Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Hardly Knew Her Name

Not very long ago, I was asked to provide doula support to a mom who was planning a VBAC. Perhaps not so very unusual of an event in my life, but what was most interesting about this situation was that the idea of receiving doula support seemed to be much an afterthought for this client. Most of my clients tend to hire me in the first or second trimester, or at least know they are considering a doula. This particular client was by sheer happenstance.

In our practice, women who have had a prior c-section and desire to deliver vaginally are required to take our childbirth class. Why? For a plethora of reasons. They might learn new information or honestly, they might not. Maybe they know it all already. Cliché or not, hindsight tends to be crisply and painfully 20/20. Most women, in my experience, who have had a ‘bad’ birth experience or a c-section they feel was unnecessary, tend to re-look at it in the aftermath and see the “shoulda’ coulda’ woulda’” of it all. In turn, they become even more educated, even more prepared, even stronger, and even more determined the next time around. So the REAL point to the required childbirth class is to get minds thinking and open the doors of communication and trust. WE learn what to expect from THEM and THEY learn what to expect from US…and sometimes, how to meet in the middle, how to work together so that the goal is reached…not just a “Healthy mom and healthy baby” (because Lord knows I despise that saying…), but a healthy mom, a healthy baby, AND a woman and family which feel that their needs were met, they were supported, listened to, and given the reigns in their own care.

But anyhow, I digress…

So there she was- 37 weeks pregnant and sitting in my childbirth class- our very first time meeting. She sat there quietly and didn’t say much. But at the end of class, after only having “known” me for 3 hours and hardly a handful of words exchanged between us, she asked if it was too late to hire me as her doula. And as I would find out, it would be just her and I. No husband, no family, no other support.

That was the last time I saw her before the day she gave birth, just about a week later. The difference between her and other clients is that I never really got to know her and she never really got to know me. We were essentially just mere strangers, who happened to cross paths, and (hopefully) share the same thoughts and beliefs about birth. I may not have known her from Eve, but I knew she wanted- more than anything- a healthy, normal, vaginal delivery, in which she felt supported. That was good enough for me. She may not have known me from Eve, but she had seen enough to know I was passionate in what I taught, that the words that came from my mouth were genuine, and that I believed she could do it. And so that was good enough for her.

On the day she went into labor, we corresponded back and forth, all throughout the day. As the natural progression usually goes, she increasingly sounded more and more uncomfortable, and more hesitant in carrying out my suggestions of warm showers, rest, tea- the array of positions and relaxation techniques that tend to be suggested in early labor. Exhausted I’m sure, and mentally worn, weary, and wondering if any of her work had made a damn bit of difference after working hard all day, she decided to head to the hospital. We got there and she was 8cm. : )

Many things about that birth stick out in my mind, but perhaps what is the most interesting aspect (and you might find this to be horrible and look badly upon me as a doula, but afterall, it is part of the point I am trying to make), is that I literally could not remember her name. Perhaps because of the intensity of the atmosphere, but more likely due to that I simply did not know much about her, her name would not come to me. I would open my mouth to give her words of encouragement and praise, and yet I had to catch myself from using her name because it simply was not there. I remember every time I wanted to address her, having to look over at the computer monitor so that I could see her name. An abstract piece of technology with patient details and irrelevant information displayed, and there I was relying on it to remind me of my client’s name. The first time in my career as a doula that I had ever found myself doing such a thing.

But it didn’t really matter. She was working hard and focused on everything that really mattered- working with her body, physically and mentally, and working to bring her baby into the world. I was there as support- verbally encouraging her, explaining what needed to be explained and how close she was getting, verbalizing how great she was doing and how strong she was, and how she was going to have her baby in her arms soon. It is always amazing to me how strong and captive one’s words are. She may not have truly known me outside the walls of a Dr.’s office or a labor and delivery room, but she believed in my words and trusted their meaning, and what I said held weight and made a difference.

“I can’t do it, I can’t do it, oh GOD, I can’t do it!” she said exasperated, discouraged, defeated. And I felt for her, as a woman who witnesses birth but also as a woman who has been there before and who has experienced it. I could feel that overwhelming emotion of encountering a 60 foot brick wall in front of you, when scaling it seems nothing short of impossible. Whether it’s you first baby or your third or tenth or your attempted VBAC, you get to that place of mental or physical exhaustion and you’re not entirely sure how it’s possible to carry on. There is no end in sight.

And so my response to her, ‘I can’t do it’?

“Yes, you can do it. You ARE doing it. This is it…You’re in the midst of it. It’s happening and you are doing great. You are making a conscious effort to have your baby the way that YOU wanted, and to give him the best birth that you can give him. You asked for this, and wanted it, and have worked so hard for this. You are DOING IT and you are giving him a beautiful birth.”

And so we danced that danced. She would start to doubt or start to fear and I would simply reinforce what she already knew. And 30 minutes into that, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy… Vaginally, unmedicated, fully-aware, fully-feeling, fully conscious, surrounded by nothing but positivity and support.

Part of why VBAC’s hold a special place in my heart has to do with the aftermath- those particular feelings of triumph and empowerment that happen afterward. It’s present with all births, but yet even more potently present with moms who have succeeded and triumphed in their vaginal birth after cesarean. And it was all over her face. I remember saying, “I can only imagine how gloriously victorious you must feel right now. You did it!”

And in the end I may hardly have known her name and really not have known her at all. But all she wanted, all she really NEEDED, was someone to listen to her and respect her desires, her body, and the process…to encourage her, and therefore give her a fighting chance at being successful. Isn’t that what we all want and need?

And so I think of her and it seems so simple. But yet it’s not. Just like so many other things.