Why I hired a birth doula with my third child – A birth story.
We have three beautiful children and three completely different birth stories.
Scroll back in time to nearly a decade ago. I met Tim in a bar in San Francisco, California, at two am. He was a general surgery resident at my hospital and I was a adult and children’s recovery room nurse. We had lots in common: food, wine, exercise, and we were crazy about each other. He moved into my tiny studio apartment a month after we met each other and, three years later, we were married in San Francisco. Here we are years later living in Memphis with three children and many pets. We are still crazy about each other by the way, and have found we have lots of other things common – in particular, our love of children.
With our first pregnancy we found a great hospital, a terrific OB, and we read everything we could get our hands on about not “messing up” our child. My biggest worry was about breastfeeding my son and which babywearing carrier was the best for going to restaurants in our Pacific Heights neighborhood. I wasn’t worried about the birth or what would happen when I gave birth because I had been a critical care transport nurse and intensive care nurse and I had decided I would just do what my doctor said. I gained 50lbs and was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia around 36 weeks, and at 39.5 weeks I had to be induced. My birth went to hell from there on… I was admitted to the hospital, given an IV, started on Pitocin to push my labor along, and had to get an epidural because my pain was unbearable on the Pitocin. The next morning the OB broke my water, and I started actively pushing an hour later. I pushed for 2 hours while listening to my nurse tell me I wasn’t pushing properly. His head wasn’t coming through… At the two hour mark my OB told me we needed to have a c-section because he was stuck. During my c-section they strapped me to the table and I had a panic attack. I had never had that feeling of losing control and being scared before… Once the drape was up the doctors talked amongst themselves while it felt like they were digging for their keys in my uterus. My son wasn’t just stuck in my pelvis, he was acynclitic which means the side of his head was coming through my cervix, not the top of his head. My OB did not look at suture lines to even know he may have been repositioned, which may have prevented a c-section. My son had a terrible hematoma to his poor head from me pushing the wrong side of his head through the opening. Once in the recovery area I remember passing in and out of consciousness. Little did I know that my husband found a bed full of blood that no one had noticed – it was a postpartum hemorrhage, and my hemoglobin level dropped to five. I ended up requiring two blood transfusions the following day because I couldn’t raise my head without getting sick. We stayed in the hospital for 4 days. Once I was able to go home I battled postpartum depression and severe anxiety. I would sit in bed and cry all night watching my son breathe. I was terribly afraid of something happening to him. I would walk around the house and cry every day. I hid my sadness from everyone. I now see that my scary, traumatic birth pushed me into PPD.
For my second birth, I was obviously a lot more experienced, so I did a bit more research. My biggest goals were to have a vaginal birth after c-section (VBAC), to breastfeed for a year, and to not get PPD again. Again, I did what my physician recommended, so I scheduled a c-section at 41 weeks just in case I didn’t go into labor on my own. At 38 weeks my water broke at 11pm, and so I took a shower and went to sleep because I had read that women take forever to have a baby after their water breaks. Well, I guess not my second child… I woke up at 3am with contractions every 7-8 minutes, and my husband was at work operating on someone else’s child and he had just finished his case. He was a pediatric surgery fellow then, so when he was on-call he had to spend the night in the hospital. Luckily he was able to jump in a cab and hurry home. We made it back downtown and in the hospital by 4am. When I arrived at the triage center I was already completely dilated and effaced, so we made it to a birthing room rather quickly. I begged for something to release my pain, so I received a spinal instead of an epidural since I was too far along and anesthesia was refusing to see me while I was in active labor. They finally sent their boss with a spinal since I was screaming my head off and in the fetal position in the bed. No one told me to be in any other position or to do anything differently, so I laid there screamed and begged for death during contractions. After I received my spinal the nurses told me when and how to push: the whole push for 10 seconds, hold your breath, feet in stirrups, and etc. My OB was a fellow in training, and never blinked an eye when she read in my chart that I wanted a VBAC birth. I pushed a couple of times and right before they told me he was about to come out she said I was going to tear really badly and I needed an episiotomy, so she cut me. My son had his cord wrapped around his neck, so she told me to push really hard once and she wanted him out. Done! At 5:38 am we had our second son in my arms while the hubs cut the cord, and my son latched on my breast for the first time in his life. They then stitched me up and only took my son away for a couple of minutes before giving him back to me. It felt wonderfully exhilarating to have just given birth and be holding my child and not be in a recovery room being treated like a sick patient.
We were moved to our room and were discharged home 24 hours later. Over the next few days we had to have lots of trips to the pediatricians office for bilirubin tests. Bennett had a really high level and was pumpkin orange with jaundice. We ended up spending 36 hours in the NICU with my son under the fluorescent lights. I stayed in the hospital NICU with my son and breastfed him every 2 or 3 hours.
Ok, so third pregnancy… we have now moved to Memphis. I had already met lots of “crunchy” mommas who were totally into breastfeeding, natural birth, co-sleeping, cloth diapers, and babywearing. Woo hoo! I thought for sure finding a naturally-minded OB would be easy in this town full of crunchy mommas. Well no… Most obstetricians do not like VBACs and talk about c-sections like they are easy and no big deal. My husband has stressed to me over and over that surgery can lead to complications, so if it isn’t needed “don’t do it.” Remember my husband is a general pediatric surgeon. Crazy right? A surgeon telling you not to have surgery if it isn’t really needed. I ended up interviewing multiple OB’s and found a wonderfully nice woman who had been practicing for a long time and seemed completely comfortable with my VBAC and all natural birth.
So the third pregnancy progressed and I hired a birth doula to help me during the birth. We met a few times, developed my birth plan, and then waited for my little girl to be ready to meet us. My doctor started pushing her “ideal birth” recommendations on me at 36 weeks. She asked me if we could put an epidural in during labor so that we would have it for an emergency. Well that was a big “no thank you doctor.” That conversation definitely put me on guard with her since she clearly hadn’t been listening to me this whole pregnancy. I gave my doula a heads up about my not-so-naturally minded doctor.
My doula, by the way, is a midwife in training, so she has tons of experience with natural births. She is a pretty brunette who is polite, funny, speaks the truth, she has a great smile, and she is truly a likable person. She also has five kids, so she gets it.
I was 38 weeks and 3 days when I went into labor with our daughter. I had had some contractions throughout the night and woke up at 7am with contractions every 8 or 9 minutes. I packed my bag, cooked breakfast for the boys, and called my mom and told her to get in the car and start her 4 hour drive. My hubs and the boys dropped me off at the hospital with my doula at 10:30am. My hubs went home and waited for my mom to show up. I arrived at the hospital at 7cm and completely effaced with contractions every 4-5 minutes. My first negative experience happened when we arrived at the hospital and was told that my OB was on her way to deliver me. What? Well it so happens that my OB told me her partner that was on-call was not VBAC friendly, so she came in to deliver me herself. One of the questions I had asked my OB when I first interviewed her was “Are all of your partners VBAC friendly?” And she had said “Yes.” When my OB arrived I was having contractions every 2-3 minutes and I was standing beside the bed trying to keep my hips moving to help with the pain. My doula was putting a warm cloth to my perineum, and counter pressure to my back. My OB walked in and asked to break my water and put a scalp monitor on my baby. WHAT THE HELL? Where is my naturally minded, VBAC friendly OB that I had carefully interviewed? Who replaced her with this woman who was sweetly smiling at me while she mumbled something about a “perfect world”? Then she proceeded to whisper to the nurse in the corner. Now I’m just in pain and ready to leap out of the bed and shake my OB. I had to change positions and get in the bed because my back labor was becoming unbearable. I squatted in the bed while holding the head board and remember telling my doula “I don’t want to do this anymore.” My contractions were every 15 sections or so. My water broke while I was squatting on the bed. My OB told me that she was not comfortable with me delivering in the squatting position and would like me to get on my back and put my feet in the stirrups. She got another big huge “no” from me. This is not how I planned my birth… I was starting to push on my own because my body was ready and telling me when to push. There was none of that counting to ten stuff with this one. My body was making me push my baby girl out. My OB finally needed some control and she was clearly uncomfortable with me delivering in the squatting position (which felt completely comfortable and natural by the way), so she said I could push while laying on my side. She still tried to get me to get in the stirrups, and I remember yelling at her to let go of my leg… By this time my baby is seconds from coming out. The whole time this is all happening my doula was telling me what was happening with my body and baby, she was encouraging my efforts, and telling me that my body was doing what is natural. I was able to have some control over the situation by knowing what was happening and feeling confident. I pushed my baby girl out at 1:33 pm and she immediately went to my chest. My little girl had a perfectly round shaped head. Since my water didn’t break until a few minutes before she came out that must have cushioned her head. My doctor then told me she was hanging pitocin to help me deliver the placenta, and again she got a “no” from me. You would think when I told her no interventions and no meds that would have registered in her brain. I never once asked for an epidural or pain meds. I was able to deal with the pain because my doula provided me with information throughout the entire birth process. I had control because I knew what to expect. I had to get stitches from a small grade 1 tear, so I held my baby girl while the doctor stitched me up. My baby girl immediately latched after birth. I was beside myself with happiness. My husband was amazed and in tears. He said he couldn’t believe how beautiful and easy this labor seemed.
We were transferred to my room, and my little one never left my chest. She only went in that box with wheels when I needed to go to the restroom. I propped myself up with pillows and we slept skin to skin and I fed her every 30 min to every hour whenever she was ready. The next day my doula dropped off some amazing essential oils and some witch hazel for my peri bottle and holy wow did that help my stitches. We were discharged from the hospital and at 40 hours after birth my breastmilk had come in. At 72 hours after my birth my baby girl had already regained her birth weight. These are all things that never happened with my first two babies. That skin to skin contact, feeding her every 30 to 60 minutes, and co-sleeping definitely told my body to make milk quicker. I was amazed.
This last birth was everything I wanted in a birth. This natural VBAC birth would never have happened had it not been for my amazing doula. She was everything I needed in a friend and a coach for my birth. I think of her now as family. She helped me bring my gorgeous baby girl into the world and I will forever be appreciative of her.