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Chapter 2| Birthing: A Reflection of a Doula in Training

Support Me Not

To understand where my passion for post-partum health for mama and baby comes from, I need to share what happened to my son and I before we started with the horrible day care experiences. There was a point when I was 3- 5 months post-partum, where I had anxiety about leaving my baby in another person’s care. That anxiety heightened when I was not allowed to take my son to work with me anymore. He was 1 week short of 6 months and I was on my way out of the office when I was told blatantly, that I could not bring him with me to work the next day, without any alternative solutions or explanation other than there was a complaint. Who or what the complaint was about, I do not know.

It was a Thursday afternoon when this happened. It was summer time. There was barely anyone in the office. I didn’t understand. What could have possibly caused this complaint? Who could’ve said something? Was I not doing my job well enough? Did people or someone not think I was doing a good job and doing my work in the office simply because I wanted quite time for my son when I nursed him by closing my office door? So there was a surge of emotions and questions that ran through my head after I was told abruptly, I couldn’t bring my son with me to work anymore. I should backup- our policy is babies can come to work for up to 6 months of age and after that they get the boot. I was heartbroken. I didn’t feel that I had the support I thought I did. I felt betrayed and that there was a perception of me not doing my job because I was nursing my hungry baby a lot. He ate a lot! Every couple of hours he would nurse.

I will share more about our daycare experience and navigating the system in another chapter. But those emotions-that experience alone made me feel as if I were alone in this journey. Like there was nothing I could do. All through the first few weeks or so, I did have a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. I didn’t trust the home daycare we found for baby because of the way he acted at drop off time and pick up. It crushed me. I felt trapped with no other options because we were on waiting lists for daycares we could afford.

During that time, I had these thoughts of quitting my job and getting a daycare license to run an in-home daycare or nanny so that I could be with my baby and make sure other babies were taken care of. I thought about quitting my job in general and moving home so I could take care of him. I thought about picking up another job so we could afford a nice daycare. This is where I had a breakthrough moment, telling myself if I could be a doula maybe I could do all of that and help mothers with their babies’ care.

I looked at the prices of what it would take to get the training completed. It was way out of my price range. There was no way I would have been able to afford it with the hospital bill to pay, rent, and living expenses, etc. But I kept that thought on my radar, that I could save up for training, eventually. Now fast forward, to 1 year later. My son has turned 1 and we finally found a place where his daycare providers love him and where he loves to be. I was notified of an opportunity to be a part of a pilot program to train doulas in Fargo to work with at-risk populations for pre-term deliveries. I immediately was interested.

The Universe Responds

I made the connection to the program and was accepted to be 1 of 6 doulas to be trained as a birthing doula for single moms, underrepresented moms, and others in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The catch is they have to birth at Fargo Sanford Health. My role will eventually, take me to be on the delivery floor helping mothers through labor and delivery. This opportunity, is exactly what I have been looking for and put out into the Universe. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity no matter what the time commitment was going to be. I was recently trained to become a birth doula through DONA International. I currently have a few steps to complete before I’m considered a certified birthing doula, and I’m beyond excited about it.

I learned so much great information about labor and delivery that I wished I had known about before my experience. I have learned so many great techniques and positions to help with back labor, it would even feel good if you weren’t in labor! I learned some rebozo techniques for labor, calming techniques, and exercises during pregnancy and labor that would help any woman. All of the information was enlightening and made me wish I had done some of these things during my own labor. It may have helped with my back pain post-partum that I am just now getting around to alleviating.

One of our trainers, Marla Devens, had helped delivery over 2000 babies in her time as a birthing doula. Now she trains the trainer all around the region. I really appreciated her stories about mothers she shared because it showed how different each labor and delivery was, how mother’s just knew when to push without anyone telling them, or how mother’s knew what was best for them during labor and had the courage to tell the providers “no”.

My favorites that were empowering for me were the stories of women who wanted to labor on their hands and knees. The hands and knees position during labor is one of the many positions we learned that you can labor and deliver in, but many hospitals choose the lying on your back position because it’s convenient for the provider rather than the woman in labor. No offense to the profession, that’s just fact of the matter. And these women, they knew how to breathe, even if it was their first one. They found something that worked for them that was not the traditional Hee-Hee-Hoo technique often taught in Lamaze. These women knew also, when to push. It was all of a sudden the urge came and that’s how they knew it was time. They didn’t need someone to tell them when to push or to wait until the doc came. Again, even if it was their first time being pregnant, they had a natural instinct of when to push and found a labor position that worked for them. One practitioner wanted the woman to turn on her back so they could check her dilation rate. The woman laboring on her hands and knees just said, “No.” The nurse tried to ask her a couple of times. And each time the woman said “No. “ One also said to the doc coming in “If you aren’t going to deliver with me on my hands and knees find someone who will.” Boom. And it’s all in the hands of the woman.

After hearing that story, I realized so many things. Sure, I went to Lamaze class with my husband but it was too general for us. I didn’t realize I had the power to refuse anything and say no. I didn’t realize I had the power to push when I wanted to. After hearing that story, I wish I knew of other labor and births where the women took control of the situation and let nature or baby come out when they had the instinct to push. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are exceptions or cases where it probably is in the best interest of the baby and mom to proceed with medical advice and decisions. But when there is a healthy pregnancy, a woman has had children before or if it’s her first one, it just might be the case where a birth doula aids in her in using her voice or the mom finds her own voice to tell the birthing team what’s best for her.

A Reflection of My Son’s Birth

Looking back, knowing what I know now that I didn’t then, I come to find a stir of emotions racing to find closure. Anger, frustration, oppression? I didn’t know which one described what I felt after learning about these other birth stories. It might seem obvious for one to say, well of course you can say no. But for me, when I was going through labor, especially back labor, I needed a coach to guide me. For me, I had put my trust into the birthing team and forgot to listen to myself and my body. When the pain is so great, you can become vulnerable to what people are telling you to do- not completely, just a smidgen. That small smidgen was what, I believe, caused me some emotional and physical trauma post-partum.

My husband was an amazing labor partner, my coach that first 12 hours. There was a point during the laboring where I was told to get up and into the tub to help calm me and relax me. It took every bit of strength I had to get up. Every contraction twisting and putting pressure on my back. I clenched my eyes closed, breathing. If I had a doula, I’m sure I would have been calm. Having someone there to tell me S.O.D. (soft, open, and down). Someone to tell me I’m doing a good job. I remember my water breaking and having to take off my birthing dress and soaked socks with the help of my husband to get into the tub.

Once my body was submerged into the warm bath water, it was ambient. So amazing and peaceful. Although the contractions were still arduous, I had gravity on my side to help me. I was in the tub for nearly 15 minutes it seemed (but it very well could have been longer, one loses track of time during labor), and I had felt an involuntary strong urge to push. My body, my baby told me it was time. I wish I would have listened. I wish I would have not let others tell me what to do. I felt vulnerable and didn’t trust in my expertise on my own body. I put my trust in them. My eyes widened as I let that feeling of pushing start, I looked at Jake and said I’m pushing. I was so worried that things might all of a sudden go awry so I asked Jake is it okay if I’m pushing? He told me to call in the nurse. Hindsight 20/20- that was a mistake. She told me not to push, pointing her finger at me. Little did I know, it was because the other nurse went on a short break and the midwife was in another room. I was crying and so frustrated at that time. Why couldn’t I push? Why wasn’t I allowed to push?

With each contraction, I had to use every muscle in my body to resist what was natural. I hated it. I actually remember feeling a head pushing on my vaginal canal. I remember, feeling such a strong urge to push but “wasn’t allowed” to push. I rang for the nurse again, this time moaning and yelling, “I’m Pushing!” But the same nurse pointed her finger at me and said no pushing, you’re not ready yet. Tears rolled down my face. Little did I know, the stories of other women’s births and the moaning sound they make during contractions definitely means that it’s time to push.

I’m glad that my baby got here to meet us. But because my baby was occiput posterior, it may have seemed as if I wasn’t where I needed to be for the birth to happen. With the checking and order to not push, I believe was one reason my son got sick. At our 2 week post-partum check-up, my son was admitted for a fever. They had to do lumbar puncture to make sure it wasn’t meningitis or another serious condition. I lost it. I burst into tears when our pediatrician told us that he had to have a lumbar puncture done. I thought everything seemed to be going okay and then all of a sudden they have to stick a huge needle in my son’s back? I was so scared in that moment. I couldn’t stop crying or worrying. Once we got to the inpatient and I nursed him, I felt better. I knew he was going to be okay.

Fast Forward to 1 Year Later

It’s been 1 whole year since I was in labor. An entire year has passed by. My body is in pre-pregnancy form and my son has grown. He’s two and a half feet tall and 25 pounds with 8 little shark teeth (yes, shark teeth because they’re sharp), he walks and crawls and rolls and laughs, claps his hands, reads, and loves fruit. It’s been an entire year, for our little household of 3 (Jake, Happy girl, myself) to be a household for 4. So much has changed in that amount of time. We have experienced so much.

I recovered post-partum quite well. I healed incredibly fast and when they say that breastfeeding helps with the recovery, they weren’t kidding. My uterus shrunk back to its normal size so quickly. By 6 months, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that I ever had a baby. Our bodies are simply amazing. Even though our journey together as a family over the past year has been the best experience, there are still some things we are working out during this transition from a household of 3 to a household of 4.

Sex. That’s right. I said it. Sex. I’m going to talk about it, because it’s natural. Just as natural as it is to be pregnant, or love a baby, or go to the bathroom. It’s not taboo to talk about sex as a natural thing. It’s the step before pregnancy and babies that brought us here, so it’s not taboo. Just putting that out there. However, I do respect people who want to remain private about their sexual lives and those who are open about it.

So, sex. It’s been absent from our relationship for a very long time. I can literally count the number of times we have had sex on one hand since I got pregnant. With all of the pains of my uterus stretching, feeding my growing baby, and being tired, I never really had the energy or desire to be sexual during pregnancy. Likewise, after delivery, it took a good 6 months for me to feel ready to try having sex. We did, once. I couldn’t explain to my husband why I didn’t have the desire to other than I was exhausted at the end of each day and just wanted rest. He’s so understanding and compassionate of my bodily needs and functions. So he never pressed it on me or bugged me about it when I would say that. I’m so grateful for that.

Yet, it wasn’t until I went through the birth doula training and began writing for my blog, that I realized partially why I couldn’t bring myself to want to have sex. Some are saying it’s because I’m breastfeeding. Well, that is a part of it, but not all of it. I was still traumatized by that small part of my labor. To be told something against my will, my body’s will, it was traumatizing. Emotionally, physically, mentally…spiritually traumatizing. I didn’t know how to explain it or talk about why I didn’t want to have sex with my husband until I realized this.

Once it dawned on me, I burst into tears. It was sad, happy, and healing all in that one cry. I finally understood what was holding me back from wanting to enjoy my husband. As I told him all of this, Jake gave me a hug and held me tight. Anytime he would try to have sex with me and I said no, I would freeze, sometimes a tear or frustration would come over me. Then I would go to bed, feeling confused. I didn’t really know why. I couldn’t put it into words. But now, I can clearly see why. My birth experience and maybe even other experiences, blood memory, brought some deep emotional and spiritual trauma to the surface. That small part of what seemed to be a really amazing labor and delivery experience had actually traumatized me.

Realizing the reason gives me some direction in ways I can move on from it. You’d think that in itself would have put a damper in our relationship, but it didn’t. Sure, some days we would have disagreements but all it would take was an open conversation to make things more clear. I know now, for the next labor and delivery (we plan on having more than 1 child), I will have some knowledge and experience in using my voice and empowering myself. If you get the courage to watch a birth or have heard of the Russian water births and the reason they started doing that, it brings an amazing perspective to the view of labor and birthing. It’s a beautiful thing that the Russian’s started to do with their water births and they would birth their children in the water, the sea, because they believe in their oral traditions, that they are people of the water, people of the sea.

To think, about our traditions and how beautiful they were. How highly honored women were for bringing babies into this world; that a community would come together to make sure that baby made its way here safely. A sacred fire was started, a lodge was built just for the birth, the placenta was cared for after birth, there was a naming ceremony. So many amazing traditions around labor and delivery in our culture. And mom’s know their bodies, we know our bodies, we know when something isn’t right or when something is. We just know. The amazing ability a mom can have to birth a baby into this world. I'm going to add Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing to my current reading list and am looking for some books on anishinaabe birthing practices or stories, if anyone knows of any please let me know.

Which is another reason why I am so thrilled to be a part of the pilot doula program. I have the opportunity to help moms find their voice and empower them during labor. It’s such an amazing beautiful thing to bring a baby into this world, moms should feel empowered no matter what their labor plans are. My role as a doula is to provide comfort and support during the labor and birth process. Some of the post-partum care as well, but any medical decisions or advice has to come a certified medical professional. I can list and give them their options, but the mom has to ultimately be the one to make a decision. I’d love for some day, to be a private birthing doula for our women so I can bring in the cultural understandings of pregnancy, labor, birth, and post-partum care into the support service. I’m excited for what is ahead of me. I feel more knowledgeable. I feel empowered.

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