I'm so excited to have been a part of Brayden's birth, that the rest of my life feels like a dream and that one day in that one room during his birth feels like real life. It was awesome.
When I became a doula it was in order to be a support for my friends and family (if they wanted it) while they gave birth. And Monday's event was exactly that.
I remember once when I was very pregnant with Amarys, someone at a party asked me, after a long conversation about being a doula, "So who is YOUR doula?" and I decided to out myself with the truth;
"Well, even though I am a doula, I don't really actually *believe* in doulas?" and the room erupted into laughter. Its true. I don't want to knock a profession which is incredibly valuable and largely misunderstood and underrepresented in the world of birth professions, but I really believe that the professional doula grew out of the necessity to replace what a doula used to be: a well known and trusted friend, neighbour, sister, mother, cousin, or midwife's assistant who came to support you during your birth and afterwards. Someone you know. Someone who was paid, but whose support was mainly loving and practical.
So when I became a doula, my goal was to support women I know and love through giving birth, and to do it because I love them. And I love birth. Monday was the fullest example of this that I have yet experienced. My good friend Melissa has been in my life for seven years, and we have had years of fun times and tears and growing up. I listened to descriptions of horrible dates with Oliver the Aggressive Kisser and wonderings about being single forever, and she listened to descriptions of breast yeast infections and watched me flash my droopy breasts in every public place imaginable, and it was a match made in friendship heaven. =) This is one of my "Peeps." One of my closest friends.
Last year she met this guy. Like, The Guy. The once in a lifetime type of guy that makes everyone you know jealous, because he's so remarkable and kind and funny and how can you fault a guy for loving your friend more than you do? She's just so lovable.
Eight months later they got married. Four weeks after that she phoned me in tears with a positive pregnancy test in her hand, FIVE YEARS ahead of schedule. I've so been there. So exactly there.
And nine months later, Geoff phoned me up at 2:00 a.m. and said, "So we've been at 4-1-1 for two hours now." [translation: call your doula whenever you feel you need her, or when you reach contractions at four minutes apart and at least one minute long for one hour, whichever comes first]
I packed my bag, my breast pump, two empty bottles, and my crochet supplies, and drove to their house. Melissa's midwife beat me there and she was 5 cm, baby at zero station, and coping well. We walked to the hospital, a unique experience in my doula 'career,' but it made sense since they live less than a block to the hospital and walking is so beneficial in labour. I have to say that the car rides to the hospital were definitely the worst part of both my labours, so this was a fine decision, IMO. It was fun to walk at four in the morning with a roller suitcase and several types of cameras, joking and enjoying the summery early morning air. It is one of the sketchier parts of town but I guess we looked so odd that no one thought to mug or rape us and we were left unscathed.
Melissa was amazing. She was upbeat, coped well, moved around, followed her body, used all the hypnobirthing techniques she had learned, and every natural pain relief option available. Geoff was equally amazing. He was calm, excited, totally in tune with his wife's emotional state and needs, and had his face buried in her neck for hours on end, quietly encouraging her. It brought tears to my eyes~it is hard to trust even The Guy with the heart of one you love, but after watching him support her giving birth to their baby I'm in awe. I'll never have a twinge of worry about her ever again, because I know he's up to the job.
She worked so hard and coped so well, and was 7 cm at 9:30 in the morning. She started to get restless shortly afterwards, flopping around, a bit more disorganized and less relaxed, and saying, "I can't do this!" This is a good sign. This means transition!! This means you're nearly done! This means baby is just around the corner!
I told her, "Just when you think 'I can't,' that's when you're nearly done." Which is true, most of the time. Which my midwife told me, with Amarys. Which is reassuring when you hear it. Which so wasn't true in this case. Ack!
I glanced at the clock and thought, we could have a baby by noon! Hooray!
But at noon she was still 7 cm, and still laboring hard. Still feeling "I can't." Still restless.
This baby taxed all my resources, I tell you. I wracked my brain for every tool I had ever experienced, read about, seen on documentaries, or imagined to help Melissa cope with these powerful waves that just kept on coming hard and fast, without a break, and without a change. She was dilating unevenly, so her midwife had her lie on her side for half an hour to try and increase pressure on the side that was less dilated, and after that she tried the shower, the birth ball, standing, sitting, swaying, squatting, hands and knees, lying down, walking, lunges, hula loops, slow dancing; you name it. I did pressure points, massage, back rubs, encouragement, counting back from 20, hypnosis triggers, rhythm, music, relaxation tricks, hydrotherapy, jokes between contractions, everything but singing (both Melissa and I are terrible singers, lol). Oh, and I forgot lip flapping (Ina May's trick of blowing raspberries to aid relaxation). Mainly I just danced with her, and rubbed her back during contractions. It seemed to be the most effective way to help.
After several more hours she was 8 cm and the baby was asynclitic (sp?), which means his head was tilted to the side, and his chin was up instead of flexed. This was likely the cause of Melissa being stalled for so long at 7 cm; the baby's head pressing on the cervix evenly is what causes dilation in active labour, and her baby's head was tilted to the side and pressing unevenly. She was scraping the bottom of the barrel for coping mechanisms, and we were scraping for tools to help her. I had left the room a few times to pump milk for Amarys, and my two bottles were full and so were my breasts. Neither of them had slept in over 30 hours, and I had slept 2 hours in those 30. Melissa's water had broken but still she farted around at 7 and 8 cm. The only one unfazed by the long labour was baby Brayden! His heart rate was perfect, ticking along like clockwork and accelerating and decelerating in the proper parameters at the proper times. Awesome. Their midwife was suggesting more position changes and bladder emptying and homeopathic remedies to try and push things beyond the 8 cm mark.
Melissa and Geoff went back in the shower and she was really struggling to cope. Her contractions had started spacing themselves out and becoming more irregular, so we were starting to worry and certainly after five hours of hearing, "Just when you think you can't, your baby is almost here!" Melissa was seriously starting to doubt her ability to continue.
Their midwife suggested it might be time to change the game plan. Given the hard work, exhaustion, lack of dilation, irregular and widely spaced contractions, and asynclitic baby, a good course of action at this point would be to consider synthetic oxytocin augementation. The midwife felt this could correct the baby's position, or at the very least power the baby through despite its odd position.
The worst part of this plan, of course, is the increase in intensity for Melissa, who was already exhausted and worn down at this point. So this is when pain relief was discussed. All the pain relief options were laid out, and the risks and benefits of each were discussed between contractions. Her midwife was good at laying out what she thought, but informing Melissa and Geoff of all their options and the risks and benefits in all scenarios. They decided that oxytocin and an epidural were the best way to go, and I completely agreed. This is what these interventions are invented for, and I am a full believer (thanks to Grantly Dick-Read) that labour is intense but it need not involve suffering. If you hit the point where you are suffering in labour, by all means, pain relief is absolutely called for. Melissa had hit the suffering threshold several hours before this point, and had exhausted all her reserves. We had all worked to give her the best possible chance so that she could feel like she did everything she could to have the natural birth she planned for.
And you know what? It was the perfect decision. She got her epidural within 20 minutes. She got oxytocin within an hour. She slept for several hours. Geoff slept. I drove home, dropped off my pumped milk, nursed Amarys twice and Riley once, showered, and drove back to the hospital. When I arrived back she was bright eyed, her sense of humor was back, and she was energized, fully dilated, and ready to push. Her epidural wore off enough for her to feel urges to push, and in remarkable time for a first time mom with fuzzy feeling lower extremities, she pushed out the most amazing long eyelashed, kissable lipped, soft cheeked baby ever! It was fantastic! She pushed like it had been her day job for twenty years. Like, pshaw, I could do this in my sleep, no problem [I hate pushing, its way harder work when I do it, for hours and hours =p What's up with women who do it like its a sunday afternoon stroll?]. I told Melissa it was her reward after working so hard for the first stage of labour. Watching that baby slide out was one of the more remarkable things I've ever seen. He was moving his head but had his eyes closed when his head was out but his shoulders were still in, and he was facing me so I got to study his little face for a few minutes while Melissa waited for her final contraction at 10:30 pm to push out his body. And she didn't even tear much: a couple of stitches just for a first degree tear to prevent pain while healing.
Melissa is my new hero. And Geoff her loyal sidekick. And Brayden the sweetest thing on earth, next to my own babies! All told, 26 hours of active labour. Less than an hour of pushing. And a gorgeous birth. Not exactly according to plan, but exactly right.