This week, I managed a total of 19 hours of labor support over a day and a half, for two mothers. Their babies were born 15 hours apart. Both were incredible experiences, for me, their doula, and hopefully even more so for the moms and dads.
One mother was in labor for twenty-four hours before she was dilated and pushing. She began labor at 10:30 pm Monday night and had her baby just after midnight on Wednesday morning.
Later on Wednesday, my other client's water broke. Her baby was born around 3:30 pm.
I had prayed that these two women, who were both overdue, would not go into labor at the same time. I prayed that their labors would not overlap. They didn't, though I realized later that their babies were born on the same day.
The positive experiences far outweighed the negative ones. In fact, I can't remember much negativity at all.
The best parts for me were:
- Both women used spontaneous rhythmic rituals to cope with labor. This tends to happen in late labor with unmedicated births. Each was different and unexpected, as unique as the mothers themselves. At one labor, I was so happy to see it and know what it meant, where the mother was in her labor, that I started to cry.
- Both women reached a point where they visibly surrendered to labor. They both clearly came to a place where they had to fight it or give in; they both surrendered, and labored well, even better than before that moment.
- One woman, not fully dilated and with a posterior baby we were trying to rotate, resisted the intense urge to push for more than an hour. The effort nearly made her throw up. I had my hand on her hip, pressing to ease the back pain, and I felt how powerfully those muscles were working. That she held back at all, especially for as long as it took, is remarkable.
- One woman had her best friend catch the baby and bring the infant up to her.
- I saw a posterior baby turn to anterior just before crowning. I watched the head turn around rapidly, 180 degrees, to the best position just before birth.
- One mother nearly had dystocia, with a baby's shoulders stuck while the head was out, but the baby came free quickly. The mother had no tears or scrapes at all.
- I saw struggle, stress, and agony turn to complete exhilaration as a mother held her new baby and realized what she had just done.
- Both women got everything they had discussed with me that they wanted out of their births.
Other than that, I have become more and more aware of my own powerlessness at births. So much depends on the mothers, on their ability to endure discomfort and uncertainty, to let go and be alright with not controlling what their bodies are doing. That moment of surrender I recognized in each experience is the dividing line between the typical, intellectually- and emotionally-balanced experience, like we have most of the time, every day, like now, and a primal, uninhibited, completely visceral experience, the state that women enter before babies are born. Women in that place often stop caring about things that bothered them before, like whether their bottoms are exposed or worry about pooping or leaking fluid or what kinds of sounds they're making.
None of that has to do with me. It's the mother's journey. I can help her with her breaths, her visualizations, her physical comfort, and establishing an early ritual, but once she reaches the point of surrender, she teaches everyone else what works for her.
Both of these women are made of stronger stuff than anyone could have anticipated. Both went though intensity I cannot imagine to have their babies, their births, in just the way they wanted.
Because of me? Absolutely not.
But I'm so glad I was there.