We’re so excited this week about sharing the first of our series of birth stories written by doulas. As doulas, we have such an intimate relationship with birth that when our time comes to learn our own birth story there can be a range of experiences from feeling calm, anxious, supported, and at times, challenged. We know that our knowledge as doulas becomes richer and deeper when we learn from other doulas. We thank doula Emily Pickett for sharing her beautiful story and journey with us. Enjoy!
Two years ago, I gave birth to a Lion–a beautiful little boy named River, who irrevocably changed my life by making me a mother. It was a challenging transition in all ways. Days peppered with Postpartum Anxiety, isolation and a deep longing for self-reflection colored my experience of a time that I’d expected to feel aglow with motherly instinct and Joy. From an exhilarating, but exhausting natural labor and birth to a career that no longer felt supportive and relevant in the face of my changing identity, River’s birth marked both my undoing and remaking–and was the catalyst for an unexpected walk-about period for my family. For now let’s just say we moved cross country three times in one year, left a wilderness home we loved for a city that we didn’t, started jobs, ended jobs and did a whole lot of digging for an answer to life’s persistent question: what should I be doing with my precious little time on this earth?
As I struggled to go to work every day feeling faceless, I prayed for a sign that would deliver me out of my situation. It finally came when my son was about 6 months old. I was supposed to lead a presentation and discussion at work, (one that I’d done before) but I felt like a failing mess of a human being. I retreated to the empty office of a co-worker and friend and I wept. When I calmed myself I sat looking at the art on my friend’s wall and found myself staring at a painting of an indigenous village with a group of people standing at a well. One of the women wore an infant on her back. I said out loud, “I want to be the woman at the well!” I took it as my sign.
From that experience, I realized I felt called to help support other women as they became mothers and I quit my job (the one that actually paid the bills) and moved cross-country, where I began training as a doula (and explored being the mother of a high intensity little boy) . As I researched my new career, I became passionate about all things birth and motherhood and the more I followed the path, the more it seemed to open before me (at the same time that other doors were clearly getting slammed shut).
Then, in early January, 2012, I learned to my surprise that I was pregnant. At the time, this came as upsetting news since our life situation was particularly difficult at the time. And with a demanding 17 month old, who was still nursing, I didn’t feel anywhere ready to welcome another child in my life. Yet that all changed, when within 6 weeks of this news, my husband lost his job, we moved in with my family (in another state) and I vowed to launch my doula career before the birth of this baby. Suddenly, I wasn’t simply planning a nursery or thinking of names, I started preparing for this birth like it was my job–well, because now, it was.
Fast forward 7 months through lots of reading, trainings, and launching a business (!), I was finally approaching my due date. At 38 weeks pregnant (with a little girl), I got to attend my first official birth as a doula. It was an amazing experience that inspired me utterly both professionally and as a woman about to give birth.
Considering how prepared I was for this birth, I found myself dealing with a lot of anxiety. Much of this had to do with the fact that I would be going to a hospital that was not my first choice due to insurance limitations. In fact, we had been planning a home birth with a midwife and her doula/assistant. In the end however, for a number of reasons, we decided that we had to give up that option. It was terribly disappointing (and if we have a third child, I’m definitely going to explore that option again), but it seemed that the hospital was going to have to be the new “home” for the birth of our baby. This also meant we had to get a new doula only a month before I was due! It was stressful, but we found the perfect person to support us.
During those last two weeks it seemed like there were events or family scheduling issues just about every day that made me fearful of going into labor (people out of town, marathons with major road closures around the city, etc.). Yet, I was also afraid that I would go past my due date because I felt too good to be at the end of pregnancy. (I know, this is a statement that could invoke a lot of rage from other pregnant women, but it’s true. I felt great all the way until the last couple days.)
So, I watched the full moon come and go and waited to feel the stirrings inside me that would tell me, “it is time”. During my anxious moments of waiting I imagined the following scene: upon finding a well in a forest, I ride down to the bottom of the well in the bucket. When I reach the bottom, I find myself at the mouth of a cave with a clear stream running through it. I follow the stream to a pool of water and a waterfall. There’s a woman standing there in the mist with a little girl. I go to them and the little girl gives me her hand and she follows me back through the stream and cave to the well and when we reach the top, I am holding an infant in my arms. I dream of the well; I dream of the baby; I dream of the woman. I want to be that woman.
Finally, I started to feel like I was getting close with occasional contractions that felt like they had to be doing something to my cervix. With my due date two days away, I was hopeful that labor would be starting soon. Labor Day (the next day) seemed like a good option, if I had any say in the matter.
I felt my first early contraction around 9pm on Sunday night as I nursed my son to sleep. I had a couple more mild contractions throughout the evening, including one that woke me up around 11:30pm. I realized then that my husband, Dustin was home from work (he works a crazy 40 hours between Friday and Sunday). I got up and told him I’d had a few contractions that evening and that I had a feeling things would be getting started soon. We laughed about the possibility of having labor on Labor Day and decided we should probably get to bed (but not before having sex for good measure).
I woke again a little before 4am from another contraction. It felt stronger than the previous ones and I made myself go back to sleep. When I gave birth to River, I was exhausted by the end probably mostly because I hadn’t slept through early labor because I was too excited/anxious. This time, I was determined to feel as rested and ready as possible; so, I snoozed between contractions as best as I could, waking enough to note the time. They seemed to be about every 15 minutes or so. Finally, close to 6am, I could no longer sleep and was starting to feel like I needed to move and rock my hips during contractions so I got up.
River woke soon after and we got started with the morning routine: potty, getting dressed, feeding the pets, making breakfast, etc.. I figured it was a good test if I could still care for my two year old while having contractions. My Mom got up (we currently live with my parents) and I told her I thought I was in early labor and she hugged me.
I was also determined to stay nourished and hydrated this time around (also things that I did not do last time); so, I made oatmeal with peaches and honey. I also snacked on almond butter and grapes throughout labor. During breakfast, I noticed that the contractions had gotten closer together (about 5 min); so, I decided I had better call Stephanie, our doula. I talked to her around 7am and she said she’d go ahead and come over. The contractions felt very manageable. I could still talk through them mostly, but I did need to stop and rock my hips standing over the kitchen counter.
I let Dustin sleep through all the early stuff because I wanted him to get as much sleep as possible, but with Stephanie coming over, I decided I should let him know that we were going to have a Labor Day baby after all. He was excited that the day had come and he got up to get ready.
I started getting stuff together for the inevitable hospital trip when Stephanie arrived. I was still feeling well and even still talking through some contractions, but soon after she arrived, things got closer together and I was starting to have to concentrate and breathe during contractions. I was surprised; however, by how calm and manageable everything felt. I was almost a little worried that things weren’t really progressing because I felt too good to be this far in labor.
In between contractions we just hung out and talked. Stephanie helped play with River, while Dustin assembled everything on our hospital “grab” list. After some time, I was starting to have to vocalize during contractions. As a singer, it felt good to sink into the resonance of low (loud) moans and it helped me “hover” above the pain and match it with my own intensity.
As contractions continued to get stronger, I found that movement felt best; so I paced, swayed my hips and occasionally did high lunges with my leg on piece of furniture (which, felt awesome, by the way). I was surpised by how independent I felt throughout labor, but was glad for the reminders from Stephanie to keep my shoulders relaxed.
Around 11am, I felt like we would probably need to head to the hospital soon. I told Stephanie and Dustin that they should grab a bite to eat and I would be fine laboring alone for a little while. Almost as soon as they left me, I felt like things intensified and I had a strong feeling that if my membranes were to rupture at this point, that I’d probably have a baby with the gush of water! I told Stephanie and Dustin as much and that they’d better hurry up!
We pulled out of the driveway at 12pm for the 30 minute drive to the hospital. It was emotional leaving River. We’d never left him over night before and I was realizing that I’d never again be only his mother. I grieved for the specialness of that relationship and for the teacher that he has been to me.
During the drive, I could feel that I was going through transition. I had some incredibly strong contractions that were really unwelcome while sitting in a car. I held on to my birth beads (from the blessingway we had for my first pregnancy) so hard that the bracelet broke! (Dustin confessed to me afterward that he was afraid that he’d have to pull the car over and catch our baby himself.) The funny thing was, that between contractions, I still felt totally calm and with it. I even gave Dustin directions to the hospital as we drove because we had to take different route because of a road closure for a bicycle race!
When we finally arrived, I knew things had changed a lot. I was feeling shaky and slightly nauseated; so, I knew we were getting close. I was also dealing with a lot of emotion about going into the hospital where I feared that I would lose control of my birth experience once we entered those doors. I held on to Dustin and Stephanie’s hands as we walked through the hospital. I was so grateful that it was a holiday and the hallways, which are normally packed with people, were empty. We bypassed admission completely and went straight to triage on the labor/delivery floor.
They put me in the last triage room available and the attending physician, recognizing how advanced in labor I was, told them to check me immediately and then she came and did it herself. I couldn’t believe it when she said, “ummm, you’re complete-complete and baby is right there at a +3 station!” Wow! And here, I had been worried that she was going to tell me I was barely dilated because labor had been so manageable!
This is when they informed me that there were no labor/delivery rooms available and that I would be delivering my baby in triage! In my head, I had prepared for every possibility of labor. I’d even made my peace with having the baby in the car or heck, even the driveway, but I had never imagined I’d have to have a baby in a triage room that was barely bigger than a bathroom, on a narrow stretcher of a bed! I regret that this news may have made me a bit surly and less than cooperative with the nurses, but mostly, as a woman about push out a baby, there was no way in hell I was going to let anyone poke me with needles or strap monitors to me. It was too late for that.
I was SO grateful that so far I had not felt any urge to push. In fact, I felt that during all of this triage craziness, my contractions, while still super strong, had spaced out a little and gave me time to make peace with the situation. This is when the angel nurse appeared and said they’d just gotten a room cleaned and that they were moving me there!
As soon as we entered the room, I could feel myself relax. It was a gorgeous day, with the sun shining in the room and a view of buildings and church steeples. I got on the bed and asked for a squat bar, which they brought. I kneeled there, waiting for the urge to push. I felt at this moment that I was standing on a precipice and even after all of my career training and preparation, after having already given birth before, I suddenly doubted that I could do this. I feared letting go of control and letting my body take over. Stephanie’s calm reassurance reeled me back in. She reminded me how gentle this baby had been to me throughout labor and that her entry into this world would be no different. Dustin reminded me to go to the well and bring our baby back. I felt myself let go.
And suddenly, I had to push! Urgently. This second. My body told me everything I needed to do and I marveled that the doctors were patient enough to let me do what I needed. I could feel my baby moving down into my pelvis as I kneeled on the bed. I could feel when I needed to change my position and move one leg out to the side and then I knew when I needed to turn over onto my hands and knees. At this moment the doctor asked if they could break my water and I told them that they could, but then I had a strong contraction and my water broke on its own and a second later I could feel my little girl crowning. One more push and our Juniper Wren was out! Sweet relief!
It was 1:56pm. I turned over and leaned back on the bed and they put my sweet girl on me and I waited to hear her cry. They suctioned her a little since she’d had some meconium in the amniotic fluid and she immediately started crying. Within minutes, she was looking for the breast. She wanted it urgently and when she did not find it immediately she yelled, angrily. I helped her find it and she latched on and nursed like it was her job! Nothing could make this new lactation counselor happier!
As these first weeks fly free and Autumn descends, I marvel at the person this Juniper-Wren Bird is already. When I think back on how tumultuous our life has been over the last two years, I feel profound gratitude for the teacher she has already been to me and no doubt will continue to be as I journey ever closer to finding the woman at the well.
Emily Pickett is a birth and postpartum doula, who believes that all women deserve to be nurtured through their emergence into motherhood. She is the mother of two little ones, who teach her everyday about her soul’s work. Emily writes about pregnancy, birth and motherhood.
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