Thursday, February 18, 2010

My First Birth

It may sound funny, but even after quite a few years of working with birth, I still dream about birth all the time...giving birth, catching babies, helping friends in labour.

I have birth fantasies, too. Sometimes I'm on the Metro or the bus next to a pregnant woman and I start daydreaming of a tv situation in which she suddenly bursts into second stage labour, and everyone is freaking, and I get to doula the woman and everyone around us, and then everyone gets to bear witness to a beautiful, fast, physiological birth and their minds are positively influenced forever and ever amen.

I have not had any "car" babies in my career, though have come AWFULLY close a few times, but part of me thinks this would be a groovy experience. I'm sure no mom wants to give birth in a car, and I'm REALLY sure most partners would not be down with this situation so for their sakes I'm glad it hasn't happened, but I must admit when flying down a highway with the mom announcing she feels rectal pressure, I get a little excited.

There is a lot of freedom in not being afraid of Birth, as most people kind of are. It's not that I don't have healthy respect for the unpredictable nature of Birth, because I most certainly do. But I'm not scared of someone animal-ing out and dropping a baby in my presence. It has happened before. Not in a car, but I have had a couple babies decide to come out without much warning. I have to say I have enjoyed those times. Because I'm not the midwife, I call emergency services to take the mom and baby to the hospital, which was her planned place of birth. It is definitely a guilty pleasure catching a crazy fast baby by accident.

I'll tell you about the first birth I ever went to. Yes, this is how I was initiated into doula-ing...a true story.

I had taken my little 2 day doula training course (which was jam packed and very good, I have to say) in Boston, my daughter was a year and a half, and I was ready to attend someone else's birth. My friend Patoo bestowed upon me the greatest honour of requesting my presence at her planned hospital birth. She had a 4 year old at the time whom she birthed in traditional hospital fashion...induction, epidural, etc. The birth was quite fast for a first birth with an epidural. She planned on having the same kind of birth.

I anticipated that birth more than 50 Christmases put together. I was unbelivably excited. Finally, the day came where Patoo called me at around 7 in the morning, saying, "ohhh, I'm having some contractions and it's starting to huuuurrt." I dashed over there, dropping my daughter off at my mother's. She was sitting meditatively in front of a lit candle, looking very serene. Three of her friends and her four year old daughter were there. I had never been to a birth before, having only experienced my own first birth, which was a standard 24 hour dealie, so I didn't really have the knowledge and honed skills of observation to realize how advanced her labour was. I also didn't know that women birthing quickly are often in denial of the fact the baby is coming soon.

Patoo had a little ritual she developed spontaneously with her contractions. She would run during the contraction to the kitchen to start making some peanut butter and toast because she was hungry. She figured the hospital would restrict food, and wanted to be full. Then she would run to her daughter's room to start doing her hair because it was picture day at school. Then she would run to the bathroom and whimper a little while she sat on the toilet. Each circut of these behaviours brought a little more progress with each activity, as well as the labour...the bread toasted...then the peanut butter got spread...then a few bites were taken. For the hair-doing, elastics and a brush were procured..then some hair was swiped at...a snarly pony tail made (try doing a four year old's hair in active labour), and still I did not clue into the fact she was in spectacular labour. In the toilet, a pee was had, then some bloody show was visible. Patoo just kept doing normal stuff instead of focusing on her labour and getting into all the positions and making the noises I was trained to expect.

Finally, after a few rotations of this circuit, I realized things were looking a little manic. She started doing things like throwing the toast on the floor when a contraction started and the running started looking desperate. Patoo's daughter was starting to give her mother the hairy eyeball as she'd drop the hairbrush and do a strange running/jig combo. I followed her into the bathroom and then it hit me. I looked into her eyes. She was in labour land. She had left us. This circuit WAS how she expressed her labour. I said, "we need to get to the hospital right now." I suddenly felt the urgency. She said, "okay, but I have to go eat some more toast," and started running to the kitchen. I grabbed her and started putting her shoes on, and told one of her friends to get the car ready.

As I was putting on her shoes, she broke the circuit...she said, I just have to go to the bathroom..." "OOOH SHIT!" I thought. I was about to go to the bathroom to get her, when she came shooting past me, her pants down around her ankles, shrieking, "IT'S COMING!!!!!" She ran into her daughter's room, lay down on the floor with her legs open, and I saw her baby was crowning. I'm sad to say, I panicked a little, and heard this ridiculous phrase come out of my mouth, "Oh no you don't! Put your pants back on! We need to go to the hospital NOW!" Obviously, I reigned in that ridiculousness, and snapped into "taking care of business" mode. I yanked off Patoo's shoes and threw them behind me, then took off her pants entirely.

Patoo's poor daughter was staring at her mother as if her head were spinning right around. I said, "Nina, get off the bed, your mom needs to get somewhere more comfortable." She just stared without moving. "Nina, move!" I said. She got off the bed and ran into one of Patoo's good friend's arms, and I felt so good she was with someone very calm and loving who could make this experience okay for her. I asked another friend to get the friend with the car to come help me, and got her to call 911. The friend with the car was not so calm, and I know not into watching a baby coming out, so I had her sit behind Patoo so she could lean against her instead of lying flat on her back on a cold floor (there was no way she was able to get onto the bed). I demanded towels and warm washcloths, shooting out orders to everyone. It was quite obnoxious, really, not how I would handle it now, but I forgive myself, as this is quite a way to be introduced to supporting birth.

I had never seen a birth, and when I saw the squishy little walnut looking head, I wasn't sure if what I was seeing was normal. I started thinking, "Oh God, is that a cord coming out fist?" and I was frightened. Then out of the blue,I had one of the most incredible, out of body, spiritual experiences of my life...a voice appeared and spoke in my right ear. "Put your hand over the head, and let it ease out." Patoo was scared, yelling, "Help me!" and I centred, smiled and said, "go ahead and push if you need." She did, and the baby's head came out smoothly. There was a cord around her neck, and of course I had blanked, but knew somehow this wasn't ideal. The voice spoke to me in a way that was so familiar, so calming. "Take the cord away." I took the cord, grasping it gently in my hand, and the most profound feeling of familiarity ran through me. The rubbery, warm pulsing cord, the feel of the wet baby head, the motion of her head as I slipped it from around her neck (it just fit...it wasn't loose) was the most peaceful, right thing I had ever felt in my life. I felt completely connected not to the situation, but to the energy animating the situation. It was truly a mystical experience. Then all of her squirted into my hands...warm, wiggly, alive, smelling like Heaven. The world stopped for a moment. I could feel the shift, the making room for a new life and the blessing the Universe has for that moment...I felt all of it. She yelled immediately, pink and beautiful, and I gave her to her mother.

Time rushed forward again, and we were all over the moon with joy. It was a minute or two before the ambulance guys came, and it was a fabulous time of celebrating. Then they came in, dealt with the placenta, and tucked the baby into the blanket all snug with her Mom. We rode to the hospital where they gave Patoo some stitches, and tended to the baby.

Sadly, they kept the baby for a week at the hospital, on prophylactic antibiotics and under observation because she looked "dusky" (the baby was bi-racial..her mother white, and her father very dark skinned). Basically, from my perspective now, I believe my young, single mother friend was being punished for having had a homebirth, even though it was truly unintentional, and her baby being "saved" from all her nasty young mother "cooties". I wish I had known more, been more experienced. Sigh...how are you supposed to know all this with two days of training? Anyway, I did my best, and luckily, this little girl went on to breatfeed for a long while despite a rocky start.

We never knew what had happened to the amniotic fluid. Patoo had no memories of the waters breaking, and I certainly didn't see any sort of major gush. We figured they had broken in the toilet. Then, years later, one of the friends who had been there came to see me for a massage session, and she asked, "I wanted to ask you....what was that JUICE that came out when the baby was born? When you were delivering the baby, 2 streams of pink fluid shot out over each of your shoulders and hit the wall across the room!" Mystery solved.

So this, folks, was my introduction to being with birth. I have, ever since, been passionate about everything relating to birth. I'm not into the phrase "birth junkie" for myself. Somehow I get the sense the Great Lady Birth wouldn't find this phrase respectful out of my mouth. I know that seems out there, and I have no issue whatsoever with others identifying themselves as such because it IS true when you're bit by the birth bug you want more "hits" of it... but I don't call myself that. I need Birth like I need water, though. She is my greatest teacher. My greatest lessons about life have come from being with Birth.

At Patoo's birth, I was not elegant. I was not spectacular, intuitive, or knowledgeable. But I know I was unequivocally meant to be there. That voice I encountered has visited me on other similar occasions, and has alway provided me the calm with which to trust I can usually handle what Birth requires from me.