Ever searched on YouTube for water birth videos?
About a month into my pregnancy, I did. I must have binge-watched thirty of the most gentle and touching labors on the internet. And I was completely awe-struck. The tenacity and soulfulness that these mothers brought to their labors was breathtaking.
I had never seen anything like this, mainly because these weren’t the birthing stories I watched on TV growing up. There were no hysterical women clutching gurneys while being rushed through triage by a brigade of doctors. No one screaming at their partners “Why did you do this to me???” or mouthing “I’m going to kill you!!”
There were just families in intimate moments of cooperation and togetherness. And strong, confident women facing the pain of labor and birth without fear or hesitation. There was solemnity and peace. And babies taking their first breathes in their own homes, bathed in gentle light, and the calm nurturing presence of exhausted but serene parents.
It was cosmic. It was beautiful. It was what I wanted.
So, I began thinking about how to get from point A (terrified) to point B (ready).
I started this process by reading Ina May Gaskin’s books. Ina May is revolutionary midwife who resurrected the home-birth movement in the 1970’s. She compiled the firsthand accounts from 100’s of women who delivered on her farm in Tennessee and in reading their stories, I developed confidence in my body’s innate birthing ability. And while no woman can be sure how her labor is going to go down, I gave myself permission to dream.
When I met with my obstetrician to talk about my goals for a vaginal and unmedicated delivery, his first question was “are you going to have a doula?” Up until that point, I hadn’t really thought very much about it. He encouraged me to consider the benefit of a trained emotional support person, who could model a grounded presence during the inevitable ups and downs of labor. My partner and I talked it over and realized we both could use the guidance of someone who had experienced the rollercoaster of birth before. As my doc so elegantly put it, “I am here for the baby. The doula is there for you.”
We interviewed a few doulas and settled on Jamie Yates, a lovely mother of three who trained with Carriage House Birth in Brooklyn. She was wise, in our price range, and lived three blocks away. We met three or four times during my labor to discuss my goals and fears. During one visit, she showed me all the different massage techniques she used on her clients, and we isolated my favorites. And because I happen to find people singing to me incredibly soothing, I taught her some of my favorite songs.
When the time came to meet our child, my partner and I spent 27 sleepless hours laboring at home before going to the hospital. I took a lot of warm baths while my partner played me gentle melodies on his acoustic guitar. I listened to my labor playlist and meditated. I bounced on a yoga ball. We ordered in pizza. Our doula checked in at regular intervals to assure us everything was going OK. The biggest gift she gave us was privacy. She made me feel confident enough with the process to feel like we were safe to be left alone to enjoy our final hours as just us two.
One of the key things I talked to my doula about was the inevitability of physical discomfort. I have always had intense cramps, so I wasn’t expecting contractions to be a breeze. She gave me a bunch of helpful suggestions of how to work with pain. My favorite was a visualization technique where I would imagine each contraction as a wave and myself riding just above them.
This visualization ended up being the MVP of my labor. Whenever I lost my focus, I would crash into the waves and the pain would intensify. But when my mind was steady, and my attention was resting above the waves, I felt like I was surfing the cosmic tides. Our doula also recommended that my partner and I kiss between contractions, which was a fun way to relax, and made my partner feel a part of the process.
25 hours into labor, with contractions still 5 minutes apart, I began to feel something was wrong. Not scary wrong, but just not quite right. I felt that my contractions were “hitting a wall.” I didn’t know what that even meant, it was just a feeling, an intuition, that for some reason, something in my body was blocking the full expression of my contractions. I was ready to go to the hospital.
My poor partner was at a loss. I had made him swear that regardless of what I said during labor, he would not let me go to the hospital until my contractions were one minute apart. Exhausted and confused, he was in tears begging me to stick to the original plan. Fortunately, Jamie was there to reassure him that flexibility was a normal part of the labor experience. She advocated for me when my partner, despite all his good intentions, didn’t know how to.
At the hospital, my obstetrician confirmed that I had a septum blocking my cervix and it needed to be surgically removed. And so, I stuck my birth plan on a shelf, and accepted an epidural for the procedure. I had a vaginal delivery a few hours later, 31 hours after my first contraction.
Though my labor didn’t go quite as expected, having a doula by my side gave me the confidence to face the challenges that arose with courage and optimism. When the waters were smooth, Jamie’s grounding presence allowed me to relax into the unknown. When things got rough, her confidence in my mothering instinct, gave me strength to stick to my guns.
When Kiran was born, people I know remarked that I had a really long labor. But honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Every hour of that labor, I learned how to advocate for my child. And honestly, myself. My labor, in all its realness, was perfect. And It was full of love.
If I were to sum up this experience of preparing for my dream birth and receiving the support of a doula throughout it, I would say my biggest takeaways were:
1. Trust your Intuition. You know the birth you desire and what is best for you and your child.
2. Meditation is a wonderful tool for birth and beyond.
3. Doulas rock!
Want to learn more about how a doula can support you? Check out Expectful’s expert interview with Samantha Huggins, the Founder of Carriage House Birth, for an in-depth conversation that includes all the knowledge you need to empower your own birthing journey.
To read our interview with Samantha, Everything You Need to Know About Labor, click here.You can also tune in to hear Samantha share her journey to motherhood and birth work on the Expectful Podcast here.
P.S. Samantha offered to give Expectful users an exclusive 15% discount on brick and mortar CBE classes in NY or Skype/Facetime consultations (anywhere). To book click here to contact Carriage House and mention Expectful.