This time 5 years ago I had just given birth to my youngest baby! Elle and I don’t often talk about our own experiences but the birth of my youngest taught me so much about the support I needed (and what I missed out on!) as a birthing mother and it was a huge part of my journey into doulaing so it feels right to share. If you fancy reading on you might want to get comfy with a cuppa as it’s a long one!
Going back to the night before, I was 40+4 weeks pregnant and beginning to wonder if labour was beginning. It was a Friday evening and I was just clearing up the spaghetti from dinner that my almost 2 year old had strewn across the table and floor when I felt the first twinges. As I wiped over the mucky high chair I remember suddenly being aware of a heaviness low down in my bump but as quick as I’d noticed it, it has stopped again.
Was this the start? Not wanting to get too excited I carried on getting Theo cleaned up and ready for bed. 20 minutes later though…more cramps and this pattern carried on throughout his bedtime. Having experienced a long prodromal labour in my last pregnancy I figured I had a couple more days at least until I would be holding a new baby in my arms so after texting my doula to give her a heads up, I went to bed to try and have an early night.
I lay in bed listening to my hypnobirthing tracks but sleep didn’t come. Instead the cramps built into more regular, stronger surges. I was definitely in labour! After tossing and turning for a couple of hours I couldn’t ignore it any longer, the surges needed my attention so I decided to get up, put my TENS on and head downstairs. Entering the living room I instantly felt relaxed and calm. The pool was up, the lights were low… this was my birth room, this was where I would meet my baby.
Throughout the night I rested on a makeshift floor bed dozing and watching Netflix as the surges gradually got more intense and regular. I bounced on my birth ball and breathed through every sensation, riding each wave until the peak passed. As they got stronger I remember going more within, no longer able to focus on what was going on around me in between each contraction, Labour Land was calling me and it was where I wanted to be. As surges built I needed to reach up, grabbing on to my birth partners neck and as the peak approached I would sink down into a deep squat, feeling the sensation spread over my bump and down my thighs, surrendering to the power within my body. Occasionally fear would get the better of me and I would tense as I felt another one starting… “Oh no not another one! Not yet!” Those were tough, but when I allowed myself to be curious and welcome the sensations it felt so different, intense and sometimes painful but not more than I could handle.
The early morning approached and I knew it was time to call my doula and get in the pool. She told us she was on her way and I relaxed deeper, knowing my chosen support would be here with me soon. When she arrived however, she had her young son with her! I remember being in the pool and looking up after a surge had passed and wondering why this little boy was in my birth space. Uninvited, intruding, not what I had expected at all. Seeing that I was very much in established labour, she suggested calling the midwives and left to find childcare.
Theo woke up around this time and was the perfect little birth partner. He pottered around with his bowl of grapes, watching his Very Hungry Caterpillar DVD and occasionally toddling over to me to stroke my shoulders and head. They were such special moments. I carried on following my body, listening to my birth partner on the phone… “Yes, contractions are maybe 6 minutes apart”, I heard him tell the midwives. I knew they were much closer together than that. There was barely time for me to catch my breath in between but I was so deep within that I didn’t want to vocalise and engage in his discussion.
By the time the midwife arrived and my doula returned I was bearing down, intermittently and involuntarily. I didn’t need anybody to do, I was doing it all by myself but looking back, I really needed someone to hold my space. I was in my labour bubble but I felt alone, not supported and held. The midwives were doing their notes, occasionally bothering me to check I definitely didn’t want any vaginal examinations, my doula was taking pictures, my birth partner was being dad to our toddler… I knew I could do it alone but I wanted to feel that they were with me. Making sense of these feelings though and finding the right words felt beyond me, I had surrendered and my body and baby had all of my attention.
Around 11am I felt the familiar sensations of his head beginning to crown, then the frustrating feeling of him going back inside! He felt so close but so far. I kept trying to trust my body though and the relief when his head was born was incredible. Sadly, this is the point where things began to go awry…
The midwives suggested I sit back so I could pick him up once his body was born and like a good girl I did as I was told. The next two contractions came and went and he hadn’t budged. I wasn’t worried but before I knew what was happening the midwives’ fear filled the space and without warning or explanation I was being dragged out of the pool. The next couple of minutes were a bit of a chaotic blur. As I got out of the pool he was born into the midwife’s arms, his cord cut immediately. An ambulance was called and cancelled and I remember feeling like a forgotten, empty vessel, having no idea if my baby was ok. There was absolutely nobody holding space for us and it was not what I had ever imagined would happen.
As quick as the chaos had started, it was over and he was in my arms searching for my breast. I had a physiological third strange and birthed my placenta ~15minutes after he was born. Theo tentatively approached, meeting his baby brother for the first time and surrounded by my two boys I felt more grounded again, rediscovering my centre as our new family life began.
Reflecting back on this birth now I’m a doula brings up so much and highlights what I believe are so important to remember when supporting a birthing woman. There is no doubt that it has shaped the doula I am today.
When Elle or I arrive at a birth we come ready to be present with the birthing woman in every way. We leave any baggage at home and have childcare plans for our childcare plans so we can serve her wholeheartedly.
When we are in the birth space we trust the birthing woman unreservedly. We don’t need to tell her which positions she should adopt or to intrude in any way without her permission. Her intuition is going to guide her better than anyone else, she is the ultimate baby monitor and knows what her body and baby needs.
In the birth room we are not always doing but we are always holding space for the woman and her baby. We are aware of when it’s right to sit back and crochet and when she might want us by her side. We know how to sit on our hands without making a woman feel ignored and abandoned. We are all about meeting her wherever she is at and serving her however she needs us to.
When we are with women we are mindful of our mission to support them to birth in their power. We believe all birthing women have innate wisdom and strength and should always be held at the centre of our work as birth keepers with unconditional positive regard, trust and reverence. Birthing mothers are magic!