I had never heard of a doula, but I did have internet access. Pregnant with baby number one I spent a lot of time researching online to learn what I needed to know about childbirth. Mind you, this was 2001, the internet wasn’t quite the giant resource that it is now. One thing I read consistently online was that I needed a midwife. A doctor was apparently going to do horrible things to me that I didn’t want so I must get a midwife (said the previously experienced moms in my pregnancy groups). I found a midwife practice that rotated through nine different providers. I told them I wanted an unmedicated labor. They said ok. There was one of the nine that I just did not like, she was very cold and abrasive, never smiled. I told my (first) husbandif she was the midwife on-call when I went into labor I would seriously go to a different hospital. She had lectured me in my first trimester for having only gained eight pounds, accused me of starving myself to intentionally not gain weight. I had recently gained a little extra due to stress before the pregnancy, and then started eating better and cut out caffeine entirely when I got pregnant. It wasn’t strange for me to have not gained a lot of weight (and I ended up with a 40 pound gain in the end.) Then at my 39 week appointment I was told my baby was over 9 pounds and was lead to believe I would probably end up with a C-section.
Two days later my water broke at home, on a Sunday, and per the midwives’ instructions I went straight to the hospital where the triage nurse smirked, “it’s probably pee” and that my water most likely did not break as it wasn’t even my due date and I was a “first-timer.” It in fact was my waters and I was officially checked in after an excruciatingly painful cervical exam. I was not having contractions yet which meant my “body didn’t know what to do” (claimed the nurse on duty) so we “had” to start Pitocin. I didn’t really know what it was or if it was a problem or not, no mention of any risks, and I wasn’t really given the impression that I had a choice, so they started it. And OF COURSE the midwife on duty was the one I did not jive well with. I wanted to leave, I wanted a different provider, but the nurses told me it was too bad, they have one midwife on call and that is who it will be. I was then surprised to be told I was not allowed to eat or have water, only ice chips, and I was already starving. The night before we had gone to a 1 a.m. movie and got home around 4 a.m. and woke up to my water breaking at 11ish, in the excitement of the broken water and the orders to get straight to the hospital, I hadn’t eaten breakfast. My husband of course wasn’t going to deprive himself so he left and got food and then came back and ate it in front of me, then sat in the corner the rest of the time, obviously bored. I was told to lay down in bed so I could be monitored, and there I was kept for several hours. I asked if I could get up and walk around and they said no. I said I had heard massage would help so I had brought a plug-in massager to use on my back, they said I couldn’t use it because it would interfere with the monitors. It didn’t take long for the pain, exhaustion, and hunger to catch up with me. I asked for the epidural I hadn’t wanted and the nurse was quite satisfied that I had caved in.
I got the epidural and after 12 total hours of Pitocin I was at 10 cm and ordered to start pushing, even though I couldn’t feel anything and really didn’t know where or how to push. The mean midwife came in and sat at the end of my bed staring at the ceiling, only stopping every so often to roll her eyes. After a while she would say something like, “If you aren’t going to get serious about pushing then I’m going to leave.” She asked me if I wanted a mirror to see what was going on and I gave a definite NO. In my world, that area needed to look clean and nice and in good shape, I imagined a pretty pink bow in the corner and a lovely sparkle, and I didn’t want anything to shatter that image. She asked repeatedly and said I’d probably actually try hard to push if I could see, but it was still a firm no from me, probably the only thing I was successfully assertive about. I felt so controlled, defeated, and doubted that I could even figure out how to do this. My biggest fear of course, as it is with many moms, was pooping in front of everyone. I knew that was holding me back and I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t have a great relationship with that husband so feeling vulnerable in front of him and strangers was probably the hardest thing I had yet to go through. Much to my horror, the midwife proclaimed, “Oooh, little poopies.” And it made me hate her so badly. Then the threats of C-section started since I obviously was never going to push the baby out, but “luckily” before we got there the epidural wore off enough that I felt everything and could control my body enough to actually start pushing. I felt the “ring of fire” and screamed and finally pushed out a 7 pound (not 9+ pound) baby.
They immediately took him to the warmer and started cleaning him, doing newborn procedures, weighing and measuring and such. After a little while they said his temperature needed to come up one degree and they hadn’t been able to get it up there so they were going to take him to the nursery. I hadn’t even seen him yet!! My mother instinct was raging, I wanted my baby!!! ONE DEGREE? I instinctually asked, “isn’t skin contact what you do to bring up body temperature?” (Reading about hypothermia at some point in my life seemed to have stuck with me and I knew I needed my baby on my skin, even before the term “skin-to-skin contact” was common.) I was told no, protocol says off to the nursery. I was told it probably wouldn’t take long. I had planned to breastfeed so I was worried about how long it would take. After asking several times over the next few hours they kept having one excuse after another…the nurse was busy and couldn’t bring him back yet, they had his temp up but now needed to do the hearing screening and other things, etc. After four hours I lost it and screamed, “BRING ME MY BABY!!” I sent my husband to the nursery and told him not to come back until he had my son. They finally brought him back and I was heartbroken to be told he of course had gotten hungry while gone so they had given him sugar water and formula. I spent nine months growing this baby and had already missed every part of his life. I didn’t get to see his first bath, I didn’t get to feed him, and the thought of him laying alone in a plastic box under a heat lamp like warmed-up fast food made me rage! Every part of the experience just hurt my heart, I didn’t feel like I was the mother, I felt like a vessel to get the baby there after which the baby became the hospital’s.
No surprise, our breastfeeding relationship did not start out well. The midwife came and grabbed my boob and shoved my baby’s face on it, and told me first time moms usually don’t figure out how to breastfeed. I had never seen a woman breastfeed before, and I was also very private and shy about my body and felt very uncomfortable with so many people coming in and grabbing at me, everyone with different advice that didn’t match the last person’s. I eventually gave up. At my 6 week postpartum check up my favorite midwife saw me in the hall and asked me how the birth went. I burst into tears. I told her how I felt, how the midwife acted, how my baby was taken. She said I could have asked for a different midwife and I said I did and they told me no. She said next time to just call the office. Well, it was a Sunday, and no one gave me a special phone number or any kind of secret method to override the “no” nurses and get the support I wanted. I chose a female doctor with a solo practice after that, no sense in going with a midwife if it still wasn’t a great experience anyway.
Baby 2, despite being rare for water to break at home, my labor with baby #2 started exactly the same way. Water broke, no contractions, Pitocin started within a few hours. Toward the end of this labor my baby’s heart was dropping, they said we’d need to C-section but then my doctor came in and said I’d lost a lot of fluid when my water broke so baby didn’t have much cushion and that was causing the heart to go down. The doctor called for an amnio-infusion (used a tube to add saline into the uterus to give baby more cushion) and baby was fine, a beautiful 6 pound girl, and no C-section so my doctor was my hero! The postpartum experience was much more pleasant with this baby but I still wish I had been able to do it without an epidural. I was sad that my body didn’t know how to start contractions and only knew how to break my water.
Baby 3, SAME EXACT THING. Water broke at home, three for three! UGH. Pitocin started, full-on belief at this point that my body doesn’t know how to make contractions. I had done some more reading and was sure that walking around instead of sitting in a bed for 12 hours would help the labor go more smoothly. I asked the nurse if I could get up and walk around, she was very irritated. I told her I had read online that it would help, she rolled her eyes and said “oh, online huh? Well if you don’t trust the care we have here you are welcome to leave and go to a different hospital.” Wow. SHUT DOWN. She then said I could have 15 minutes before it was back to bed. Toward the end of the labor baby’s heart was dropping, only this time it wasn’t a fluid issue. The doctor said she would let me have about 3 more contractions before we had to go for a C-section, baby just didn’t want to get past the pubic bone, so she ended up using the vacuum and we delivered a nearly 8 pound baby just in time to avoid surgical birth, again.
Baby 4, almost the same story, (with a different husband) except my doctor was going out of town the week I was due and I was terrified to deliver with a stranger, so I opted for an induction at 39 weeks. Baby was born with the cord around his neck and a respiratory team was rushed in and worked on him immediately before he even had a chance to take a breath. I was lead to believe they saved my baby, that he could have died because of the cord (which I later found out is completely normal and occurs in 1/3 of all births).
Each of these experiences had one thing in common. I lost my voice. I am a very opinionated but diplomatic person that doesn’t normally have a problem being assertive, but get me in labor (or at a car dealership) and I lose my voice. I can’t stand up for myself. I can’t speak up for my rights, preferences, feelings, needs! And I wasn’t even wanting anything crazy like a field of daisies brought in to let my baby softly fall onto while an orchestra of angels announced the arrival. I JUST wanted to walk and get some massage and get out of bed! I wanted to have a nibble to eat and a little sip of water because the ice chips just weren’t cutting it. And I wanted my baby to be in my care! Crazy requests right!? I know not all nurses are like the ones I had, I know not all providers and hospitals are, but those were my only births and all of the experiences left me feeling very manipulated, threatened, and too ignorant to know how to have and feed a baby.
So when I later heard about doulas and realized what they do I was both crazy excited and mad! I could have had that type of support!? I could have had someone with me to help me find my voice!? I was SO SAD that my first four births didn’t get that experience! And then it smacked me right in the face…I was going to BE a doula. I was going to have a doula and I was going to be a doula and I wanted everyone to get to have a doula! I had just retired after 10 years of running a very successful preschool and thought I was going to take some time off of working for a while and just focus on my family. But nope! I had a new calling and this was urgent. I had to immediately become a doula and I signed up for the next training I could find and asked my trainer to be my doula at my 5th birth, 6 weeks pregnant at the time. And that is how I became a doula. (To read about my life-changing birth with doula support click here: https://doulaed.com/baby-five-the-birth-of-dreams/)