We had a long labor Zoe and I. Four days long to be exact.
It started on a Thursday. I startled awake around 2am with pain. I'd had some light contractions the weekend before but these were different. This was the beginning. Because my goal was to labor at home as long as possible, I got as much sleep as I could, then got up and went about my day. My contractions remained approximately 10 minutes apart and at the same strength all day and ALL night... again. I was a week past my due date the following day so Sue Gottschall (our doula and now our friend) accompanied me to an appointment. As the appointment progressed, the contractions became stronger and closer together. At 5-6 minutes apart, painful yet exciting. My hope was that we'd be able to meet baby by the end of the day! Surely nearly 48 hours of labor would do it right? Wrong.
That night I arrived at hospital triage only to find I was only 2 cm dilated and 50 percent effaced. I cannot overstate my disappointment. I cried. I couldn't even look anyone in the face. The contractions were so strong and coming every 5 minutes. We tried different comfort measures, different relaxation and pain management techniques. We walked, we showered, we massaged, I drank what felt like gallons of red raspberry leaf tea, and after nearly 48 hours and 2 nights being jolted awake by contractions I faced a third night of contractions and an uncertain timeline....I felt deflated, vulnerable, and scared. I was completely unsure of what to do next and so scared of making the wrong decision. I called on Sue’s support for both my husband and I in this moment. As a team we discussed our options and I decided to return home and try to get what rest we could. Over the next day Eric and Sue stayed in constant contact. I was only able to get 4 hours of sleep and a few bites to eat. When night time came, faced with the prospect of another night being startled awake every 5 minutes by contractions, I just couldn't do it.....
We called Sue at 2 am. She met us at the hospital. I’d made progress, but still had 6 centimeters more to go. Aware of our wishes and armed with wisdom, Sue was able to advise us with our long game in mind. As first time parents this wisdom was priceless. We decided to call in the midwife to discuss options. After 3.5 days without sound sleep or much to eat it was clear that without some aid I may not have the stamina to make it through transition and delivery. Our goals were as follows: 1. Healthy mama and baby and 2. Vaginal delivery 3. Minimal intervention, in that order.
The midwife told us if I chose to receive intravenous pain medication to aid sleep I would likely be too far along for an epidural once it wore off.... what i heard was mission impossible theme music and her say "do you accept this mission"....and for a moment terror seized me, while I hadn't intended on having an epidural, I had been comforted that it remained an option. To have it taken away seemed so final...Despite my fear I quickly said "I'll take them.”
Eric and Sue sat by my bedside over the next 5 hours. Those last 4 cm were tough. In fact physically and mentally the most grueling thing I've ever done. As I entered transition, the contractions came without a break-one-after-the other-again-and-again...and my body wanted to push but I could not. I felt like my body was a traitor it had turned on me. It was defiant out of control! I couldn't even speak, just sing or utter one word sentences “So hard, So tired" was a favorite….
Sue would translate for my family. It’s hard for your loved ones to see you in such pain, keep up with all the changes occurring, and be a strong advocate for you all at once...I was so thankful to have her there to say the things that I could not, to guide me, to cheer me on build my confidence and remind me to trust my traitor of a body. To tell me it's not a traitor after all it's actually doing just fine….
Finally, the midwife said the words I'd been waiting to hear "you can push". My husband said he'd never seen a bigger smile on my face. Without delay I pushed and 30 minutes later our beautiful baby arrived...I have never experienced such relief and such joy.. to have our baby girl and to know that I had done the hardest thing I've ever done in life and that I did living out my values. With grit, grace, tenacity, and community. None of this would have been remotely possible without the support of my husband and Sue. This is the story of how we welcomed little miss Zoe Claire to the world.
During the course of our child birth education class, my husband and I had realized we would need extra support, he would need it to be the care giver he hoped to be and I would need the strength and the wisdom of an expert and advocate when we entered uncharted territory. Our instinct was spot on. We are both confident that one of the main reasons we had an empowered birth experience is because of our choice to have the support of a doula.
Giving birth is the most significant milestones and right of passage I have experienced in my life. I can think of no other experience so distinguishing and defining of who I am and how I see the world. Having the guidance and wisdom of a doula allowed my husband and I to be fully present in this convergence of joy, fear, uncertainty, pain, confidence and strength. As my daughter was born we too were born into parenthood feeling empowered, safe and joyful In the fact that we did it together and on our terms. We could not have done it with out Sue. She was a cheerleader, a sounding board, an advocate, and a guide before during and after the birth of our daughter. Thank you Sue and thank you Chicago Volunteer Doulas! Every mama deserves an empowered labor and delivery-every mama deserves a doula!