In my doula work I have witnessed 38 women become mothers.* With each birth it has been my honor to watch not only the birth of a baby, but the birth of a mother. It really is one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever seen. And I think I've seen some cool things in my lifetime. Not much compares to birth.
This post, Mamas, is dedicated to you. The ones that have welcomed me into their birth story, that have allowed me to hold their hand and witness their vulnerability and their strength.
I see you, Mama. I watched you become one and I know the hard work you have been doing since day one. I remember your calm demeanor when I arrived to be with you. The look on your face that said "Oh I'm fine. But thank goodness you're here." The release of tension now that you had someone to hold your hand AND someone squeeze your hips, you and your husband are no longer alone. I did what I do in my work and I watched you move the way you needed. I breathed with you, I held you, I encouraged you to do what feels right. You moaned, moved, cried, laughed, asked questions, needed reassurance. It may not have seemed so at the time, but you knew what you needed to bring your baby. And you may think that you didn't do much, but I can tell you, Mama, you did it all. I followed your lead. Your strength and stamina were amazing. In tough times they say the only way out is through, you went into that tunnel and found the light on the other side. You harnessed a vulnerability that one rarely sees, turned it on it's side to be used to benefit you at that moment and YOU birthed YOUR baby.
Be it a cesarean birth or a vaginal birth, you birthed this tiny human, that you created and kept safe for months. You also became a mother. In an instant. Two new lives now lay in front of me; one brand new taking their first breath, the other the same body with a whole new purpose and view on life. Some say that transitional moments leave marks on your body, in many, many cases of pregnancy this is so honest and true. But some other moments also leave a mark on places you can't so much as see but much more feel. You, my beautiful powerful Mama, left a mark within me. To witness life, changes you. Every birth I watch, I am changed for the better.
I became a mother and because of my journey, I became a doula. And I thank you today and ever more for allowing me to be a part of your birth journey. You are the reason I do what I do. The power within you empowers me.
And Happy Mother's Day.
Love, Your Doula
*I use the word "mother" and not the term "birthing person" because I have witnessed only cisgender women give birth. I do however, fully support the LGBTQ community and all terms associated.
Have you felt that yet? That moment when your baby looks at you and you think "Oh there you are. There I am. I've known you forever." It's a magical moment, one that you didn't even know you were waiting for.
My moment was the day my son was a week old and it was just us at home. I think my husband had run an errand and my son and I had the whole house to ourselves. I was still in that post-birth glow, or at least I felt like I was. And we were getting ready to snuggle down in bed, nurse and watch Netflix. (My postpartum show of choice was Friday Night Lights, uh hello Tim Riggins.) I was sitting up in bed, my baby boy on the my knees, we looked right at each other and it was an overwhelming sense of peace. Like I had been made for this moment with this baby and everything I had experienced had fallen to second place.
It was a glorious moment, one I actually caught on film.
Wasn't he a cutie?
But seriously, he made eye contact with me and all was right with the world.
You moment will happen too. Maybe in the first hour, maybe the first day, maybe not until month 3, 7, 11, but it will happen. And it will feel like something a little spot inside was just filled up with goodness.
They say that birth changes you. One scientific study showed that giving birth actually does change the gray matter in a woman's brain.
Birth changes your relationship with your partner, with your other children and with yourself. No truer statement was ever said in my life, the birth of my son completely changed the trajectory of my life. And this post is his birth story.
I'm not going to give you the 9 month details just the labor and delivery part. I had my son 4 days before his due date, so the idea that first time mom's always go late did not ring true. I also had him on his oldest half-sister's birthday. I tried real hard to push him out before midnight, I did not succeed. About 3 weeks before I was due,I set a challenged for myself, to re-read all 7 Harry Potter books before he was born. It was in the heat of summer and it gave me something to do indoors besides TV. I made it about a third of the way through book 4. Maybe that was why he came early, "I'll show you mom. You'll never finish a book on time again! HA!"
My birthday is also in the heat of summer and we had lost power from a storm the night before so we went to my mom's from a little birthday brunch in the AC and then packed up the girls and went to hang at Lake Nokomis. The heat was so much and I was so pregnant, due in a week, and guessing I was going to go a week over.
(Author's note, I do keep using the words "due date" because it's easy. I am fully aware and in support of the concept of "guess date." Babies come when babies come.)
So we're at the lake, the girls are swimming and I am ignoring the tightening that keeps happening every now and then in my belly. But at one point I worked my way over to my husband and said "Either I'm occasionally peeing my pants or my water is slowly dripping out." Good thing my swimsuit was black.
My doula (and all doulas) said "Ignore the contractions until you just can't any more." So I did. I ignored everything so well I have no memory of what we did that evening. It was my birthday, I'm sure we did something. But I have no recollection of what it was. And thank goodness I've always been a good sleeper because I also don't recall having any contractions throughout that night.
But the next morning was a Sunday. After calling my doula and telling her what I experienced the day before, mild irregular contractions and some leaking fluid, she advised me to go about my day, continue to ignore them. So I did. A friend from college was in town, (a doula herself) and we had planned to meet for coffee. We talked birth, her job, what I was hoping for in my birth, reminisced about college, discussed family. I got up once to use the bathroom and oh goodness, the fluid. It's funny, it always feels like so much, it's not. Until it really breaks, but the trickle really is that, a trickle.
After we said goodbye and I went home, it was a picture perfect day. The sun was out, it wasn't too hot, the windows and doors of our house were open, there was a breeze, the local radio station, The Current, was on playing on our radio. It was a perfect day to go into labor. I think I got home about 10:30 or 11 am. The girls were at our house and we all were just enjoying the Sunday. I was still in the ignoring mindset, so I'd have a contraction and my husband would say "Honey, I think you're having a contraction."
I'd reply "No. Now shhhh. Give me a mintue."
"Sarah, you're doing exactly what she did in our class. This is a contraction." (also showing the importance of Childbirth Education!)
"No, it's just... just hold on." I was ignoring them, I was supposed to ignore them. I try to do as I'm told.
This went on for the rest of the morning until early afternoon. A funny little thing about my birth story is that I was really and I mean REALLY looking forward to drinking an entire Bell's Two Hearted beer after I gave birth. But I was in labor on a Sunday and at the time, no liquor store was open in MN on Sundays. (Dumb. They have since learned the error of their ways.) After one of my contractions my hubs says to me, "You know, babe, if you have the baby today, there is no Two Hearted. Liquor stores aren't open." Well, don't ever tell a laboring woman she can't have something. I spun on him and quite sternly said "Call your brother! Get him over here! He always has Two Hearted in his fridge. Get him over here!"
The men delivered. My brother in law showed up within the hour with 4 Two Hearteds for us to take with. I do remember being very grateful he came through but I also remember him not really knowing what to do with my moans and breathing and such through my contractions. (He's a pro now, two beautiful girls, my nieces.) But needless to say, he didn't hang out for long. Dropped off the beer, wished us good luck and then he was out. At some point, around 3 pm I think, things started to pick up. We called the girls' mom and she came to pick them up. And I continued to labor and breathe and move as needed. I do remember absolutely loving the breeze and the music. It was calming and familiar.
So, for those that haven't birthed yet, here's some nitty gritty for you; you do poop and puke before baby comes. Yes, as you push too, but it may come out both ends for a bit during labor. It's just your body making room for baby. No big deal. So I laid on the couch with some pillows and a bowl on the floor and cool cloth on my forehead, listened to The Current, and threw up and pooped when needed. It was real. Nothing glamorous, no special poses, no special lighting, I just did what felt right. My left side was my comfort throughout the pregnancy, so laboring on that side felt right too. My husband packed up our car for the stay at the hospital, timed contractions occasionally. And we called our doula. At about 7:30-8pm she listened to a few contractions over the phone and suggested it was time to go in. So we started to head out the car. But not before I took off my eye make-up. I knew I was in for a bit of a long haul and I didn't want to me all mascara smudgy.
I walked into the hospital and to the 4th floor. Maybe it was 2 or 3, whatever floor it was I took the elevator to it. And this was where it got annoying; people needing to ask me questions and questioning my answers.
I.E. Triage nurse: "When did your water break?"
Me: "Yesterday. I think."
Nurse: "Yesterday?! Why didn't you come in?!"
Me: "I didn't want to."
Seriously, why do they ask questions like that? 1. A laboring woman isn't going to be too pleased to have her reasons questioned. And 2. The fact that I didn't come in yesterday doesn't change the fact that I am here now, so get a move on!
So after they take all my info, I go into a triage room and they want to confirm that my water really has broken. Just a little strip of paper they place at your labia and if it changes color, water has broken. It was, like I had said. And then there was a cervical check. Knowing what I know now, I should have turned it down, but I said OK. And man alive, did she check me. Just shoved her whole big gloved hand right up there, no "OK, here's my touch." or "Little pressure here." Just up and in. And hard. So she immediately was on my Shit List. Good thing I didn't see her again. But yes, water was broken, I was dilated to a 3 (A three. Talk about disappointment. But as I have learned and experienced, the number means nothing.) and then they stand me up to go to a delivery room. And the gush of fluid that came out when I stood up, OH MY GOD. It went everywhere! I even said something like, "Oh god, there is fluid coming out. So much fluid. This is so gross!" I made everyone laugh. And I guess that cervical shoving nurse got hers because it went all over her shoes.
Anyway, I get in the room and at about 3 minutes in, I'm naked and wanting to get in the shower. (FYI for those getting ready to birth their first, don't worry about what you're going to wear. 95% of the time you want it all off anyway. It's too hot, scratchy, tight, etc. And it's not like those around you haven't seen that all before.) The shower was the one moment I had were I thought "I can't do this." It was really hard and I was in there alone, my people were in the bathroom but I was in the shower alone and it was tough. I do remember my doula saying I was doing great with following my body and my breath. During contractions I could not sit still. Which is good, when mom is moving, baby is moving.
45 minutes I was in the shower. They wanted to monitor the baby and the contractions. And the asked if they could do another cervical check. This one was much better. I was complete. Which goes to show you that I came in at a 3 and I think it was about 2-3 hours later I was at a 10. Time to push.
I remember my first few pushes were loud, I was doing that mama growl they talk about. Loud and guttural. I also got a vision of a ham all wrapped up in that string for meats, being thrown down a hallway. No idea what that means. And during my first several pushes, my eyes closed yet I would get a vision of red. Just bright fire engine red would flood my minds eye. (My doula said afterward that red is the color of power. Awesome.) She also corrected me on my vocalization. I had so much energy coming out of my mouth that I wasn't having enough to push. Keep my mouth closed and send it down to my butt. OK. I like to think I'm good at following directions. But I also have no problem speaking my mind. I think it was shift change and there were nurses in the room discussing me, my care, my labor. And I called them on it, "Are you guys on shift change? Can you go talk outside?" And they did. Speak up for yourselves, mamas. You're not sick, you're not a patient. They are there to care for you, not the other way around.
Pushing started at a little before 11pm. The day before was my birthday and the day after would be my oldest step-daughter's birthday. She even said when I found out my due date (July, 24th) "You better not have him on my birthday." OK, I'll do everything I can to keep him in there. Prepping to be in labor after the 24th, never once did I think I'd go early. So in between the first several pushes, I noticed the time and gave myself 1 hour to push out this kid. So we all could have our own birthdays. I did not succeed. He was born nearly 4 hours later. Oops.
I pushed on my left side for 4 hours. I think had someone firmly said "Sarah. You need to get up and switch positions. This baby needs a new pathway." I would have listened. But my team was soft spoken and like many women in labor, I DID NOT want to move. So my left side it was. For 4 hours. Eesh. My right hip kept cramping, I was sweaty as hell, and months afterward when I asked my husband if I pooped he responded with "Oh man, it was like a playdough factory." Great and gross. And thank you for not saying anything at the time.
The nurse was pretty hands-off which I appreciated (except, go ahead and wipe my ass, please.) And my husband said at one point "Sarah, his ear! I can see his ear!" and I seemed to come out of the internal trance I was in and thought "Oh thank God, his head is almost out!" I think a few more pushes, the last few with me reaching down to pull him out myself; yep, I did that. The OB even said when I reached down "Hold on, his arms aren't out yet!" I wanted my son and I wanted him now. Once his arms were out, I put the thumbs under his armpits and pulled him up onto my chest. It was glorious and absolutely prefect.
Riley Hennessy 8 pounds 3 ounces, 21 inches long. 7/20/15 2:54am
I was in labor for over 24 hours, maybe closer to 36. But I only really count from about early afternoon the day before. So around 12-15 hours of labor. Not bad for a first time mom. I'm telling you ladies, ignore those contractions until it's the only thing you can focus on. It helps make labor not seem so long. I was unmedicated, didn't ask for anything once. It honestly didn't cross my mind. I had a bit where I thought I couldn't do it, but it never became too painful. However, I have become a proponent of medication after birth. My placenta didn't release and the OB had to rip it out of me in chunks. Had I known, I would have asked for something for that. I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone. I do tell clients and anyone having any medical procedure done for that matter, "Stay ahead of the pain, don't chase it. If they offer you painkillers after birth, take them."
I am really damn proud of myself. I followed my body, I mostly stood up for myself, I pushed out my son without meds and pulled him onto my chest myself. I am a badass mother. And yes, I had that beer. It was delicious.
I encourage all expectant mamas and any mama who has given birth, own your birth story. Write it down. Tell those that want to listen. It is a monumental moment in your life and it deserves to be honored. You deserve to be honored. You grew an entire human and brought it Earth side. That is really fucking awesome.
Remember the feeling of peer pressure and judgement growing up? I remember when I first noticed how what you look like, how you dress, what you carry with you started to define who I was to everyone else. I was in 5th grade and those Esprit canvas tote bags were THEE bag to carry. And you knew you were going to be in the Cool Crowd if you got a new set of Multiples to wear on the first day of school. I also remember thinking a few years later, "I can hardly wait until I'm grown-up and I won't have to care about what other people think."
Ha. Yeah right.
Cue parenthood. I could say "Cue adulthood" but it's worse in parenthood, specifically motherhood. What is it about seeing another woman being the mom she knows how to be that puts so much judgement on them and second guessing on ourselves?
The pressure to be This kind of mom who only does This thing or who would never do That thing all the while trying to navigate the foreign world of a newborn is enough to send anyone to the nuthouse. The Beatles had it right "Live and let live." Why is that so hard? I mean, we all know what's best, right? And our own mothers know the most, right? So why not tell it to anyone that will ask, right?
Uh no. A BIG FAT NO. No no no.
Commiserating is one thing. Bonding, listening, sympathizing. But it's that unwelcomed-didn't-ask-for-mind-your-own-beezwax talk that really gets my goat. I blame social media. Our parents didn't have the world at their fingertips and we turned out just fine. And just as important, so did they. They didn't have Google and Facebook and Mommy Groups, they had a phone and pen and paper. Ahhhh, simpler times. But truly, without the immediate reaction from someone else or the yahoo answers from some fool who claims to know all, our parents managed not to kill us and raised pretty rad humans.
I left all the breastfeeding groups I was a part of on facebook because of the amount of backlash I got when I said I fed my son formula. I didn't make enough milk, I didn't use the resources at hand to solve the problem and I HATED pumping. So when I went back to work I sent formula with my son to daycare, he was fed and cared for, that was all I wanted. But I had women who didn't know anything of my situation saying "You're poisoning your child." "I can't believe you don't think breast is best." "You clearly haven't done your research on the benefits and risks of what you are doing." Thanks for nothing, ladies. So, Deuces. I'm out. And the relief I felt once I no longer saw those posts pop up on my page.... it was the same sort of relief in my head and heart as it was physically when I finally got to stretch my legs out straight after giving birth. You know that feeling, the best, most relieving, so damn tight stretch of your life.
The pressure of social media to do what everyone else thinks is right for you and your babe is ridiculous. It's like someone is going to come take away your Mom Card if you let baby sleep in a rock and play longer than so many hours a day. Friends, I'm here to tell you, that ain't going to happen. You are going to be a mother forever. No matter if you breastfeed for a month or 3 years, if you co-sleep from day one until kindergarten or if babe is in their crib at month 2, if you follow baby led weaning or if those pouches of fruit/veggies have been your saving grace multiple times (Ahem. Me.) I did breast, formula, side-sleeper, co-sleep (that 4 month sleep regression is a real B), only 2 hours of PBS in the morning to watching Finding Dory 3 times in 1 day, from as many Goldfish crackers he wants to a real balanced healthy meal. I did what works for us and my kid is pretty fabulous. Funny, articulate, healthy, huge, lovable, empathetic, curious.
My mom told me once that when I was still an infant she told the pediatrician that she was unsure how to be a good mom. And he said "You've never been a mom before. But baby has never been a baby before. They don't know when you screw up." Fact. Love your baby, feed them so they grow and are healthy, keep them safe, and do all you can to hold onto your sanity. If mama ain't happy ain't nobody happy. The rest all falls in line.
*Author's note: If you feel like you are struggling in motherhood, are unsure of who you are or how to parent. Or if you just need some extra support, please reach out. This website is a good place to start www.ppsupportmn.org/postpartumsupport You can also check out my Resources page. We are here for you.
Sarah: Birth doula, wife, mother, coffee and wine drinker, lover of beer, books and tattoos.