Becoming a doula has been a dream job of mine for years, so once I became pregnant I knew I wanted the support of a doula during my own pregnancy and birth.
When I met my doula Claire for the first time, I was impressed with her quiet confidence and knew I wanted that energy with me during this journey. Along with supporting me through labor, I knew Claire would be able to help my husband learn how to be a great partner through this process, too. I have always been interested in all things pregnancy, labor and birth related, and had hoped for an unmedicated “natural” birth, and knew a doula’s support would be important to make that happen.
Insert a quote about best laid plans, however, because that was not the reality of the birth of my son. At 32 weeks, I was told at my midwife appointment that the baby was breech, but that we didn’t have to worry too much. At 34 weeks, the baby was still breech, and I was told to ramp up my efforts to get him to flip. I made several chiropractor appointments, was on the Spinning Babies website every day, bounced on the ball, and WALKED (my dog has never loved me more). I went to acupuncture and did all the handstands and herb burning that was suggested to me.
I tried what I could, but at my 36 week appointment I knew the baby hadn’t flipped and the midwives confirmed. I was so disappointed, as a breech baby meant a cesarean at Meriter. It was recommended that I try an external cephalic version (ECV), so I scheduled that appointment and researched as much as I could. Claire was incredibly supportive during this time. She answered my questions, pointed me to research-based websites to keep me off of the comment sections, and helped me process my choices.
On July 1st, my husband and I met Claire at the hospital to try the ECV. I was told the appointment would take an hour but we were there for almost four hours after not being able to place an IV and waiting for the OB. Claire kept the mood light, despite me being very pregnant and fasting; we talked about TV shows and books and crushes on Harry Potter characters.
I’m very grateful for that time.
During this appointment, many nurses and OB residents came in and out to monitor baby’s heart rate and confirm and reconfirm that baby was breech. The OB resident said she had just done a version that day that was successful. When the OB finally came, she recommended an epidural for the procedure, but I refused. The research I had done didn’t show a strong enough support for epidural for first time mom versions, and, frankly, I was afraid of it. I was so hungry from fasting and tired from getting poked from an IV so many times and just wanted to be done.
What felt like 10 people came into the room for the procedure. I was given a medication to stop uterine contractions to allow more movement for the OB’s, and the med sped up my heart rate and made me feel anxious and wound up. I had my husband hold and rub my feet since that’s always my favorite part of a massage, but I also think I didn’t want him to see my face. Two doctors started the version, one on each side of the uncomfortable triage bed. The OB was on my right trying to pull up on baby’s bottom, and her resident was on the left trying to pull his head and shoulders. The pain was unreal. I did my best to breathe through it. A nurse and Claire were up by my head telling me words of encouragement, but I was crying and groaning. After a few minutes they stopped, and I can’t remember if they chose to or I told them to stop. After two more painful attempts, the doctors stopped, all the people left, and we waited for an hour so they could continue monitoring the baby.
The whole time his heart rate didn’t budge — he couldn’t have cared less what was going on!
My husband and Claire sat with me and shared what it was like on the other side. They said the doctors were using all of their strength and that it was hard to watch. I felt a lot of guilt, or maybe shame, afterwards because it had hurt so much that I couldn’t deal with the pain. I had been hoping for an unmedicated birth and felt that if I couldn’t handle the ECV I never would be able to handle labor. One of the articles I read talked about a study that was done that showed that women with successful ECV’s reported less pain during the procedure than women whose ECV’s were unsuccessful.
On the way home, my husband told me I could pick the baby’s name after going through that, so I quietly gloated about that for the next few weeks.
With the baby still breech at 37 weeks it was time to schedule a Cesarean. Luckily, by this time, I had had time to process, so I was still scared but feeling more prepared. I texted with Claire a lot during that time, and remember telling her after complaining about the cesarean “I know all that matters is a healthy baby and healthy mom.” Claire told me just what I needed to hear:
“I think it’s totally valid to mourn the loss of an experience you were dreaming of… But I also think that it can still be a beautiful experience, just a different one than you envisioned”
Those words gave me the permission I needed to *feel* the disappointment I felt. I had imagined my birth story for years, and it was going to be very different. When it came time to schedule the surgery, I was offered two dates, July 16th or 17th, and picked the 16th. It was crazy to know exactly when we would meet the baby; we wouldn’t have any wondering and waiting for labor to start.
I spent the next couple weeks preparing, reading, and wanting to be close to my husband all the time. We saw friends, went out to dinner a lot, and I drove to Milwaukee to celebrate my sister before her wedding.
On July 16th at 7:30am, we got to the hospital for our scheduled cesarean. We spent two hours in the triage room with Claire while I got prepped for surgery. I was feeling calm until the OB came in, and I started to feel nervous. Shortly after, we walked up to the OR, and I kept tripping over the IV. Claire had to wait in the waiting room, and my husband wasn’t able to come into the OR right away. I went in by myself and was very nervous and scared.
I met the anesthesiologist who talked me through the spinal. An incredibly sweet nurse held my hands as I cried getting the spinal. It didn’t even hurt that much, but I think a lot of the tears were from feeling overwhelmed with everything going on around me in the room. Several people helped me lay down on the table as I couldn’t move my legs. I remember looking up and seeing the reflection of my belly and pelvis in the OR light and making sure that would be covered for the surgery. Lots of people were in the room, and some introduced themselves to me as I laid there. I was naked from the chest down and highly visible. I know no one else in the room cared, but it felt awkward.
I was all prepped by 10:05am and my husband could come in the room.
He was dressed in his paper scrubs and had such a positive, excited energy.
The OB must have told me they were starting, and I felt some movement in my belly but not as much as I thought I would and zero pain. My husband, the anesthesiologist, and a midwife were on my side of the curtain. I could hear the doctors talking but not what they were saying, so the anesthesiologist narrated what was happening for me. He told me there was going to be a big push on the top of my stomach, but I didn’t feel it too much. Then he said that the baby’s bottom and legs were out, then his belly and arms, then head, and then I heard my baby yell.
The doctor said “That’s a big baby!” and they lowered the drape so I could see him. I was crying, and I know there was a lot going on but I can’t remember much other than seeing the baby and listening to him cry as they took him to get checked and weighed. My husband went with the baby and was able to take his first pictures. A few minutes later, they brought the baby to me for skin to skin.
I have no idea how to describe that moment. He wasn’t crying and his head was so close to mine, I couldn’t even focus. I remember seeing his ear and being amazed at how intricate it was.
I remember hearing my husband tell the doctors “His name is Elliot.“
I held Elliot for a few minutes but was feeling very nauseous and dizzy. I had my husband take him, and shortly after they went to the recovery room together. I was very nauseous, dizzy, and shaking. I started dry heaving, and the midwife held a bag for me. After trying some essential oils, the anesthesiologist gave me Benadryl which helped the nausea but made me so tired and groggy. I fought to stay awake and at about 11:00am they moved me to the recovery room with my husband and the baby. We stayed in this recovery room for about two hours. The nurses continued monitoring me, and I tried to breastfeed and did a ton of skin to skin. Claire was there to offer support, keep the mood calm, and took beautiful first photos of Elliot breastfeeding and our new family of three.
The couple hours following the birth have been the hardest to process for me. I don’t look back at this time fondly, unfortunately, because I just remember feeling so out of it and drugged up. The nurses gave me another medication to stop shaking, and it helped, but it was a total 180 from the unmedicated birth I had imagined for myself. Even though I was out of it, Elliot latched on great and my husband was so proud and happy, taking a ton of photos and texting our family and friends that the baby was here. We spent three nights in the hospital, and thankfully the remainder of my stay I was feeling present with Elliot, managing my pain, and felt incredibly supported by the hospital staff.
Though I had read many blogs and listened to many podcasts about the postpartum period, I was still shocked to experience just how hard it is. My husband and I were very prepared emotionally and financially, and have so much family and friend support, and it was still so, so hard. One thing that undoubtedly made it easier was conversations Claire guided us through during our prenatal appointments with her. One prompt that stands out in particular was reflecting on what we as individuals need to feel supported and to care for ourselves. For me, it was taking a shower every day. For my husband, it was keeping things tidy around the house. As we moved through those first few weeks together, my husband took the baby for me every morning so I could take a hot shower and be by myself for a few minutes. While I breastfed the baby, he would walk around the house putting things away and helping to keep things in relative order. Knowing these things about each other ahead of time helped us support each other from the beginning, and kept our postpartum bubble calm.