When you look at photos posted by doulas, midwives, and birth workers in general on social media...what do you see? Beautiful babies? Sacred spaces? Warrior mamas in perfect moments? Happy families holding their newest member? That's what I find most often as well. However, that's not always the case behind the scenes.
To start at the beginning, I was contacted by this lovely couple via Doula Match in early June. We met for an initial consultation and had an instant connection. During our first prenatal appointment, I found out that she has the same OB that I had almost 9 years ago with my daughter, small world right? We talk through her concerns, her birth plan and intentions, cultural desires and traditions, all the usual. Over the coming weeks we develop a great rapport and find our rhythm. A few weeks before her due date, her OB begins pushing for induction, so I calm her after that appointment and promptly send them over all the research and data I could to aid them in their decision. Mama to be also requested we begin the next week by trying any and all of the natural induction techniques we could (and boy did we!). The days came and went with none of the natural induction methods working so on July 28th she prepared to go in for a full induction. After 2 rounds of Cytotek, a full day of pitocin, and no progress, I received another defeated and anxious call...should they go home or keep pushing? I listened, offered support, and they chose to go home.
Fast forward a week and we are now at 40 weeks 5 days, OB wants to try induction again and we all agreed. I joined them around hour 12 of this induction, 9:30 am on August 7th and here is where the true story begins. When I arrived, spirits were good, she had progressed to 2 cm, 70% effaced, but was still at -5 station (baby was very high). They broke her water and found out she had polyhydramnios...or an excess of amniotic fluid, in her case roughly 3 times the amount of an average pregnancy. There also was some meconium present so we knew the baby had experienced some distress but his vitals were strong. Things for the next 12 hours progressed normally. Pitocin began and she progressed to 4 cm, around this time she elected for an epidural. She labored like a champ, husband was so supportive...keeping her smiling. At around 7 pm, we had a breakthrough, she was 7 cm, 90% effaced, -2 station. I cheered and we all celebrated! The room lightened considerably and we all began to focus on what was to come.
Hours passed with only one more centimeter of progression. I changed her position often, helped her to rest as much as possible, praise her, loved on her. Around 2 am on the 8th, her amazing labor & delivery nurse gave her a quick exam and happily announced we were at 10 cm. Relief flooded this strong, amazing couple and cheers erupted! They began to prepare the room, started doing some practice pushes, and paged the doc. I watched this warrior of a woman push and push with the trickle of energy she still had. Her sole focus was meeting her son and I was in awe of her strength. After 2 hours of this practice pushing, the nurse called in another for a second opinion...thinking there was some cervical swelling. A new nurse came in and stated that she was not at 10 but at 8. What seemed like an eternity later, her OB came in, checked and said the same...8 cm and that the original nurse had missed the lip of cervix because it was stretched all around baby's head. At 4am, the OB leaned in close and told that same warrior of a woman who was just summoning all of her strength to meet her son that it was time for a cesarean. Everything that could be done had. My client accepted this with grace and peace as she was prepped for surgery. I gathered all of their belongings on a cart and prepared to wait the hour the doc told me it would take for them to be in postpartum.
I had some emotions beginning at this time, you see. I had just watched my own traumatic labor play out live and in color in front of me. At the hands of the same OB I had many moons ago. It was surreal and my heart ached that my client had worked so hard only to end up at this place but I was PROUD. I was so proud and so elated she could do what had been driving her the past 30+hours, meet her son. 37 minutes after they wheeled her back a voice I will never forget came over the loud speakers, "NICU team to OR 3 STAT, I repeat NICU team to OR 3 STAT". My heart dropped to my stomach as I watched nurses and doctors flying down the hall to where I knew my client was. I prayed, I cried, and I did ultimately the only thing I could...which was wait. Another hour went by, no updates. 2 hours and still nothing. I finally cover myself with my rebozo and try to cat nap on one of the tiny couches just as my clients husband comes out to retrieve something from their bags. He tells me that baby stopped breathing shortly after they got him out, mom is fine, but he doesn't have much more to tell me as he rushes back to the recovery area. Now my past is really rearing it's ugly head and tears stream. The kindest woman cleaning the waiting room brings me a box of tissues and rubs my shoulder. And I wait.
Finally around 8:30 am, nearly 24 hours since I had joined them, I get a text that they are being moved to a postpartum room and to meet them there. I hug them both, cry with my client, we share breakfast, and I get an update on baby.
Now before I continue, know that baby is fine, he's a feisty and opinionated little man who I can't wait to watch grow up. But what I want you to hear, is that after I left them to go home and rest...I cried. I sobbed in my driveway for 15 minutes before I could manage to walk in and face my daughter. I locked myself in my room and cried myself to sleep. After an hour nap, I cried some more...it just kept coming. My husband held me as I released emotions I hadn't visited since the birth of our daughter. All of this happened to me...the doula...the one who is supposed to be strong and wise and share the news of births with sunshine and rainbows. But that's not what happened, the sunshine and rainbows didn't come. Just tears and floods of emotions for my own trauma and what I know this new mama will experience. Birth work is heart work, it's more than just birth balls, rebozos, Ina May Gaskin books, and holding fresh out of the womb little ones. It's being there for the hard stuff. It's messy and complicated and trying and oh so worth it.
Today, I got to video chat with this amazing new little family as they held their son for the first time in the NICU. There it was, the sunshine beaming from my clients face while she held her little one skin to skin. There it was.