*Trigger warning: Some birth details get graphic.
My journey as a doula began over 10 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child. My husband and I, high school sweethearts, married in college and were eager to start growing our family. We anticipated having kids at a young age so that, Lord-willing, we could enjoy our empty nest years as still young people, ourselves. So, at the age of twenty-one I was happy to find out I was pregnant.
I had never seen childbirth before and had never really considered what I would want out of it. Being young, none of my friends had gone through childbirth before. I set out on my own to research birth. My husband’s childhood neighbor was a natural-leaning family, and the mother delivered her children at home. My husband was loosely familiar with childbirth in that he saw it as a normal, non-medical event in the case where there is no counter-indication. He suggested that I research homebirth and midwives. I devoured books, websites, blogs, and YouTube videos of births. I was fascinated with the prospect of having my baby in the comfort of my own home with a midwife that I had built a strong relationship with. We hired a lay midwife, meaning she learned through apprenticeship instead of academia, and I began seeing her regularly for prenatal appointments.
The pregnancy went smoothly. After 4 months, my morning sickness went away and I felt great. We decided to keep the gender a surprise and painted the nursery a pretty sky blue. As the birth drew near, I gathered all the necessary supplies for a homebirth. Forty weeks came and went, along with forty-one and forty-two. I was incredibly anxious and entirely over the pregnancy. At 42+3, my midwife suggested that I drink castor oil every 3 hours. I mixed it into a milkshake with peanut butter ice cream and forced it down at 8 am, 11, am, and 2 pm. Castor oil is a natural method of induction because it works to release the bowels, which in turn can encourage the uterus to begin contracting. As the day went on, I sat and talked with my husband and we took a trip to the local thrift store to walk around.
Contractions started in the late afternoon and I took to them pretty well. My midwife and her two assistants came over to check on my progress at 5 pm and I pleaded with her to not make me drink anymore castor oil. I was still early on in dilation so they headed off to dinner while I made my way upstairs to get into the bath. Warm water has always been where I go to retreat when life gets hard, so naturally the bath was calling to me. My husband busied himself in the kitchen making dinner as I was doing really well staying focused by myself. I called out to him around 6 pm and asked him to time my contractions. They were coming consistently every 2-3 minutes so he called the midwife to come back to the house. They wrapped up their uneaten dinner and rushed over.
After one quick look at me, she told me to get out of the tub and into the bed. Warm water typically slows labor down, but it had the opposite effect on me. The next 2 hours were a blur. Contractions came strongly and quickly and I just tried to hang on for the ride. My baby daughter was born vaginally and unmedicated at 8:46 pm. It was one of the single most exhilarating moments of my life. After the placenta was delivered, I began hemorrhaging due to a retained piece of the placenta. My husband administered a quick shot of Pitocin into my thigh to encourage my uterus to contract and expel the remaining bit of placenta. My midwife quickly went into action, knowing that if she could not get it out soon, we would need to transfer to the local hospital. With one quick look at me she said, “Take a deep breath. This isn’t gonna feel good.” Before I could ask, she put her hand into my vagina, into my dilated cervix, into my uterus to feel around for and scoop out the retained placenta. Dear Heaven. I was immediately sick, and the midwife assistant expected it as she sat beside me with a bucket. Thankfully, the midwife retrieved the remaining placenta and my uterus began its convoluting process. I ended up losing 4 pints of blood, which is three times more than what is common. My baby girl was precious and perfect and didn’t mind hanging out in my arms while we took care of the bleeding.
The rest of the evening was really wonderful. We all got cleaned up and the midwife’s assistants made the bed with fresh linens. Dinner was eaten and we were cozied up in bed with the midwife waving goodbye before midnight. Even with the hemorrhage, which was a scary event, I felt so happy with my birth experience. I felt heard and in control and supported. Later births would prove more difficult, more emotional, and more life-changing. But here, in the space after my first birth, as a young woman and now mother, I felt empowered by birth. My enthusiasm for birth as a passionate career choice had just begun.
To be continued...