This is the story of my second birth, which brought to me my beautiful baby girl, now almost 11 months old. I had a planned hospital birth, but it took an unexpected direction when my doula did not answer her phone and only arrived at the hospital about 10 minutes before my baby was born.
In contracting with a doula, I did not wish to set myself up for a scenario in which I “failed” to meet my “goal,” but I wanted to try to pursue an unmedicated birth. I also knew that a doula could provide important support even if I chose medication. Moreover, my first child had to go to the NICU right after birth and my husband felt torn between him and me. If that happened again, I knew my husband could go with the baby and the doula could stay with me.
I enjoyed working with the doula and thinking about how I could “reframe” pain and manage my panic in labor (panic is a big thing for me). I also prepared “birth affirmations” and put them on index cards for the doula to read to me when I started to panic during labor. I also read a wonderful book called The Big Book of Birth that gave much information about labor both physiologically and psychologically.
I sailed past my due date, frustrated that I kept not going into labor. I was in frequent communication with my doula via texting. The night I eventually went into labor, we probably exchanged ten texts.
I went to bed that night at 10pm but was too uncomfortable to sleep. Around 11:30pm or so, I began to have some painful contractions that required my full attention to breathe through — but they were only every seven to nine minutes. This went on until about 1:45am. Time-wise, it seemed way too soon to go to the hospital as I wasn’t having contractions very often, but in terms of intensity, these were way more intense contractions than anything I had with my son that early.
Finally, at 2am, I decided to wake my husband, and we left the house around 3:00am. The drive was hard and I cried through every contraction, which were now becoming quite regular, but I still coped much better than on the car ride with my first child. This is one area where I believe my prep work with the doula helped me. I was also more calm arriving at the hospital than the first time, taking breaks at the check-in counter to get through contractions, but not begging or acting panicky. I felt calm and optimistic.
I was however starting to worry about one thing — I had been texting and calling my doula for 90 minutes by that point, as had my husband, and she was not responding. So, I was starting to freak out a little that SHE was not there!
Around 3:45am, a nurse checked me and I was at 6-7cm and 100% effaced. I should have known from all my reading that I was about to hit transition, and that it would be really painful, but that it would also be really short, 15 minutes to an hour. I also should have known that transition panic is a normal psychological response and that it passes. I was prepared for this, and I had my affirmation cards, and my doula knew what to do to help me with the panic.
But my doula wasn’t there! And, unfortunately, I had not been insistent with my husband that I would want him to step in and read me those cards if she were not there. He had not prepared for coaching me through an unmedicated birth. That’s why we paid the doula! And he was hardly going to tell his panicking wife “you can do it” when it came to experiencing significant pain.
So, I requested an epidural. I was especially scared of pushing without my doula.
The contractions — all in my back — were becoming stronger and “double peaked,” and I was really doing OK with them. The only really bad part was that after the epidural went in, I had to lie flat on my back for it to take, and that was really hard to do with double peaked transition contractions. But, still, I breathed through them and I was not going crazy. I was coping.
Then, the doctor came in, and said, “Well you are at 10cm,” and she broke the membranes and pronounced the baby at +2 and predicted just three pushes.
AND THEN THE EPIDURAL HIT. My legs started shaking out of control, and I tried pushing, but I was too distracted by the shakes and just could not do it. She then said the baby’s head went back in a little further. She said that without the epidural, I would likely be almost done (“it is good you came when you did,” she said, “or you might have had this baby in the car.”), but that she now recommended that I lie on my side at elevation to help the baby drop a bit and to allow my body to adjust to the epidural.
I began to SERIOUSLY panic that somehow pushing would stall out and that I had been 3 pushes away from being done and would somehow end up with a c-section because of the damn epidural! My husband and the nurse helped calm me down, and after 20 minutes, I began to feel the confidence to follow my urge to push.
Around this time, the doula texted my husband. She had awakened and discovered all our communications. She had accidentally left her phone on silent when she went to bed.
Sans doula, I began to push. I had a pretty good epidural because I was totally able to initiate the pushing myself. At some point my doula arrived. I did a few more rounds of pushing, and then somebody told me to relax my face (maybe my doula?), and I remembered from my reading that we are not supposed to push with our faces and I realized I had been doing so. So, I concentrated on slackening my jaw and transferring all energy to my pelvis, and at that very push, I felt the baby crowning — there was no “ring of fire” pain because of the epidural, but I totally knew the baby was crowning. And then one push later I felt the baby come out. Again, I didn’t feel pain, but I totally felt her come out.
Then, it was exciting: my husband pronounced her a girl, and the best part of all, SHE CRIED. A LOT. Our son had not cried! I got to hold her for a really long time, breastfeed on both sides, and just KEEP HER.
Initially, I was frustrated at my doula for not answering her phone, but not angry. I was thrilled with my baby and I wanted only positive energy. I didn’t like it that the doula charged her full rate even though she arrived about ten minutes before delivery, but I just had my husband pay her because I was tired, and I wanted her to leave, and I wanted to focus on my amazing baby.
Over time, I have had more complicated feelings. I do truly believe it was an accident that she left her phone off, and I know she felt very bad. However, she never properly apologized.
Despite my complex feelings, I refuse to view a labor and delivery that results in a healthy baby and a healthy mommy as anything less than wonderful. And I got a lot of what I wanted — a spontaneous vaginal delivery, no pitocin, no catheter, and no episiotomy (I did have a level 2 tear, and I prefer tearing naturally to an episiotomy).
I also learned a lot about myself in the process. Even though I did get the epidural, I still withstood higher levels of pain with more calm than I ever would have thought possible. The reading I did and the birth affirmations I created were valuable exercises in helping me find more confidence in my body, as well as understand the process of labor and delivery more clearly.
I also learned about giving myself a break and cutting myself slack. I wish I hadn’t gotten the epidural, but I did, and that’s OK, and that’s that. Time to move on. And most important, I got an amazing beloved child at whom I marvel each and every day, and that is what (to me) matters most of all.