I am getting ready for bed when my phone rings. It is late, and I know even before I look who the call is from. With a smile on my face, I answer with the words, “Are we going to have a baby?” The mom-to-be on the other end of the phone questions the feelings she is having . . . contractions? gas pains? Wishful thinking? “How far apart?” I ask. Maybe 15 minutes, she thinks, though not sure. So I ask if she wants to “rest” or “rock and roll”, to which she replies that resting sounds nice. (It sounds nice to me too, but it is not my decision.) I advise her to drink a glass of water and try to sleep - I will come whenever she wants me.
I am a doula. A birth doula, to be more specific. Supporting women during childbirth. It has become a job, a hobby, a passion, a ministry.
I sleep lightly for two hours, anticipating their call. This time from her husband. A sure sign it is time for me to meet them. I dress quickly, grab my bag, and drive the 32 miles in the middle of the night, meeting only a few headlights. The roads are quiet at 1:15. I arrive to a dark street, dark houses, except for the one expecting me. The porch light is on, the door is unlocked, waiting for me to let myself in. I change my shoes, wash my hands, and head to the bedroom where she is laboring with quiet moans and easy rocking. “How we doing?” I whisper. She looks at me with eyes that say, “This is not what I was expecting. Is it supposed to hurt like this?” The dad-to-be lets me know that she woke nearly an hour ago to steady contractions, about 8 minutes apart. We have now moved to 7 minutes and she does not want to be bothered when a contraction rushes over her. They sit together on the bed and with each wave of tightness, he holds her hand and rubs her arm. Her feet are cold, so I put socks on her feet, and remind her to take deep breaths through her nose and blow them slowly out of her mouth. I get her some water and rummage through the bathroom drawer for some much-wanted chapstick.
We decide to walk. The house is small, but open, so we can walk in uninterrupted circles. Hubby tries to catch a nap, as she and I walk and talk, then stop and rock. When a contraction comes, I put my arms around her back, she puts her head on my shoulder and we do a little rocking dance. Back and forth. The waves strengthen and move closer. We rotate between walking the house, squatting on the birth ball, and standing in a hot shower. Time passes unnoticed. In the wee hours of the morning, it is time to make the drive to the hospital. We load the bags, grab a pillow and quietly go to the car, pausing every few minutes for another contraction.
When we arrive at the hospital, the birthing couple gets settled into their new location while I meet and greet the nursing staff and make sure they are familiar with the birth plan. By the time I get to the room, she is having a hard time opening her eyes. She is focusing on the pain and is starting to become overwhelmed. A quick check shows she is only dilated to 5. She looks disappointed, hoping this would almost be over, but I reassure her that 5 centimeters is respectable for just over 6 hours of labor, that she is doing great and I am really proud of her. I really am.
She can’t seem to get comfortable in the hospital bed, so we stroll the halls, hubby and I taking turns in the rocking position. I encourage dad-to-be to take the lead as often as he wants, completely if he wants. He is grateful for someone to help him know what to do, how to respond, how to help. It is hard for him to see her in pain. With every contraction now, one of us massages her lower back with a very effective palm-twisting rub I learned from an Amish midwife.
Back in the room, we drop the lower half of the bed down to the floor and I get on my knees in front of her. She sits on the edge of the bed, her arms draped over my shoulders, her face glistening with sweat, her blonde hair in her eyes. I tuck the hair behind her ear and tell her what a trooper she is, and that very soon she is going to be holding her baby in her arms and this will all be a memory.
She is moaning loudly now. Deep, gutteral moans that seem to push the pain away from her body. In between moaning, we breathe. Her husband lightly strokes her back and kisses her repeatedly on the forehead. They are incredibly sweet. She instinctinvely begins to bear down with each contraction, her body in tune to the rhythm of labor, now nearing the final stage. Almost in an instant, her eyes grow wide and she starts to breathe fast, shallow breaths. Another check shows she is dilated to 9. I smile a huge grin and she almost starts to cry. “No crying now, you are doing an amazing job, and it is almost time to push.” But the reassurance is not enough to overcome the intensity of transition, so as her moans turn to low cries of doubt (“I can’t do this anymore! I want it to be over.”) we continue the routine of massaging and breathing and rocking and reassuring that not only CAN she do this, she IS doing this.
The hospital staff begins to descend upon the room, readying equipment and lights. The bed is further adjusted into a complete upright position, and then everything goes quiet. No screaming, no moaning . . . no pain. A mini-reprieve. Time to breathe. Time to rest. Time to wipe her face with a cool washcloth. Time for the CNM to tell her that with the next contraction she can push. And she does. I talk her through HOW to push (yes, there is a “right way”) and her husband directs her eyes to the mirror at the base of the bed. “Can you see?” She can, but another 30 seconds of pushing interrupts the viewing. Then another 30 seconds. Then another. After dozens more, the midwife tells her that with the next contraction she doesn’t want her to push. I remind her the baby is crowning, so much like putting on a turtleneck, she wants to ease the baby’s head out slowly. So we pant. Short quick blows in and out of our mouths as we stare at each other. Her attention now moves to her husband, so I grab the camera and get ready for baby's first photo. Once the head has crowned, she closes her eyes and bears down hard until she hears the midwife’s words, “There we go!” and looks down just in time to see a tiny wet little body slip out and hear his new lungs quiver and start to cry. Her hands reach down to comfort him.
“It’s a boy!”
He is brought to her tummy and covered with a warm blanket. She melts into tears and smiles and relief as her baby's cries subside and he settles his head on her chest. “He’s perfect,” she says as she looks from her son to her husband and back again.
It is a mere 10 and a half hours since the first contractions began. Much shorter than the average labor. No drugs. No interventions. No complications.
A beautiful new family. A beautiful new day. Time for me to sleep.