Having you in the same room you were conceived in, well that just makes senseWhile my daughter’s birth totally transformed me and was the BEST day of my life, my son’s was a much more calm transformation (even in the thick of it). It’s not that the birth didn’t totally change me, it’s that it felt so much less negatively dramatic. There was less fear because I was comfortable where I was, I didn’t spend the whole pregnancy totally worrying about what might be wrong because I didn’t have caregivers looking for that…His birth was so uneventful. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but kind of in the way there is a difference in being happy versus content. Though the experience was intense at the time, the environment was totally calm. At 4am, everyone had left. I was lying in bed with my son on one side, my daughter and husband on the other. I stared at my children for hours, giggling to myself. I made these little people. No one can tell me that I’m weak or not special. We women have the ultimate super-power, we make people. I made people, I fucking made people! And they are cute little people, if I do say so myself.
Tara Wallingford is a Birthing From Within Mentor, facilitating classes, workshops, birth art sessions, support groups, and women’s circles all over the Kansas City area. She has been providing birth and postpartum doula services since 2008.
For more information visit: http://www.swaykindoula.com