Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our (edited) Birth Story...and why every pregnant woman should have a doula

After 8 days of wondering if the Babe was ever going to arrive, I finally went into labor. Here is a bit of the chronology, as best I can remember it.

10:00 pm, Friday night: We had just finished dinner with my older brother downtown at the Viceroy in Chelsea. I started feeling more intense contractions than what I'd experienced the past month. We high-tailed it back uptown.

I think at some point before active labor, every pregnant woman must think they are going to be pregnant forever and that the baby will never come. I remember thinking the contractions would probably subside again. I certainly didn't think that in 10 hours I would actually be holding my baby.

We got home and I took a shower. I remember now that I never actually dried or brushed my hair (which explains the bedhead look in our hospital pictures). The contractions continued to intensify.

11:46 pm: My husband started to keep time time on his stopwatch and began jotting down the intervals in a little spiral reporters notebook that will now live among the baby's keepsakes. He called my brother to say something to the effect of "I think we're going to the hospital tonight." Then he called our doula to give her a heads up. We didn't ask her to come right away because it was Friday night after all and I was sure I'd jinx myself and she'd come all the way to the Upper East Side for nothing. She said to call her back in 20 minutes.

12:20 am: The contractions kept coming harder. We knew this was it. Andy called our doula and she got on her way.

1:15 am: Our doula arrives. At this point I am lurched over our bed, swaying, which was the only position I found comfortable. I think I attempted a few yoga poses - the idea of which seemed so cool in my prenatal yoga classes but at the time felt ridiculous. She washed her hands and surveyed the room. I should pause here to say that my husband was supportive but dubious about what a doula actually is hired to do. When our doula starting spritzing scents around our living room while his wife was hunched over the bed mid-contraction, I'm certain he was even more skeptical. But then she put her hands on my back. She applied pressure to my lower back in a downward circular motion almost to the rhythym of each contraction and it was if the pain melted away. It was unbelievable to me how manageable each contraction became, and I was able to just breathe through the pain.

The next few hours went quickly. At several junctures our doula engaged my husband to help massage my back. As much as I wanted him to be involved, it wasn't the same as what I began to call her "magic hands." I couldn't tolerate the contractions without them. I only realized after the baby was born a good 7 hours later that I probably owe her a few hundred dollars for physical theraphy - I'm sure she has carpal tunnel now.

She did two other crucial things that made a huge difference to our whole experience. First, she kept me hydrated. She must have brought bendy straws with her because every time I lifted my head, she was there with a fresh glass of cold water and a bendy straw positioned just before my lips. She also got me to rest. In between a few of the harder contractions she encouraged me to lie down and try to take a nap. Taking a nap didn't seem like it was on the menu but the second my head hit the pillow I crashed. I realized later how much I needed this extra energy.

I don't know if I valued her massage technique or her aura more. She was wearing a colorful top, long flowing skirt and a fuscia flower in her hair. I just loved that. The whole reason for having a doula was to create a comfortable environment in which to labor as long as possible without medical intervention. Several things happened that, had she not been there to explain that they were completely normal, I'm sure we would have bolted for the hospital much sooner. For one, I vaccilated between freezing and overheating. I would shiver and then break out into a cold sweat. Apparently this was really just a rush of adrenaline. Who knew? I certainly never read that in "What to Expect When You're Expecting."

The big question became when to go to the hospital. Our doula suggested we should stay home as long as we felt comfortable, and that she would listen to me for a cue. A cue? I wasn't sure if I was supposed to flash some sort of secret sign or what, but she assured me I would sense when it was time. Well, I had sensed it was time for the last week but clearly the Babe had other intentions.

She was entirely right though. At one point, I just wanted to get going. A few minutes later, with the bag that had been packed for a month, in toe, we headed downstairs. Our night doorman could not have looked more horrified as he wished us good luck.

4:00 am: We got in the taxi and start heading downtown in the LOOOOONGEST cab ride I have ever taken. We arrived at the hospital at about 4:20. The guard in the lobby asked if I wanted a wheelchair but since I couldn't see one in sight, I opted to keep walking. Up the elevator and down the hall, the next thing I knew I was in a delivery room. It was surreal. You spend months mentally preparing for this moment, and then it is here and you realize you are woefully unprepared. Thank God for our doula. I just looked at her and (this sounds cheesy but true) looked in her eyes and felt calm again.

[Another thing doulas are good for: As soon as we arrived she surveyed the room, stashed a few supplies in my overnight bag and got me set up with water. Always with the water ... I felt like a camel. But it did give me the energy I needed to push later on. She then guided my husband to ask the nurses if I could forgo the IV. While they protested a bit, he reasoned that I was well-hydrated and asked if we could wait 30 minutes before they gave me anything. Although I had the bruises to prove I had the heplock, I never did need or get an IV.]

5:00 am: After they finally inserted the heplock (Heplock: worst and most painful part of the whole birth. Although I did know to expect it, I didn't think they would have to three times to find a cooperative vein), I was checked and was 7 centimeters. The nurses got us settled and I prepared to go on laboring. They told us they'd called the doctor and to expect him around 8 am.

5:40 am (ish): I remember the sun rising outside of my window. I couldn't see the sun, only its reflection on the building next door. I also remember thinking "today is the day my son will be born. Saturday the 18th." (I still have to remind myself that his birthday was the 19th not the 18th.)

6:00 am: Dr. M arrived. Dr. M is not my doctor. My doctor was away that weekend, which he had told us about earlier in the week. He asked if I had any requests or questions and I told him that I didn't want an epidural or pain medication unless I got to the point that I asked for it.

The time gets really fuzzy here. All I remember is that at one point it felt like all of a sudden the baby was coming. It must have been about 7:30 am. They checked me again and I was 10 centimeters dilated. My water still hadn't broken. Dr. M broke my water. The contractions after were absolutely the worst pain I have ever experienced. If I would have had my water broken at 4 centimeters earlier in the week to induce labor, there is no way on earth I could have had a natural childbirth. No way.

Then with a football coach of a nurse, my husband, my doula and the doctor encouraging me along, I delivered the Babe into the world at 8:12.

I have never felt an adrenaline rush quite like what I experienced that morning. We have recounted the experience over and over again and I know I wouldn't have had the same wonderfully profound experience without our doula. At all the right times she reminded me why we had made this decision, both she and my husband encouraged me and gave me strength. What a profession! There are precious few people in our lives that are there at such life-changing moments.

It wasn't pretty and certainly by way of being in a hospital it wasn't the most natural setting, but it was amazing and miraculous and we wouldn't have done it any other way.

A big thanks to our doula and Power of Birth for matching her with us.

Doula is an ancient Greek word that means "woman's servant". Today, doulas are trained to provide continuous physical, emotional and informational support to women in labor. The doula cooperates with and encourages the partner's role in labor.

DONA International:

Two months and two plane trips to Florida later, we're back!

A lot has happened in the last two months. The Babe came into the world at 8:12 a.m. on Saturday July 19th.

I just reread my last post from that other world of pre-newborn-hood (sleep deprivation grants me permission to make up words) and am stunned at how much my life has changed. I have been completely remiss about blogging about our experiences but frankly was just too overwhelmed to shower or eat, much less type. The Babe and I just hit a stride though and I'm looking forward to sharing about our ups and downs in this increasingly shrinking apartment of ours.

I'm going to hit the rewind button and start by sharing a bit of our birth story and what we learned in the early weeks. Stay tuned...