I recently attended my longest birth yet.
From the time I was hired I knew this experience would be challenging. My client L had been through 3 or 4 care providers before settling on a home birth, had read over 30 books about childbirth and breastfeeding before taking a single childbirth class (I think she only wound up taking 2 series of classes) and she had a written a 3 page birth plan before she was 8 weeks. An informed consumer or a control freak? You decide.
I got a call around 8:30 Friday night telling me her water broke but she wasn't having any contractions. She said she was going to bed & would call me when she needed me. She called me Saturday morning to tell me she had been having contractions and lots of bloody show. I fully expected to be going to a birth on Saturday but by 3pm that afternoon she called me to say her midwife had come by to check on her & her water had not broken (she now thinks it was pee) and that her contractions had stopped completely.
Skip to 6am Sunday. My client's familiar ring tone on my cell phone woke me. I answered, trying desperately to sound alert. Her husband told me that she had been contracting every 5 minutes since 3am and they were ready for me to head over. I said I was on my way but I stayed in bed another hour which is not something I typically do but my gut told me L didn't really need me yet. At a little after 7am I felt bad for saying I was on my way when I really wasn't. I got up, got dressed, packed my bag full of snacks and other things I might need, and headed out the door.
I got there an hour later (yes, she lives an hour away, less when I don't get lost but she's far) and she was clearly in early early labor. She was laughing and talking even smiling at me at the beginning and end of each contraction. I sat and made small talk, observed her for a little while and realized that I needed coffee. Since she lives so far away I didn't want to drive all the way home and back so I decided to take a trip to Starbucks. I got my coffee, a second breakfast (I ate oatmeal in the car on the way there) and went back to the house prepared for a long day.
At one point, we decided to go for a walk, We walked to the park stopping occasionally for contractions. Once we got there, the idea to have her get on the teeter-totter hit me. I figured it would help her get into some nice deep squats. Oh, the things we'll come up with to get things moving. At around noon, just for the fun of it, we started making baby stat predictions (weight, length, time of birth) . I knew they wouldn't like my guess about the time of birth but I said 4:52am or sometime before the sun came up. L guessed 10pm and dad guessed midnight. None of us were right.
I spent much of the day trying to figure out how to get this mom out of her head and into her body. When I first got to the house she & her husband still had birth books on the table. I told her that we were done reading about labor, it was time to just do it. This mom wanted to analyze and describe every contraction and movement of the baby. She asked me at least 20 times if this or that was normal or if it was something I had seen happen before. Finally I told her (in the nicest way) that I wasn't going to answer any more questions. I kept reminding her that she had to stop trying to think about this labor.
Around 7pm she started showing signs of shifting into active labor. One of the midwives came by to check on her. A vaginal exam was done at about 8pm and she was 4-5 cm. This was great! By 11pm or so she was 7-8. She really seemed to be progressing quickly. The other midwife came and I figured we'd be having a baby soon.
After that time starts to blur. I don't know what happened but labor went on and on. I remember laying in the bed on one side of her with her hubby on the other and falling asleep but still being able to hear her. While dozing I felt the need to tell her to slow down her breathing and to take nice deep breaths for the baby. I know I was asleep when I said that but I'm sure I said it out loud. I think around 2:30 am I laid on the couch and took an actual nap. One of her midwives was sleeping on the floor while the other one was in the bedroom with L and her husband. Part of me feels guilty for sleeping on the job but the other part of me knows she was well taken care of by her midwives too.
At sometime around 4am one of the midwives checked her and she was 9cm. I dragged myself off of the couch and went back in the bedroom convinced we'd be having a baby soon. Unfortunately I was wrong. L continued to labor. I believe that she still was trying to think through this labor. I remember her asking one of the midwives what pushing would feel like and her midwife said "I don't know, why don't you tell me when you're done?" What a smart midwife!
L started pushing around 9am. She pushed and pushed. At one point she looked at me and said "Let it go?" Finally she got it! I nodded and she continued to push. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at 12:07 pm.
At many times during this labor I cursed the fact that I'm a doula. I swore I was going to retire after this birth. The pay wasn't worth spending hours (sometimes days) away from my family, having to stress about child care, missing appointments, cancelling plans at the last minute, being on call for weeks on end, and dealing with exhaustion. Just before I was getting ready to leave L reminded me of why I do this and why I love it. After she showered she asked me if I would blow dry her hair. She had done most of her laboring in the pool and she was sick of having wet hair. I told her "Of course. I brushed and dried her hair and chatted with her about how amazing she was, about her beautiful baby and about how proud we both (she and I) were of her. When she was finished I noticed she was quietly crying. I asked "What is it?" She started to pat my leg and told me that I had done so much for her, above and beyond what she would expect anyone to do. She hugged me and thanked me so much.
How could I not love this job?