On being "Doula-ed"
First, let me start by saying that when we started talking about having babies, I had absolutely no interest in a natural labor.
I didn't need to prove my strength as a woman. I didn't need to feel all the feels of labor to fully embrace being a mom. I was not at all curious about how far I could go without pain meds. I wanted all the drugs as soon as I could get them.
And then we had sweet Oliver.
And I will always treasure the day this boy was born.
But the way he came into this world... Oh man, if we could go back, we would do it differently.
June 17, 2013 left us with a baby in the NICU, an IV taped to the top of his head, a momma with no feeling in her right leg, discharged in a wheel chair after a week, and so strung out on pain meds that she couldn't see straight. (Oliver's birth story)
So when it came time to start planning for Milo's birth, Matt and I both wanted the experience to be different, to put it mildly. And in order to avoid repeating the injury to the nerve in my leg, my OB recommended delivering in positions that made getting an epidural not practical.
We. Are. Doing. This.
I had a vague idea of what a doula was. As in, I had heard the word before. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I pictured a doula as a New Age Hippy, waving incense and holding crystals. You guys. Seriously. I was thinking Professor Trelawney. All wavy hair and funky glasses, smelling of hemp or weed or both.
But we were desperate to do things different. And so I started researching. And interviewing doulas. And we found Alicia, who bore no resemblance to any Harry Potter character, never pulled out crystals, and offered us significant amounts of research and literature on natural labor. I'm pretty sure I even voiced my concerns, you know, super professionally, and told her that we really did not feel comfortable with any WEIRD stuff. And when she asked me to define the ever so delicate "Weird Stuff," she promised that she didn't do "Hippy Dippy" (her words, not mine).
I think we hired her somewhere around 20 weeks and we met with her several times prior to our delivery date, twice in our home. She walked us through our expectations and helped us identify expectations we didn't even realize that we had. She gave me exercises to help keep Milo in a good position. We talked about diet and ways to avoid Strep B. We talked about ways to communicate with my hospital providers. We walked through strategies to use during labor and positions for delivery. As I developed complications towards the end of my pregnancy, she had resources and linked me up with her sister who had the same disorder in several of her pregnancies. She checked in with me often and was a comforting presence even before Milo made his grand entrance.
And then the big day arrived and she met us at the hospital early that Tuesday morning. Matt and I wore the halls of the labor unit out with walking while we waited for the pitocin to get labor kicked into gear. Alicia was a calm presence during this stage, but gave us the space we needed. As we began to need to make decisions regarding how to progress, Alicia helped us to do so with intentionality (i.e. break water now, continue to up pitocin dosage, etc). She didn't advise us on which decisions to make, but she gave us space and reminded us of our options and slowed down the decision making process, which was something we really found helpful.
I don't think I could have fully appreciated how much I wanted a comforting envionrment during labor prior to making the decision to have Milo as naturally as possible. But it became a HUGE thing for me. And Alicia was set... she had fragrances to diffuse (my preference, lavender), she had flameless candles so we didn't have to use the harsh lights in the bathroom, I brought my own music but she had back up music in case we needed to switch things up. She kept the lighting in the room down, and reminded nursing staff to talk in quiet voices when they came in my room.
As things escalated towards the afternoon, Alicia and Matt worked with me in amazing synchrony. She gave me a really incredible foot massage (Did I even thank her for that, because seriously!) I remember at one point she pulled out a sock with two balls tied into it, that became my best friend as my lower back started to scream during contractions. She had Matt press it along my spine and oh man, you all. It may have saved my life. One of the most helpful things she did was walk me through muscle relaxation exercises during strong contractions... and here's the thing. The exercises did not at all take the pain away, but they helped me cope and walk through each contraction. (This was probably the biggest surprise to me, I would not have guessed that I would have found any comfort or relief in muscle relaxation. In fact, I would probably have rolled my eyes at anyone who would have assured me that this was helpful... because seriously... relaxation... during labor? But no really. It's a thing and it is helpful.)
We had agreed ahead of time that we wanted Matt to be my main support during labor, and Alicia seamless worked with him. She was so comfortable and at peace during my labor, even when I was incredibly uncomfortable, and I think that kept a ton of anxiety at bay for both Matt and I.
She continued to bring out various tools to help with relief during labor. She seemed to instinctively know when to step in and when to let Matt support me during the storm. She recommended various positions, and she timed contractions. She reminded me to eat, to drink, to pee. She kept a log for us to look back on later and when certain events happened throughout the course of the day. She knew when to get the attention of my nurse and midwife. And she stood with us and bore witness to our precious boy take his first breath.
So here's the thing. She was present with us. During one of the most intense moments of our marriage. But there was nothing obtrusive about her presence, nothing that stole the intimacy from the moment. Instead, she was a friend who we had invited into the room to hold space, and bear witness, and to support us through the amazing work of bringing Milo into the world.