I’m not very good at emotional posts. Ask me to write a craft or recipe post and I can pump that out like nobody’s business. But ask me to share something that brings tears to my eyes… and that’s a bit harder. It’s funny, because in real life I’m a very emotional person. You’ll often find me sharing stories with friends and family straight from my heart while tears fill my eyes. It’s somehow different writing those thoughts down. But today seems like the day to do it.
Both of my children recently celebrated their birthdays and each year that get’s me reminiscing about the day that each of them was born and the fabulous birth professionals that assisted me with bringing them into this world.
Bella, my daughter, turned 6 over the weekend. Her birth was emotionally traumatic for me. We found a midwife practice when I was 6 weeks pregnant with Bella and I immediately started visualizing what her birth would be like. I would labor in a tub, surrounded by my husband, mom, sister and midwife. Soothing music would be playing on the ipod and I would vocalize through the contractions moving into whatever position my body wanted me to be in. It wouldn’t matter how silly I looked, because I’d be surrounded by the people who I trusted the most. It would be as natural of a birth as possible.
I couldn’t wait to have my daughter flopped on my stomach after she exited the birth canal and to stare into her sweet little face while we waited for her umbilical cord to stop pumping before we cut it. I dreamed of watching the faces of my husband, mom, dad and sister as they were introduced to the first baby that had been born into our family in 26 years.
In reality, my birth story with Bella was pretty different. A high leak in my water caused an OBGYN to get involved in my birth before I was ready to be admitted to the hospital. I was put on her schedule for birthing rather than being able to listen to my own body. I was put on pitocin to get my body contracting more regularly, and then an epidural when the pitocin caused my body to have one big long never-ending contraction. I was forced to stay in one position because the heart rate monitor wouldn’t function if I moved around.
Worst of all, a hospital nurse told me that I was wasting everyone’s time by not consenting to a c-section because we all knew that was the direction I was heading in. Sure enough 1 hour later I was under the knife.
I barely remember seeing my daughter for the first time.
Here is what I remember about Bella’s birth:
I remember the pain as they ripped and tugged at my body. I remember trying to catch a glimpse of her once they removed her from my belly as they carried her to a little warming basket across the room to towel her off and check her over. I remember wincing in pain as my body was jerked back and forth as they vacuumed out my uterus. I remember my husband asking the anesthesiologist if I should be feeling things the way I was. Then I remember waking up in a strange room, my husband and daughter nowhere to be seen and this profound feeling of emptiness within my body. No kicks, no wiggles, just the sagging skin of my stomach that used to be filled with so much life.
I remember seeing my midwife standing at the nurses station and realizing that I was in recovery. I remember calling her over and her holding my hand, telling me that my baby girl was healthy and beautiful and that the hospital would tell me when I could be reunited with her again. I remember her telling me that my baby was with my husband and family down on a different floor in the room where we would be staying. I remember feeling a profound sense of loss that I had missed it all. I remember thinking that I never wanted to go through anything like this ever again and wondering how I would make that happen when I had my second child.
“When I was born did the doctor put me on your chest? Did you stare into my eyes and snuggle with me for hours, never wanting to let me go? What did Nana and Popa say when they saw me for the first time? Did Nana cry?”
These are the moments that I mourn for.
When I got pregnant with Adam I knew that I wanted things to be different. I started researching VBAC’s and the best ways to put yourself on a path for a successful VBAC birth. I knew that I wanted to labor for as long as possible in our home, frankly I didn’t want to go anywhere near a hospital and dreamed of having a home birth. Our midwives from Bella’s birth no longer serviced our area so it meant going out and finding new midwives.
The first midwife we visited was brutal.
“No midwife would ever consider letting you birth at home,” she told me. After asking about my first birth experience she said to me “It doesn’t sound like your body will ever be capable of birthing a baby naturally. I’m happy to act as your midwife throughout your pregnancy but we will probably schedule a c-section for a week or so before your due date.”
I left her office in tears. I had never even considered the fact that my body was incapable of having a vaginal birth. As we were driving home (me crying, my husband driving) my husband said to me “She’s not the one. We’ll keep looking.” I’m so glad that we did keep looking because we found a fabulous midwife team that gave us wonderful care and support throughout my pregnancy, birth and after.
One part of our birth team was complete, but we were still missing a vital part of our team… our doula.
In my research about VBAC’s I found a checklist about increasing VBAC success. The number one thing on the list said this:
Hire a Doula- Doulas reduce your chance of having a Cesarean birth by 50%. Doulas can help you avoid the interventions (pain medication, induction/augmentation) that make you more likely to have a Cesarean. Doulas protect your birth space and your desire for a VBAC.
Two lines in that paragraph stuck out to me. 1. Doulas reduce your chance of having a Cesarean birth by 50%. Seriously those are STAGGERING numbers when you are shooting for a successful VBAC.
2. Doulas protect your birth space and your desire for a VBAC. When I read this line I thought to myself “We need to find ourselves a pit bull. Someone who is so passionate about birth and advocating for women’s birth rights that they won’t let us get steamrolled. Someone who doesn’t have their own agendas and only cares about doing what is best for baby’s health and my well being.
I started researching doula’s and was lucky enough to find our perfect fit with Jessica Austin from Birth Takes A Village during our very first doula interview. Jessica had all of the traits that I was hoping for in a doula. She was passionate about birth. She was empathetic to my feelings of loss that I had around Bella’s birth. Most importantly she is extremely knowledgable about birth and advocates for women’s rights while birthing aka she is a pit bull if she feels like one of her birthing mamas is being trampled by doctors.
It turns out that a pit bull was exactly what I needed.
My labor with Adam was a beast. He didn’t come into this world until 4 days after my water broke. Through it all, Jessica was there for me. Putting Bella to bed at night when we didn’t have someone to watch her, picking up verbena from the store when I needed to drink “birth cocktails”, weighing in with her thoughts and feelings after each midwife and ultrasound check-in (did you know that your water replenishes itself so as long as you watch for signs of infection your baby is perfectly fine to just “hang out” after your water breaks?), showing my husband pressure points to press when my contractions got really bad, making him a sandwich when he didn’t want to leave my side, providing emotional support and through it all telling me that I needed to trust my body and that my body knew exactly what to do.
Basically Jess did it all. She was my best friend, my medical advisor, my babysitter, my chef, my shoulder to cry on, my acupressurist, my emotional support and my pit bull all rolled into one.
When it was finally time to go to the hospital, Jessica helped me control my feelings of fright about setting foot in a place that might lead me down the road that I had gone down during my first birth. I was confident that with Jess by my side what was best for my health and the health of the baby was what would be advocated for.
These are the things that I remember about the birth of my son:
I remember hitting active labor and flight or fight kicking in. I remember almost breaking my husbands nose as I head butted him because the pain was so bad. I remember screaming “FUCK!!!! I have to leave! I can’t do this anymore!!!” and ripping off the fetal heart rate monitor as I tried to run for the door. I remember Jessica pressing on pressure points on my back until her thumbs and my back were bruised. I remember her soothing me with the words “This is good, this is so, so good. This is what your body is made for. You CAN do it.” I remember the shock on everyone’s face when the OBGYN who I feared was going to “make me” have a c-section said “This woman is at 9 cm! What am I doing here?” I remember my body’s extreme need to push and being told that I could do it in whatever position was most comfortable for me. I remember reaching down between my legs and feeling my son’s head moments before he entered this world. I remember Jessica saying to me “You are doing so, so good. You are a birth warrior. You are almost there.” I remember the feeling of release and the gush of fluids and skin as my son slipped into this world. I remember having my son plopped on my chest and staring into his eyes for the first time and having that feeling of “I’ve known you forever, but we’ve only just met”. I remember not feeling empty, but instead feeling so full of life and happiness. I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait until my daughter laid eyes on her brother for the first time. I remember thinking that if my husband and I could do this, that we could do anything and that we were so, so strong. Perhaps most importantly… I remember. I remember all the details of my son’s birth. I don’t have any of the blacked out moments. I was present for it all.
I remember because of Jessica Austin. There isn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that I would have ended up having a repeat c-section if it wasn’t for Jess. Jess gave me the most amazing gift ever. The gift of a VBAC.
Jessica Austin, for that I thank you. You will always have a special place in my heart. When I think of the birth of either of my children you will always come to mind. You are the stuff that legends are made of. You my friend are the birth warrior. This is my love letter to you.
If you, like me, long to have a VBAC the very first thing you should do is find yourself a doula.
Looking for a doula in Canada or interested in becoming a doula yourself? Here are some resources:
To Become a Doula- Holistic Doula Certificate Program website and Facebook page
Practitioner directory- Pacific Rim College website, Facebook page and Twitter page
Tell me… What were your birth experiences like? Did you use a doula? Have you considered hiring a doula for VBAC success?
Beautiful. Thanks for sharing Crystal.
This is so beautiful Crystal. I am glad you had a good birth experience. We all deserve it and it continually shocks me how many of us just don’t get it.
I cried reading this entire post. Thank you for sharing. I love you and am so proud of you.
This brought back memories of my own traumatic first birth experience and being separated from my baby. So happy you went on to have the second birth you wanted! Thanks for sharing!!
Beautiful, Crystal. Thank you for sharing your birth stories.
Gloria Lemay says
Such a beautiful acknowledgement of Jessica. Knowing how many times she’s had her heart broken when she just can’t get a woman through without surgery and how tired she can get after a birth that takes days and she’s all on her own, I know it really helps to get a love letter and be reminded that her birth work makes a difference. She’s a very special woman and I’m so happy for you that you got to have her with you for your son’s birth. Gloria Lemay, Vancouver.
Jessica | Birth Takes a Village says
Crystal, I commented on facebook but I just want to comment here in a more “permanent” place. I think of your birth often, and speak about it often when I train new doulas through Wise Woman Way of Birth and when I prepare new clients for their births. Your commitment to creating a different birth experience for yourself, for making informed choices and setting yourself up for an amazing VBAC is so inspiring. I am so honoured to have been invited to Adam’s birth, and well up with tears every time I see this post shared! Thank you for the acknowledgement (so generous of you), but more importantly, thank you for sharing your story to inspire other women as they prepare for having their own amazing VBAC experiences! You rock! <3 <3
Wow this is an amazing article. It literally brought tears to my eyes! I feel like doulas are such amazing beings that really empower us mothers to be the best birth worriers possible. I just gave birth 5 weeks ago to my daughter and we had a doula there as well. It’s such an amazing experience!
Thank you so much Whitney for your very kind words. Doula’s are indeed an amazing breed of people. 🙂
Congratulations on the birth of your little girl!
I am so glad to see this profession is a positive light.
I became a doula when my daughter had her first (6 years ago). Took all the training, got certified as both birth and post-partum doula, became a Certified Lactation Counselor, and was offered a position at a local hospital IF I would recertify in Canada (a much better program).
Alas, in my local area we got a bad rep due to confusion about midwives and doulas (doulas do NOT catch babies as I see you have noted) when several untrained ‘doulas’ made hideous mistakes which hit the headlines in our papers. It was awful, to say the least.
I could not afford to train in Canada and have not been able to work much as a doula here, but would love to. I have helped a select few over the years, and I am the pit bull type as well, especially after seeing the way my daughter was treated even though she had a wonderful midwife!
I love your story.
Thanks so much for sharing it.
Keep your good work up! You are a blessing.
Doulas can be amazing but they can also be horrific.
In my excitement at becoming pregnant for the first time, I hired a doula when I was 6 weeks pregnant after the complimentary Skype conversation she advertised on her website.
As any Type-A with a PhD does, I researched her thoroughly and she appeared to be a member of lots of organizations, best doula in Orlando etc.
Unfortunately – two weeks later – I discovered the baby had died at my first OBGYN appointment (missed miscarriage).
Not only was the miscarriage itself traumatic – the doula sent a long email informing me (in capital letters!) that her fee was non-refundable – even though she had only been my “doula” for 2 weeks, we’d never met in person and she’d not provided any services at all.
In the end she refunded half of what I paid her “to bring the matter to a close”, but I remain horrified that I had to agitate for a refund at such a devastating time. The fact that she profited from the miscarriage still turns my stomach.
Alisha I’m so sorry to hear you went through that… both your loss and the way you were treated by your doula. I suffered from a miscarriage as have many of my friends, and I know how devastating it is. To have someone that you trusted enough to allow them be in your birth space show that lack of feeling is horrific. As with all professions, I’m sure there are fabulous doulas and horrible ones. I’m sorry that you had a horrible one. I was very lucky to have a doula who was amazing. I would recommend her to anyone.
Big hugs and best wishes,