GUEST POST: By: Gretchen Covine, Mom of 3
(Please note that this blog is simply the sharing of the birth of my first son. It is in no way, shape or form to be taken as medical advice. Some of this story does, in fact, go against Doctors’ advice.)
You know how when you are pregnant you get a lot of advice from well intentioned family, friends, and even strangers? Well there are two pieces of advice that I received while I was pregnant with my first child that ultimately lead to deciding to have a Doula present for our first son’s birth, Michael. Here are those two pieces of advice:
- “Look at your health care like any other major purchase in your life and be an educated consumer”
- “Check out the birthing classes at the YMCA, they are cheaper and they teach you about the physiology of the baby’s birth, whereas the hospital’s birthing classes are more like a tour of the hospital and explaining their process”
We took this advice to heart and became informed. My husband has a natural understanding of and interest in science, medicine, and biology and I was obviously personally invested in the situation. So, we enthusiastically read, researched, and digested information on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and childrearing. It was during the second (of 4 – 6) birthing class that both my husband and I looked at each other and asked… “What do you think about having a Doula for the birth?”
Both Tony and I like our space so the idea of having a stranger present during a very intimate experience did not appeal to us. However, by this time we had learned a lot and what it had taught us was that there was a lot of information and variables involved. It could be very helpful to have an experienced personal advocate present to help us navigate the child birth experience. If the shoe was on the other foot and I had to help Tony get through a major health experience, I am sure I would appreciate the help of a more experienced and objective individual especially the first time.
By this time, we were hoping for a natural childbirth. My mother had 8 natural childbirths and my pregnancy and personal health history gave no indications that we would have any problems delivering a healthy baby naturally. However, even now with three healthy, completely natural childbirths under our belt, my husband and I agree that any birth that ends with mother and baby safe and sound are successful births. We knew there could be a point in each of our labors or births where we may decide to abandon the natural child birth plan. We figured that there would be many times during the experience where we needed to make the right decisions in order to obtain our desired outcome and so it would give us an extra piece of mind to have the Doula present.
Tony is an excellent birth partner and has played a major role, much more substantial than that of the nurses or doctors in the births of the boys. Even the Doula praised Tony for his skill and aptitude in the task at hand during the labor with Michael. Since Michael’s birth we have had many people encourage us to have home births. But to be honest, Tony and I know doctors and hospitals save lives in unexpected circumstances and we want to be near them should we need them. Besides birth is a pretty messy activity and we really like being somewhere where they do all the cooking and cleaning for a couple of days. However, we can definitely understand why people go that route, as so far the actual Doctors have played very insignificant roles in my birth stories. Fortunately, we have not encountered breech babies or other unexpected circumstances in our personal experience.
Okay, so we got our Doula squared away and a birth plan outlined and written up a couple weeks before our due date. We were to call our Doula when we started labor. We had met both our primary and our back up Doula.
So finally on to the part about the night my first baby was born. My water started to leak while I was finishing up my day at work. I say “leak” because I have now experienced “water breaking,” but at the time I just knew water was showing up. I got a little frazzled as I was still at work which was a good 45 minutes through Tampa traffic to home and I have no idea what is about to happen or how quickly. So first, I get myself taken care of in the rest room. In my frazzled state, I forget to put the belly support belt I have been wearing for the last couple of weeks of fighting gravity and losing back on. I left it in the work bathroom where everyone on the entire floor would know it is mine. Given I was the only pregnant woman on the floor and we all had been watching my expanding growth and increased waddle in awe for months.
So I get in the car and head home. I call my husband who gets a change of clothes and our hospital bag and starts heading towards me in case things develop quickly and I can’t make it all the way home driving myself. I call my Doula who starts heading to my home and my boss, who finds it amusing that I am calling her instead of focusing on what I am going through, but I really wanted someone to get my belly belt out of the bathroom for me before too many people saw it. Once I realized I had left it, I was a little upset about leaving my under garments in a public bathroom and I could not turn back myself.
I make it almost all the way home without any further developments. About 5 minutes from my house my water really does break and my husband leads the rest of the trip home so he can run interference should any neighbors be outside or anything while I pull into the garage and run straight into the house. I am now soaking wet and the last thing I want is an audience. I thank God this did not happened in the office and my husband starts cleaning up his first birthing mess of the evening. Once in the house and cleaned up I call the hospital because that is what they tell you to do when your water breaks. The hospital says to come in to be checked. However, my water was clear and I am not showing any other labor signs and my Doula is almost to the house. So we decide to wait a little while, at least until after some dinner and maybe some developments. This all started about 5:30 pm and is now about 6:30 pm. My Doula arrives and my husband makes a simple dinner while I rock on the birthing ball. We all eat without any developments and discuss our next steps.
The Doula takes inventory of our packing and preparations for the evening and hospital and recommends that we also take some fruit. We did not have any in the house at the time and so after instructing us on the next activity or two she wanted us to do to help stimulate contractions she ran to the store and bought grapes and apples. When she returned we still were not able to get any contractions going and so we all took a walk. It took almost 5 hours from the time my water started leaking until we got good productive contractions going. We did a lot of different things to get the contractions going including things like the birthing ball, walks, and nipple stimulation. We were quite a sight, Tony, the Doula, the dog and I were all out walking the neighborhood in the dark, bending and squatting along the way and stopping if we needed to while a contraction came and went. Around 10:00 or 11:00 pm I took a bath. This helped more than all of attempts beforehand to bring on my contractions consistently. Now that we finally had some developments my husband and I lay down in our room to rest for a bit and the Doula rested on the couch.
Around 1:00 am or so I awoke and got sick. At this point, Tony and the Doula talked and we all figured we would head to the hospital for this next stage of labor. That was my second mess of the day Tony cleaned up and got going in the washing machine. Since it was only going to get anymore messy, let’s head to the hospital. So we loaded up in the cars with our birthing ball, hospital bag, and necessary items. To this day, Tony and I both love the look the hospital staff gives when you come in with your birthing ball. However, the praise and respect they give once you have delivered that baby naturally makes up for that look. The look that says, “Alright, who wants to place bets on how long before she is begging for an epidural?”
Tony and I led in our car and the Doula followed in hers. While we were on the interstate heading to the hospital a cop pulled up behind us and Tony slowed down. We both laughed as a cop escort to the hospital would complete the night of water breaking in the car, throwing up in our bed, and walking and squatting in the neighborhood. Although it sounds awful when I say it like this, it was a wonderful evening and birthing experience. I was so happy when we arrived at the hospital (even without police escort). The car ride sitting on my bum was the most uncomfortable I had been up to that point. Once we were in the hospital they checked and confirmed that my water had broke and I was only three centimeters dilated. For a moment I was so disappointed… all that time and work and I was only three centimeters dilated. It was now about 8 or 9 hours since my water had broke and this was all the progress we had made. However, the Doula kept us moving from one activity or position to another and before we knew it, we went to 5 or 6 cm and then to fully dilated and pushing. The birthing ball and the rice sock we had made were great lifesavers for back labor. In all honesty Mike was not a very painful labor (Dave and Nick we much more painful, but faster too). We were in the hospital less than four hours and Michael was born.
I am very grateful for the role our Doula played in our first birth. I am not sure that Tony and I would have made it that many hours without contractions after the water broke without getting nervous and anxious. We probably would have gone earlier to the hospital and they probably would have recommended and started me on pitocin, given it had been several hours since my water broke. We probably would have caved in depending on the strength of their recommendation. I mean who really feels great and confident about going against what the hospital recommends when you are in a fragile state and concerned for the welfare of your unborn child? From what I have experienced with my three births, I am pretty sure that if given pitocin (which as I understand it, brings on your contractions very consistently like what I personally experience in my last hour or hours of labor) I would probably request an epidural. Those last hours of labor can be quite painful during the contractions and I am very grateful that it was always a short stage. I definitely would not want 12 or more hours of it.
So the Doula made a world of difference helping us calmly get through this those first hours without outward developments that we could see. Then through the more active stages of labor without medical intervention because she kept us changing to better positions and kept us moving and distracted. She helped Tony lead me and my breathing through the contractions to manage the pain. Chances are very great that we would have had a different experience had it not been for her calm, experienced, and confident presence. Tony and I were also very impressed with how she managed to support both of us through the experience. Tony still felt like the main birth partner and coach. While her presence was solid and appreciated, it was also like she was not even there at the same time. It felt completely natural to be with this stranger while in my most intimate and fragile state.
This is also important because it taught us and empowered Tony and I to do this again ourselves with the next children’s births. She even stayed after the birth long enough to get baby Michael and I through our first nursing to make sure I could get him latched on and nursed. This was ultimately very important in our overall breastfeeding success, but breastfeeding is its own story so we will save that for another day. Then she simply quietly slipped out and let Tony, Mike and I to bask in new baby bliss.
After the baby was born I was worn out, but having opted out of the epidural, etc. I was myself and able to get up and move around and participate with the baby and all the new baby activity. The human body and child birth are amazing. I am honored and blessed to have experienced it three times. Each birth is its own unique and incredible experience. So that is my story of my firstborn. Maybe, I will share the others another day.