On my first experience as a doula.

I came out of the hospital just as the sun was setting. I spent just over 12 hours with my first doula client. A healthy baby girl was born at 3:30 that afternoon. Walking towards my car was a little surreal, all things familiar coming back into focus, the alien world that is the hospital swiftly fading into the background. My first thought after the key went into the ignition was how much I wanted to see my partner and my baby, and how grateful I am for my life and my home. I got home and dropped my carefully prepared birth bag like a weight to the floor as my daughter came squealing towards me for a hug. Life is good.

This was not the picture-perfect birth that I had admittedly hoped it would be. I arrived and they had already manually dialated my client to 3 centimeters with some balloon contraption, given her morphine, broken her water, and the anesthesiologist was already on her way to administer the epidural. Soon there was talk of pitocin to augment the contractions (which had already naturally dialated her cervix from 3 centimeters to 5 in two hours), spouting something about how the contractions were just not consistent enough, and how she would "only need a little". After a few clarifying questions and firey looks from a doctor, my client managed to bargain her way out of pitocin for a mere 45 minutes, on the condition that she’d try some different positions to get her contractions closer together and more intense. They soon checked her and solemnly reported that she was "still only at 5" and that they really needed to do this. She consented, and contractions quickly became stronger. They soon checked her again and administered an internal monitor to measure the strength of her contractions. Within an hour the nurse was in talking about how due the baby’s posterior position and my clients "dysfunctional labor", they needed to be prepared for a possible cesarean section (she was now 6-7cm). All the while they were telling her to notify them if she felt any pressure low down and when she asked about why she couldn’t stop shaking they told her it could be transition, but that it could be very hard to deliver this baby and to be prepared. My client spent the next half an hour crying in this position and that, desperately trying to flip the baby around. I reminded her that many people successfully deliver posterior babies, and that she had more power over this situation. Soon the baby’s heart rate had risen, and they were telling my client that the baby may just not like this labor. Unfortunately her temperature had then risen to 99.9 degrees, and there was talk of a possible infection. Six hours after I had arrived, a doctor came in and said "I think it’s time to have a baby." I watched as my client went into hysterics, I was told "We’ve done everything we can do…" and everyone was escorted out of the room so they could prep her for surgery.

I was soon with my client in the recovery room, and learned that the pain medication had not worked sufficiently through the procedure, and that she had to be put on a stronger drug immediately after delivery. She came out of the druggy fog and was in extreme amounts of pain. I watched as a nurse insisted on touching her wound after she said "Please don’t touch me, I beg of you!" I stayed with her through the next few hours- working to relax and breathe her through the pain, massaging her hands, commending her on her tremendous bravery. She expressed her anger, and I tried to validate her, reminding her that it is okay to be mad and that she doesn’t have to feel better right now. Finally she was feeling more comfortable, smiling here and there and looking tired. It was a small thing, but by the end of the night I was certain that she was glad I was with her, and that made the whole day worthwhile.

I think it would be impossible for me to not feel some level of grief over this experience. However, as clearly as my own unpredictable 2-day labor taught me, there is so much that pain and a change in plans can teach us. One of the first things my doula/midwife friends told me was that we cannot save these women. Our role is to empower and to comfort, to provide strength and information and clarification, and to sometimes just be there. I am not responsible for giving her a perfect birth, it’s not within my power. However, in this situation I truly feel that my client was severely wronged by a broken system. An already complicated life was further complicated through what I am certain was a traumatic birth experience. I can only help but wonder how things would have been different if they were able to be more patient, to stop intervening and scaring and bullying, to just wait and watch and let my client labor on her own, the way her body was built to. Perhaps in the end she would have needed the surgery, but I think that if she had been treated differently and not rushed, spoken to like she had a choice in the matter, like her opinion counted, then maybe when that time came she would have owned that experience and that outcome- perhaps with disappointment, but without the feeling that she’d been robbed.

This is a sad story, I know. I also know that working as a source of support for women, spreading knowledge and dissolving fear, taking back our own bodies and births- well that is work worth doing. I suspect that this experience will stay with me forever, if anything just as my "first" and as a reminder of why this crazy doula-thing is so important.

"Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are." (Augustine)

Gracie
Gracie

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Comments (33)

  1. wolfteaparty

    I think it’s important to find empowerment and support, no matter what type of birth you had. But having your cervix forcibly dilated with some balloon thing and then being smothered with interventions? That sounds awful!

    People give me shit for supporting home birth and the right to have birth choices. Stories like what happened today are the reason why. I also wish that hospitals would stop treating women like that. Yes, a C-section and other things can save lives in an emergency, but it saddens me greatly how they’re used to bully women.

    If I had the people skills for it and wasn’t terrified of people, I would have become a midwife, and/or a doula.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I agree, people really need to have choices and to feel like they are in control of this process.

      You should try it! I wonder if you’d be better at it than you think. I can already tell you are good at watching people and observing, which is a lot of it. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  2. pagangoat

    I had a midwife, in my local(small town)hospital, and it was quite traumatic, I felt pressured and like I had no control. My labour wasn’t progressing as they would like, so the consulting doctor kept pushing to do a c-section, over and over. I was determined, and though I ended up with an unwanted epidural and pitocin, I ended up delivering my daughter without being sliced open…but if I’d been a little less strong-willed, I most definitely would have been pushed into the c-section. I think having a doula can be such a great help to a lot of women, what a fulfilling job! Even(or maybe especially) in cases like this, where things don’t go as planned, the moral support and comfort that you can provide is invaluable:)

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I often think back on my own normal labor and think about how there could have been a great many outcomes for me at a hospital, simply because my labor didn’t fit into their protocol. I truly hope we someday can change the system entirely, because every woman deserves a satisfying birth experience. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  3. purerandomness

    Even though that birth story makes me so sad and angry, I’m glad that you were able to be there with her. Hopefully you were able to help her focus during that difficult time and make the experience as much ‘her own’ as it was going to be, given the situation.

    The ‘system’ makes me sad. I wish all women were able to have the births they want, no matter what type of birth that would be. I wish that all women WANTED to be educated in their birth choices and took an active role instead of passively accepting their care providers opinion. πŸ™

    I know that you did the best you can and congratulations on your first doula-ing experience! Hopefully this helps you grow in your calling and will give you knowledge to help other women during their births.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thank you! I’m glad that you are going into your birth with knowledge and power- I can’t wait to hear your story! I agree about wishing that more women wanted the education. Hopefully someday it will just be the norm.

      πŸ™‚

      Reply
      1. purerandomness

        I’m fairly certain you follow LJ-user babyslime as well, but she posted this link on her LJ today: http://gisellestotalwasteofbandwidth.blogspot.com/2009/05/different-kind-of-consent-form.html

        I felt it was somewhat appropriate to the situation you described here, not with the VBAC part, but with the unnecessary coercion and scare tactics used.

        Reply
        1. Gracie (Post author)

          That’s kind of awesome. Thanks for sharing that. πŸ™‚

          Reply
  4. nashifeet

    wow. how intense. i’m glad you feel like it’s not your place to fix it, but to empower. i think you did a great job and that you made the best of your place and your abilities. good job. i’m so sorry for her experience, and you’re right, i’m sure she was glad you were there. did she have a partner? how was the baby in the end?

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thank you. She did have a partner, but unfortunately he was wide-eyed and not very present (even before the birth). Thankfully she did have a friend who was GREAT with her, so that was helpful. The baby was fine, although she did have a slight fever, so they both got antibiotics right away. Otherwise healthy and incredibly cute as newborns go. πŸ™‚ It was a strange situation because they had decided to give the baby up for adoption. I did get some time to see baby, but I was really focusing on mom because she didn’t want to do any bonding or nursing. Sort of a complicated situation, but one that I’m grateful to have been a part of.

      Reply
      1. nashifeet

        oh wow. i can’t even imagine. i haven’t been on lj much, so if you’ve posted about this before, i haven’t seen it. were the adoptive parents present? is she still going to have milk come in even though she won’t be with the baby? i always wondered. wow…speechless a bit. i’m glad you shared this story.

        Reply
        1. Gracie (Post author)

          No, I didn’t post about it. Yeah, the adoptive mom was with her the whole time- she was really great actually. I was unsure what kind of dynamic that would make, but it was like one big family at one point. Anyway, I know that she changed her mind about not wanting to hold the baby, but to my knowledge she hasn’t wanted to nurse or pump at all. It’s a situation I can’t imagine! I’m definitely gonna be in contact with her over the next few weeks, giving her resources and being an ear.

          Reply
      2. stupidfool

        oh wow, what an odd first doula experience, times two, then! i read the story and i just assumed she was keeping the baby… was it the mom or the adoptive mom who really wanted to do the birth naturally, with a doula and everything?

        Reply
        1. Gracie (Post author)

          The birth mom was the one who sought me out. She wanted a “natural” birth, but to her that only meant a vaginal birth. She was very interested in the epidural, and was fine with the induction too. I gave her info on the risks/benefits, and she decided that she didn’t want any pitocin. In that kind of a situation the adoptive mom doesn’t have a lot of rights until the papers have been signed.

          It was odd. I figure I might as well just dive in, right? πŸ™‚

          Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Good grief that does sound traumatic, was she 2+ weeks late? I don’t know that I’d want to go to that hospital. They weren’t treating your client very nicely.

    How you handled it sounded like the perfect doula.

    I’m more determined than ever this time to have baby #2 naturally, but I have an MD this time instead of a midwife (because of the first c-section) so that makes me a little nervous about intervention. Plans and baby birthing don’t always mesh so well.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Nope, she was only 6 days “late”. They didn’t even know the real date of conception, so she may not have been late at all. I actually think that this experience was a little on the extreme side, not in terms of what actually happened, but in terms of how fast it all went down.

      I’m so glad that you are working for your ideal birth with baby #2! I’m sure you’re doing your research, I’m not worried about ya! Have you thought of getting a doula?

      πŸ™‚

      Reply
  6. aamour

    wow! what a story!
    i can’t imagine that job…
    you are so brave!

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thanks for the encouragement! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  7. prophetsong

    I really struggled to read that as it brought back so many traumatic memories of my own birth experience (one of the reasons I’ve resisted writing my birth story is because it just brings back horrible flashbacks) – the posterior positions, the interference from the hospital staff, the drugs I didn’t want and eventual traumatic birth itself which luckily wasn’t a caesarian but was forceps with ridiculous amounts of stitches and a spinal block injection. However what really struck me was if I was back there I would want someone exactly like you helping me through it. My mum and my sister were my birth partners and they were fantastic but it all got so messy and scary that they were panicing too so someone calm and impartiial would’ve been amazing.

    I’m sure your client appreciated all you did πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Wow, I’m sorry! I didn’t even think about how that might be triggering for some people! I hope that if you go through another birth you can have a doula. Regardless, I really believe that a healthy baby is NOT all that matters, and that it’s okay to be angry about what happened. There’s a whole lot of women out there who have been wronged and shouldn’t remain silent out of respect for the profession and gratitude for their children’s health. Anyway, I’m really sorry all that happened to you, and when/if you want to write your birth story I’d love to read it.

      Reply
      1. prophetsong

        Gosh you don’t have to apologise! It’s my responsibility to choose whether to read or not read and it’s actually really helpful to know that I’m not alone in having such an experience, although I obviously kinda wish I was because I hate the idea of so many women experiencing such horror at what is supposed to be the most amazing time of their lives. I think you’re right – I stayed silent for fear of seeming ungrateful for the perfect gift I’d ended up with but actually with a bit of time I’m realising that it’s ok to be angry about the way hospitals can screw this up! xx

        Reply
  8. ladyfaith3

    sorry to hear about the problems, you would think that the patient could at least be well informed. I think that is why if I have another baby I want a midwife. My last experience was to be bullied and drugged with pitocin also which I said no to but was attended by a different dr and they didn’t bother to inform me…at least I didn’t get a C-section πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I’m so sorry that happened to you! Good job seeking out a better alternative for you. I’m glad you are informed!

      Reply
  9. honeyrider

    eh. reading this, combined with watching “orgasmic birth” earlier tonight, makes me incredibly sad and angry. it’s absolutely horrifying how hospitals/doctors rob women of the birthing experiences they often want and always deserve. i’m glad this woman at least had you there with her afterward to provide some comfort and support.

    where did you do your doula certification? i’m seriously considering doing the same this summer while out of class.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I’ve wanted to see that! How was it? I agree, it’s baffling how out of touch these doctors are. I can’t help but think that if they had even the slightest inkling how sacred this process is for women and their families, then they would be better listeners and let women navigate it all more. Birth should never be profitable or even close to industrialized. Birth is sacred, I really believe that. πŸ™‚

      I’m actually on the path to getting certified, it’ll probably take a little while. I’m getting certified through DONA. I took a DONA training in March and then another to volunteer through this program (Doula’s Care) in April. You can check out the certification requirements and probably find a training near you on the website. It was so fun and great to spend a weekend doing that. You should definitely do it!

      http://www.dona.org/

      Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Oh honey…ack. It can do your head being a doula and seeing this sort of thing. The whole system is so sad and broken. I encourage you to process all the births you attend, whether verbal or written, whether anyone reads it or not. So much of your personal love and emotion and energy goes into the work. It becomes necessary to clear your heart and mind in a positive way to continue to help others. Nurture your inner care giver for longevity! xoxo

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thanks for this advice. Definitely being at this birth made me reflect on both my birth and Gretchen’s birth, thinking about how had we chosen conventional care at the time… well who knows what would’ve happened! It made me grateful for you and the work you’ve done for our family, and what a good heart you have.
      You’re right though, I really needed to process this over the past week. After it was done I really had poured out a good deal of energy and emotion. I hope to become more emotionally experienced as time goes by, but that I never become like those doctors who seemed to feel just fine pressuring and bullying this woman into an outcome which made her feel regret and fear and anger and pain.

      Thanks for all the work you do! It’s so important.

      Reply
  11. robinbronwen

    my perfect birthing scenario

    Just as I believe in the chiropractor and medical doctor at the same time…(is that a contradiction?) I believe in both homebirthing/midwives/doula AND medical intervention when it is necessary. I have not yet given birth. In fact, I am not even yet pregnant. But I do plan on being pregnant someday soon. And I must say… I believe in both. My dream would be to give birth in a birthing center with an easy going midwife and doula allowing me to give as natural a birth as possible…. where I had the peace of mind of knowing that if something went severely wrong, that a doctors intervention could take place readily and easily. My ideal situation would also be that the doctors intervention would not take place unless the midwife/doula thought it would be absolutely necessary. Is there such a situation as this? This is my ideal birthing scenario. Is there such a thing as what I picture?

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Re: my perfect birthing scenario

      Absolutely! Have you ever read my birth story? There’s a link to it on my user page right by Vera’s picture. Anyway, I heard something during my pregnancy that resonated with me. I heard that labor and birth are a lot like a marathon. Your body can do it, and it can do it well, but you have to do some training- review the route and the obstacles you face, determine your route and your expectations, etc. I really believe that I had the birthing experience that I wanted because I educated myself and prepared myself (with information, spiritually, and physically). I think that the events can change all over the place, so many things you can’t predict- but I really believe that if you are informed and intent on navigating your own experience, receiving help if you need it, etc., then you will be great! I’ve been really grateful for my experience just because it was a good example of things going differently than planned, asking for help, but also asserting myself and saying no thank you when I needed to and I’d received all the help I needed. You will be great! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  12. debok

    thanks so much for linking this to my post. the experience sounds very similar to what happened to my client. i’m inspired by your perspective at the end, and i am anxious to get there myself. thank you so much.

    Reply
    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Of course! We’re all in this together, ya know?

      πŸ™‚

      Reply
  13. Anonymous

    My first year with a garden and yards I felt like I should plant only edible things and other plants would be a waste of space. Then we had wonderful birds come and eat all our sunflowers and I realized I like that. My second year I started planting more other plants for the insects and birds.

    Reply
  14. Anonymous

    I love you and your beautiful children, especially when kazoos are involved.

    Reply

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