It’s a tradition among the midwifery/birth/doula community to share birth stories, usually not long after you have participated in a birth. Everyone has their own process for sharing these stories, and the doula group I used to be a part of would have monthly meetings where doulas were invited to share. This process can be really cathartic for people, allowing them to process the experience and their feelings about it. Moms are also encouraged to share their birth stories with friends, family and their practitioners.
So I hadn’t planned on sharing a birth story just yet, but due to the cosmic nature of the universe and serendipity, I received an email this morning (only one day after starting this blog) from the father from my first ever official birth as a doula. He sent me a picture of their now 2 year old son, and told me they are expecting a sixth. I received this email with mixed feelings, because after a difficult 24 hours of labor, which ended with the midwife bringing in the obstretrical team to deliver the baby using forceps, the midwife disclosed to me that she did not think Barbara wanted to be having the baby. She felt that her mixed feelings about the pregnancy were demonstrated in her failure to progress in the labor, and that many of these feelings stemmed from her relationship with her husband.
So now they are pregnant again? I wish I could know more about how she is feeling about it. I also wish I could post the picture of their son here, because he is adorable (I even have a picture with me and the parents right after the birth) but that would be inappropriate and would be violating their confidentiality.
Read on for more of the birth story.
The birth was in June or July of 2005 and took place in the hospital where I was volunteering. I met the couple, who I will call Jack and Barbara (not their real names), only a few hours into Barbara’s labor, which had been induced using pitocin.
This was their fifth child, all of whom had been born “naturally” and under the care of midwives in a birthing center. This was their first hospital birth, which Jack made clear to me from the beginning that he was upset about. Partners play an interesting role for doulas–sometimes they can be amazing allies, sometimes they can be incredible obstacles–and it usually takes quite a while to figure out which this partner is going to be. Twenty-four hours later when the baby was finally born, I was left feeling that I had been more Jack’s doula than Barbara’s.
The entire time I was with Barbara, she labored extremely quietly and internally. She made little noise, didn’t really move from her position lying face up on the bed, and asked for almost nothing. When a contraction came, she would simply close her eyes and breath through it. I was impressed by her strength and how much she was going it alone. This was also my first official birth as a doula, and I was somewhat timid about how assertive to be in terms of my role. Retrospectively, I maybe should have tried to take more of a role in working with Barbara, but these are the things we learn as we become more experienced and confident in our abilities as doulas.
During the 24 hours I with the couple, I began to learn a lot about their relationship and the dynamics between them. It’s an amazing event to witness, and can tell you a lot about how two people interact. I learned pretty quickly that Jack was very adamant about birthing naturally, and that it was Barbara who had pushed for the hospital birth. This brings up a lot of issues of how these decisions should be made–does the woman delivering ultimately have final say? How much should a partner be allowed to decide the environment of a woman’s birth? I know there have been quite a few circumstances where women who want to give birth at home have difficulties because their partners/parents/friends don’t support their decision. But here I had an opposite experience.
This conflict came to a head again, almost 12 hours later, when the midwife checked Barbara and found that she had barely progressed. Her dilation was still really small, even though she had been laboring for quite some time. She became extremely frustrated and began to have more trouble managing the contractions. She started to ask for an epidural, which upset Jack immensely. He was adamantly opposed to it–the conflict became extremely heated, and at one point she declared “It’s my body!” She ended up receiving the epidural (in the end it is her decision) and he left the room for quite a few hours to blow off steam.
At this point I was tempted to go and counsel him on how he needed to be supportive of her decision, but once again I felt unsure of my role and what the boundaries were. Instead I stayed with the mom, who slept through most of the night with her epidural.
The next morning, as I mentioned earlier, Barbara was ready to push and did so for maybe an hour or so. The baby did not come out quickly enough for the midwife, and some heart beat decelerations caused her to call in the obstretrics team to pull the baby out with forceps. It was quite scary to have all 12 or so of them rush in (it was a teaching hospital) but the baby was born in good health.
I left their birth with a lot of questions:
How much does a mother’s emotional state really affect her ability to birth?
How effective are partners as support people if they place their own agenda above the desires of the laboring mother?
Does Jack still resent Barbara for getting the epidural? (I saw some of this at my postpartum visit a day later)
How could I have impacted the environment of the birth in a positive way and could that have changed the outcome?
This is the first of my (and hopefully others) birth stories that I will share as they are relevant…it seems appropriate that this was my first birth as a doula.