Updated: May 23
When Jennifer originally setup a consult with me, I recognized the name right away. She had called me just a couple years earlier looking for a doula. In that original phone call she shared stories of her previous traumatic birth stories. One ending in a cesarean section, post op infection and a transfusion. The second being a homebirth to hospital transfer also followed by a significant hemorrhage. I ended up helping her find another doula for the birth of her 3rd child, that birth once again came with a bit of trauma surrounding another hemorrhage.
This time around when she was having her 4th baby, she reached out to me right away. This baby was quite the surprise, after previously conceiving via IVF, this baby was conceived without fertility interventions.
There were two things she was hoping to overcome for the birth of this baby. Relying on an epidural to cope with end of labor, preventing hemorrhage rather than reacting to it and advocating for herself in ways that were quieted it before. There was fear present. It wasn’t obvious right away as Jen is a physically and mentally strong person. However, she would share little snippets with me here and there, that made me very aware her prior birth trauma was along for the ride.
On the morning of February 12th Jennifer reached out and mentioned that she was having some contractions and that while she thought it was probably nothing, she was going door to door to sell girlscout cookies regardless. This pretty much sums up Jen’s entire personality. She was determined to get through things her own way.
That would include making it through all the plans she had made for 2 days later, Valentine’s day, which also happened to be the birthday of her 3rd child, Henry.
Jen texted me on 2/14 at 2pm that she was having a few contractions every hour since early morning and noted that they felt very different to her than the previous contractions she had been having this week. That’s always the phrase I’m looking for. When birthworkers say, “trust me you’ll know when it’s labor”, that can often feel dismissive and not help to create assurance in the ability to actually know what’s happening with your body. I wait for the “this feels different” communication from folks as my own confirmation.
Around 5:30pm she communicated that the contractions had gotten closer together, were more intense, but she was tolerating them. She was determined to get through Henry’s birthday dinner. Her parents were coming over for cake and to play cards and she was going to complete this part of her evening regardless. I remember chuckling about it because I believed her.
I checked in about an hour later and she told me they had gotten through dinner.
At 6:54pm I texted: “Do you need me to come to you?”
She replied at 6:55pm: “Not yet. I’m rushing the family through presents, then I’m heading for the shower or tub.”
At 7:18pm she texted: “Can you come? They’re right on top of each other.”
I arrived 40 minutes later and could hear Jen moaning as I approached the front door. She was moving around the house from the bathroom, to the ball, to being one all 4’s. We talked through her contractions each time and she was managing them well, but her daughters were nervous. They kept coming down from bed to make sure that she was ok and I could tell that she was struggling to put her whole brain into this labor. I suggested that we make our way to the hospital.
We arrived to the hospital around 9:15pm. Jen decided to have a cervical check and found out that she was 6cm. This number made Jen feel discouraged and she requested an epidural. However, in all 3 of her previous births, when she received the epidural is when each labor/birth started mirroring each other and having traumatic endings. When she received the epidural all 3 previous times, her labor would halt and then would be augmented by pitocin. Jen also had a fear each time that having her water broken would make the labors intolerable and so she would opt for an epidural prior to that as well.
When she told me she couldn’t get through this without an epidural because she felt as though her pelvis was being ripped in half, I reminded Jen that in our very first conversation prior to hiring me she said, “All the other doulas were nice, but I need someone who will tell me no when I want an epidural and I’ve heard you’re that person.”
Jen said, “Fuck. I did say that.” And the whole room erupted in laughter. It was a bit of the break from intensity we all needed.
A few contractions later I brought up having her water broken. That feeling that Jen was having of being ripped in half was due to the amniotic sac “bulging” through the cervix. (Imagine the way a water balloon would sink into a glass if you set it on top.) I told her that having her water broken, might give her a bit of relief for a few contractions and allow for her baby’s head to apply pressure to the cervix and move things along. Her midwife agreed that this could change the way she felt (temporarily). Jen hesitated and then the real conversation started.
The midwife and I both gave our opinions that she could have a baby very very quickly once her water was broken; that it might be the thing that would prevent a whole host of other interventions. Her husband chimed in that he agreed. That they hadn’t taken this path before and the other options could lead to this birth repeating the previous ones.
Her 3 person birth team were all in agreement and the one thing that Jen did have, was trust in us all. At 10:20pm the midwife ruptured the amniotic sac and as promised Jen felt a little bit better for 3-4 contractions as her body worked to bring baby down and apply the baby’s head to her cervix.
As things picked back up, Jen held eye contact with me. “Melissa I can’t do this. I’m so scared.”
“Tell me what your’e afraid of Jen.” Sometimes our own minds are holding us back, even if we don’t think the mind is playing a big role. Jen needed to voice the fear in order to get through it.
She raised her voice in a loud sob, “I don’t want my kids to lose me!” Jen began to cry and my eyes and her husbands were both full of tears. That fearful energy was now on the table and was being released. She leaned into me and I whispered to her that she was safe, that everyone in that space was ready for whatever came next and that she could let it all go.
Just a few minutes later, Jen locked eyes with me again, but her eyes looked completley different this time…”There’s a baby in my vagina!!!”
2 pushes later at 10:40pm, Jen birthed her baby standing up, leaning over the hospital bed. This baby was so wrapped in it’s cord the midwife had to do a cirque de Soleil style performance to get her untangled. She then passed the baby between Jen’s legs where she placed her on the bed and Jen announced. “It’s a girl!”.
Jen then climbed into the bed so that her bleeding could be monitored. Jen wasn’t bleeding. Maybe the smallest amount of blood loss I had seen at birth in a long time actually. There was no need to manage a hemorrhage, because there wasn’t one. Her husband gave me a huge squeeze and began to cry. This was the perfect birth for their family.
This birth healed them on a deeper level and it was such an amazing honor to be witness to it, to be part of it and for Jen to allow me to share it with you all now.