My midwife partners and I at the The Farm learned by observation and experience that the presence of even one person who is not exquisitely attuned to the mother’s feelings can stop some women’s labors. All women are sensitive. Some women are extraordinarily so. -Ina May Gaskin
Apparently, reading Ina May Gaskin is a great way to boost oxytocin levels. My contractions had fizzled out when I curled up in bed to read, but within twenty minutes or so they were back. I kept reading for a while, but eventually I turned off my lamp and slept through the waves. As I slept, I noticed the contractions, but they were never strong enough to wake me completely.
Sometime around 4:00 a.m. my husband got up with an earache. I decided to get up too and start timing my contractions again. It was not the ideal time for him to be sick (ha, is it ever?), but I did my best to make him more comfortable with all the various natural remedies up my sleeve. It was looking highly likely that we would be having a Christmas baby, so he promised he would focus on supporting me despite his aching ear.
I really didn’t want to call my midwives. It was Christmas morning! And I especially didn’t want to bother them if it was just a false alarm. I waited until contractions were coming between 5 and 10 minutes apart and lasting a minute. And finally I bit the bullet and paged them. Amy was the one who called back (she was on-call until 7:00 a.m.). I told her I felt like maybe I was holding my labor back because I wasn’t yet at my birth location, so I felt like I should probably come in. She said that was fine and that she would meet us at the birth center.
I texted Cherise and a few other people to give them an update, we gathered our stuff, and we woke my 10-year-old daughter who wanted to come to the birth. While we drove I ate an egg and some toast my husband had made for me. It was surprising how many people were out and awake so early on Christmas morning, but there wasn’t really any traffic, so we made great time.
When we arrived, Amy and Mary (who I have known for six years and had previously committed to attend my birth), were already there getting things set up. We got settled into the bed area and made ourselves at home, turning on my diffuser with some calming oils, getting my birthing music playing, turning the lights down, etc. Nichelle (the OB on staff at the birth center) was actually on-call Christmas morning, so she arrived soon after we did as did my doula/friend, Cherise. Meanwhile my contractions were slowing down considerably.
I had disrupted the Christmas mornings of all three of the birth center’s care providers as well as Cherise, and I didn’t really look like I was in labor. Cue the performance anxiety. Suddenly I felt so much pressure to provide evidence that I was really in labor and so much guilt that I may have called them all to the birth center for nothing. Anxiety and guilt are really not helpful to labor progress, so of course my contractions were diminishing. Eventually I asked Cherise to take my daughter into another room so my husband and I could have some alone time. My instincts told me that darkness and privacy would help things progress, so I cuddled up in bed in the dark with my husband who rubbed my arms and back to get the oxytocin flowing. As I lay there, I was thinking, “Maybe I’m not really in labor? Maybe we should just go home?” And my body was responding to those suggestions like it was taking orders: Oh… OK… Are we not in labor? Let’s slow things down then.
My midwife Mary came in after a while and said she was going to leave for a bit because she didn’t want to make me feel any extra pressure. Nichelle was in the other room, so she would call Mary if/when things started happening. I seem to recall telling her that I felt like things weren’t going anywhere, but Mary told me to just rest and not worry about anything. About five minutes later she came back in and said, “I’m going to stay, and Nichelle’s going to leave.” I didn’t know what had shifted in those few minutes, but I was definitely relieved. It’s difficult to predict who you will feel comfortable with while in labor.
When I talked with Mary later, she told me that a powerful spiritual feeling had come over her to change her mind about leaving. She felt that God was speaking to her, she knew that she needed to stay, and she knew that I was going to have my baby that day. I am so grateful she was listening. I know Mary was the exact person I needed to protect my birthing space. This was a turning point, and soon my contractions were getting stronger and I was making noise. (By this point it was probably 8:00 or 9:00 a.m.)
All of this vividly illustrated to me just how much impact the right people can have on a laboring woman. I told Mary a few days ago at a postpartum appointment, “I feel like God hand-picked all of the people who would be present at my birth.” It was kind of magical the way all the right people showed up, and how the birth was beautiful in different but wonderful ways for each of us.
Cherise had been a doula for several years, but she hadn’t attended a birth as a doula in a long time. In fact, she didn’t know if she’d ever be able to attend a birth again. In the early part of 2015, Cherise gave birth to a still-born baby boy, her fourth child, John. The trauma of that experience made a deep impact, and she didn’t know if it would ever go away. But a week before my birth she offered to support me, and we both felt good about it. She told me later that she felt “called” to my birth, and she knew that God would take care of everything and help her through it. Cherise was absolutely pivotal in my birthing experience. I was blessed by her presence and her words so very much.
One of the birth center’s assistant midwives is Kelly. Kelly arrived maybe an hour or two after we got to the birth center. But what I didn’t realize until afterward is that Kelly was Cherise’s doula when she gave birth to John last year. Kelly was with Cherise through all of it. What are the chances that Kelly would happen to appear on the very day that Cherise would courageously re-venture into doula work? I’m convinced that God placed Kelly at my birth, and not so much to hold space for me as for Cherise. How beautiful is that? It makes my heart sing.
My 10-year-old daughter wanted to be present for Hope’s birth, and I was happy to have her join us. After the birth, I learned that before Nichelle left the birth center she had been trying to convince Cherise to take my 10-year-old daughter home. And my daughter told me afterward that she kind of felt like no one wanted her there. Finding out these two bits of information just about broke my heart. I am so glad my daughter was there! At one point Mary sensed that it was a good time to encourage my daughter to come take a peek at me while I labored. My daughter didn’t just take a peek though. She has a tender heart, full of compassion and a desire to relieve suffering. She came right to me and started rubbing my arm and shoulder. And I just melted right into her. It was truly exactly what I needed at that moment, and it helped me so much. Mary said it was one of the most beautiful things to witness.
My husband. Dear Lord, I love that man. With him holding my hand, I think I could get through just about anything. His gentle, kind, peaceful presence has been life-saving and life-giving for me time and time again.
I cried repeatedly during the hours I spent in labor, in part because I felt so much gratitude and love for all of the people around me. I also cried in gratitude to my baby, Hope. I truly felt nurtured by her as I labored. It felt to me as though she was saying, “It’s OK, Mom. Take however long you need.” She knew I was afraid to let her come out, and she surrendered the birth to me. She allowed things to move at whatever pace I needed in order to feel ready for her to be born. And so I cried in love and gratitude to her for that gift.
Truly, the right people can make even the hardest things so utterly beautiful.