The Fellowship of the Birth
I remember years ago—long before our daughter was even a thought in our mind—Crys mentioning she wanted, someday, to do a water birth (which, from all the things I had seen on Baby Story and all those TLC and Discovery shows, also meant birthing at home). My initial thought, back then, was one of, “Damn hippie.” Come on, seriously? We’re in the 21st century, there are these new things called hospitals where they have, like, nurses and doctors and stuff, and even these cool beds. Besides, any and every show I had ever seen showed births taking place at the hospital (save the occasional taxicab birth attended to by Superman on Lois and Clark, our favorite show).
But, in true Crys fashion, she never let it go. When that woman wants something…when she has her sights set…she goes after it.
Our daughter’s birth was done with a midwife through a large clinic in Fort Collins. It wasn’t at home, mind you, but we were told she’d be able to labor in a large tub, standing, using a yoga ball, and parts of the bed could be removed to allow for different birthing positions. That would have all been fine had Crys been given the chance to GET that far.
During what we thought was labor, we showed up early in the morning when Crys was having contractions but they didn’t admit us immediately. They had us stick around, walk, have a bite to eat, and then check back in. Around 10 AM, though not much had changed, we got checked in. We spent the day walking the halls, trying to get Crys to dilate more. She was in practically no pain, but contractions would come and go, she’d catch her breath, and we’d wait for the next one.
5 PM, our midwife told us she would be manually breaking Crys’s water to see if things could get moved along. Wait—huh? 7 hours, no pain, no stress nor strain and now we’re going to push things along? Well, uhmm, okay. If you say so, doc.
Her water was broken. It had no effect but to make my sister a bit queasy. So, they pushed Pitocin. Vitamin P. The evil, devilish drug.
Within minutes of Pitocin being dripped into Crys’s veins, contractions came fast and furious. Relentless. If you’re a runner, imagine starting a marathon, full sprint, in the dead of winter, in shorts, without warming anything up first, after eating a large breakfast. If you’re not a runner—I’m sure you can imagine. They pushed Crys’s body to the brink so fast that it overtook her with panic and we did end up at the filled up tub we’d been promised…but only for Crys to vomit into (red, by the way, because of Jell-o, which scared the bejeezus out of me).
So all the Pitocin did was to twist and contort Crys’s body, but dilate nothing. Well, it was getting close to closing time. We were the last birth of the day. Like any worker at any job, our midwife wanted to get home for the night. (I am assuming here, but after years of reflection, and talking to others, this seems to be a pretty fair assumption). A C-Section was ordered. Our daughter was ripped from Crys’s body. Each beep of the monitor might as well have said, “You failed. You failed. You failed.” Our birthing plan was thrown out the window. We’d wanted no drugs. No C-section. No interference with what we KNEW Crys’s body could achieve. All of that was gone.
True, we were scared. We didn’t know any better! And who were we to question the knowledge and expertise of a doctor, or a midwife? But regardless, the bizarre twist of events was terribly traumatic for Crys. She felt like she had failed. Like her body wasn’t good enough. That she wasn’t strong enough. I felt like I’d betrayed her by not speaking up, and it took her a while to be able to say, “Andy, you did what you thought was best.”
So with our son, we sought out the complete opposite of the experience we’d had with our daughter’s birth. Not only would we attempt a birth at home, hopefully using water, but we’d need to find someone who would support Crys doing this as a VBAC. There are doctors, clinics, and insurance companies that will not touch this with the proverbial 10-foot pole.
Our midwife THIS time around, on the other hand, said (after routinely examining Crys and going over necessary precautionary measures), “I’m in if you are.”
We did it for many reasons. For freedom. For choice. For peace. And, let’s face it—Crys and I decided we’d be done with kids after 2…why not, then, go out with a bang, if this was going to be the last opportunity? We never felt in danger. We never felt like we were being lead astray. In fact, Crys felt more supported this time around, and I felt not only more supported, but more educated and more empowered.
With the hospital birth—in fact, with the entire pregnancy with Cora—I felt like my presence at the check-ups and even the classes was one of, “Mom carries the baby, mom labors the baby, mom delivers the baby, and dad’s just kinda there.” This time around, I had to think about things like helping Crys through contractions, providing support throughout, and would I be able to look and catch our son as he emerged from…uh…there?!
"Nurturing is not a genetically feminine attribute. Tears and laughter are not the province of women only. The last time I looked, men had tear ducts. They had arms for holding babies. They cared about their children. And they cried at births...let the shared experience of childbirth reclaim the human soul." --Ariska Razak
K, our midwife, came to know about my fears of having a boy. She heard my trepidations about seeing Crys in so much pain and would I be able to go through this. She heard my worries about failing—in any and all ways possible. To Crys she was the midwife, and to me she was a counselor and confidante. But even she knew well enough to know that, if I had any doubt in my mind, this was not going to work. And so, in the early part of 2012, in the midst of an emotional, tear-filled visit to see her, K, brought up the idea of bringing on a doula.
It surprises me how many people—men AND women--don’t know who or what a doula is, and I wonder if many share my line of thinking that I had when it was suggested.
I knew this much—a doula was someone who was there to assist with the birth. But what did that entail? And by going with one, did that admit some sort of defeat? Did it mean I didn’t—or wouldn’t—do enough during the birth? Did it mean Crys didn’t trust me?
For the record—I am very hard on myself.
Enter J. J was our doula. She was at the birth to help K set up supplies. She took over pushing on Crys’s hips and helping her breathe when I needed a breather. She waived cloths sprinkled with Peppermint oil in front of Crys as she contracted to ease nausea. She gave me looks, gestures, silent directions, motivators, and kudos to keep going when the sounds of Crys’s pain, throwing up, wanting to give up or give in started to even get the best of me. She was a coach, a partner, a supporter, a wealth of knowledge, strength, and insight. And she also had assisted with so many births with K that they could give each other a simple look and know exactly what the other one meant.
Having her there didn’t mean we failed, whatsoever…or that we WOULD fail. In fact, it may be the single best decision we made. Having her there made the labor process a well-oiled, functioning, fantastic machine.
This journey had already lasted for 9 months, and for the previous week and a half we’d gone on an emotional upheaval filled with confusion, heartbreak, frustration, and bafflement. If asked how long she was in labor, it would seem rather ludicrous—if not a bit of a stretch—to answer “2 weeks.” Was she PHYSICALLY in labor for 2 weeks? Goodness, no. But the labor on the brain, the emotions, the household and the world we knew was 2 weeks, at least. Pregnancy, itself, is laborious, for everyone involved. There’s waiting to find out if it’s a boy or girl. Tests. Mom getting bigger and bigger. Clothes getting smaller and smaller. Nausea. Food cravings and food turn-offs. Pregnancy brain (an actual phenomenon which occurs during pregnancy in which the mom becomes forgetful and may even experience a sense of amnesia in severe cases. As Crys said during her pregnancy with our daughter during which she was a grad student, “It makes taking exams a WHOLE lot more interesting”). Changes physically, emotionally, in your open space and deep within your heart. It is a marathon. It is the Ironman…and I’m saying this as the dad, not even as the one whose body was taken over by Mini-Me! TV makes it look so cute and happy and aside from morning sickness and feeling like a proverbial (insert your choice of: house, blimp, or any other large object)…
It’s a little bit different than that. So, if a little assistance is needed to make it through, use it. Even the best player in the game isn’t going to make it to the Big Dance without the advice of the coach.