childbirth

On Having a Doula for a Medicated, Hospital Birth

“Totally worth it.”

That was what Dan said when I asked him recently what he thought about hiring a doula. If you’ve read Elliot’s birth story, you know that it did not go entirely to plan, and that there were a few curveballs even beyond what you might expect from an induction. And through it all, I relied on my husband and he relied on Jenny.

I know that there’s still a feeling among pregnant women that a doula is only for women who are planning an unmedicated birth and want to avoid allopathic medical interventions, but I wanted to talk a little about my experience with hiring a doula without being fully committed to unmedicated birth. Yes, I prepared using Hypnobabies and would not have been upset to have a totally unmedicated birth, but I also know myself, and know that I do not deal well with discomfort. And from our first consultation Jenny and Rose of Silver Spring Doula made it clear that they were here to support my birth, however that may go.

Silver Spring Doula consists of doulas Jenny and Rose, who have together attended more than 200 births as doulas. They also both have children of their own. Rose is a certified Hypnobabies instructor and actually was the one who pointed me in that direction when I expressed that I wanted some way of coping before getting to the hospital. She’s also a bereavement doula and was particularly helpful as I went through a pregnancy after loss. Jenny is a former actor and singer and I’ll admit, I gravitated towards Silver Spring Doula simply because Jenny’s bio spoke to me. Also, our cat likes both of them.

I will admit that I did not do much research or due diligence in choosing a doula, which is strange for me. But, as I mentioned before, Jenny’s bio clicked for me, and when we met Rose at our initial consultation, I was sure these were the doulas for us. We did our community prenatal class with Jenny and had Rose as our primary contact doula for our private prenatal visits, but Jenny was the one who attended my birth (I very narrowly avoided having the backup doula, which would have happened if I’d gone into labor on Christmas Day). Throughout my pregnancy, Jenny and Rose helped me feel more comfortable and gain confidence that I could handle what was coming. And they lent me the Spinning Babies Daily Essentials, which was absolutely key in my physical comfort in the last month or so of pregnancy.

Fast forward to the hospital. I’d been doing my Hypnobabies study, and Dan had gone over his Hypnobabies material and read The Birth Partner. We felt pretty confident and prepared for my induction. The first night was easy, and we decided we’d wait until I started pitocin to ask Jenny to come to the hospital (we were texting with her the whole time). By the time she got to the hospital, my water had broken and my contractions had intensified and I was already beginning to think it was time for an epidural.

Jenny came in and chatted with Dan and me about how I was doing, and made sure I had had enough to eat (I didn’t really have any desire to eat anything besides the approved clear liquids, but I did eat a lot of homemade gelatin). We talked through getting the epidural and she hung out with me and helped calm me down during contractions. Dan definitely picked up on what she was doing differently because when she had to step out during the actual epidural placement, Dan took over and mimicked a lot of her techniques.

Then she came back in and suggested I get some sleep while I had to lay flat. Once I was able to get back up, she helped me into a side-lying position that would still encourage Elliot to descend.

And then the epidural started to fail.

I first noticed that my left hip was starting to feel more uncomfortable. We thought maybe it was that the medicine was pooling on my right side because of how I was laying, so Jenny helped get me flipped over. When that didn’t work, she went to work advocating for me. Now, most of my friends’ epidural stories are of the “epidurals are magical” variety, but one friend of mine had a not-so-magical epidural experience, complete with nurses who refused to believe her when she knew something was wrong. Well, Jenny was my advocate while I was too busy coping with the now-increasing pain (they’d hit maximum pitocin while I was still feeling the epidural, so when it wore off, I was at almost twice the dose of pitocin from where I’d been when I first asked for the epidural). Dan was free to sit with me and help keep me calm through contractions while Jenny stayed on the nurses about my pain.

I honestly don’t know if we could have convinced them to redo the epidural if we hadn’t had Jenny there. They were certain that I just needed more medicine in my line because it’s very common for epidurals to wear off, but not so common for them to fail like mine did entirely.

Then, almost 36 hours after I’d gotten to the hospital to begin the induction, it became apparent that Elliot still wasn’t descending and I was stuck at 8cm dilated and -2 station. Jenny sat with Dan and my doctor and me as we discussed my options. She agreed that it wasn’t too early to consider the c-section because she’d seen the heart rate decelerations Elliot was having when I tried to lay in any position that encouraged him to descend.

Unfortunately, Jenny was asked to leave before I came back from the OR, but she kept in contact via text and came to visit while I was in the hospital to see how I was doing. And she came by the house for our postpartum visit the week we got home from the hospital. She even helped Dan and I figure out the stretchy wrap, thus starting our babywearing journey, and suggested that I look into getting a ring sling to help keep him off my incision.

She’s continued to keep in touch via email and has been a great source of support through all stages of my journey into motherhood. I hope that by sharing my experience with her I can convince others that a doula is not a frivolous expense, even if you’re having a medicated, hospital birth. I would argue that a hospital setting makes a doula even more necessary, as it was helpful to have someone who had experience with birth whose only job was making sure Dan and I were comfortable and supported.

NB: This is not a sponsored or paid review. I have not been given any incentive to write this post other than my own good experiences and all thoughts are my honest opinion.

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baby

Meditations on the Beginning of Spring

One year ago, I didn’t know I was going to get pregnant that month. I had just turned 35 and was still recovering from my loss the previous autumn. My oldest friend had just welcomed her son, a son that was supposed to have been born a mere three months before my own. But it was spring, a time of new beginnings, and I was trying to embrace that.

I had started acupuncture a few weeks earlier, and my acupuncturist had suggested I meditate on the green and growing things of springtime. He suggested that I focus on the fertile time of year that it was. And I was following my Circle + Bloom meditation program as well. I was meditating a lot. I meditated a lot in the months following my loss.

I didn’t know that I was standing on the cusp of a new period in my life. That a couple weeks later, I would see those two pink lines, and all the excitement and fears they brought up. This year, one year later, I’m sitting in a quiet house, watching my nearly-three-month-old son nap. We went to my friend’s son’s first birthday party this weekend.

I can feel the air warming and the world moving into springtime again, just as I did last year. This year, I won’t be blooming quite so obviously with the spring, but I’m still growing, becoming a mother, slowly but surely. And I get to watch my own little sprout grow as we nurture him.

Despite the years I’ve had in my life, I’m always amazed at the difference a year can make. As we emerge from winter, it’s nice to touch base with the constants in life — the spring, the sun, the flowering trees, the migrating birds — as I consider all that has changed. And I can sit here and appreciate every moment of my journey, joyful and sad, and appreciate that spring has come again.

childbirth, Dan

An Ode to the Other Half, Part Two: Birth Partner

In this series, I’m giving my partner, Dan, his due as a fantastic partner at all stages of our journey to parenthood. Today, I’m going to talk a little about how he prepared for and participated in the birth of our child. I can honestly say that Elliot’s birth would not have been the largely positive experience that it was without Dan’s help.

I’ve already told the story of Elliot’s birth and how I used my Hypnobabies techniques to keep calm and mostly comfortable during labor, especially before getting an epidural. I’ve also talked about how my first epidural started failing on one side because it was improperly placed and I had to have it redone while experiencing the height of pitocin contractions. But that’s the middle. Let’s start at the beginning.

First of all, though he was dubious about its effectiveness, Dan was always willing to participate in the Hypnobabies training. He took to the scripts and the cues right away, and I felt confident that he would be able to help, which made the anticipation of labor less scary. We checked into the hospital at 4pm the day of my induction and he stayed with me for the entirety of my hospital stay, which was almost 36 hours of labor, a c-section, and four additional days, sleeping on couches and staying up all night to soothe the baby so I could rest and recuperate as much as possible.

When we first got into the perinatal room, he helped figure out the TV options while I chatted with the nurse, and later on, he made sure that I could comfortably eat while mostly stuck in bed because of the monitors. Other than the time he spent sleeping the first night (I was pretty oblivious to my increasing contractions while on Cytotec, so I let him sleep as much as he could), he was engaged in the process and made sure to touch base with the nurses to know what was going on. He also was in charge of bringing my cold snacks to the nurses’ station to get them refrigerated, and then fetching gelatin and broth for me later on. I ate a lot of gelatin after we moved to labor and delivery.

But Dan truly started to shine when my contractions became more intense on pitocin. I had a private conversation with him that I was thinking I should get an epidural before I mentioned it to anyone else, and he supported me, while also encouraging me to wait until I talked to the doctor and the doula again, so that I didn’t regret getting it too early. When I did finally decide it was time for the epidural, he was right there with me, helping me relax through the contractions while I had to sit up for the anesthesiologist.

And when that epidural failed and I didn’t think I could keep going on, he was right there with me. I’m so glad our doula was able to snap the picture above of him comforting me through what would turn out to be the worst part of my labor experience. When I had to sit up for the second epidural placement, he was right there with me, helping me with relaxation cues to help me through the contractions while staying still for the epidural. I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to do it without him.

Eventually, we decided that it was time to move to the c-section, and I was so glad they allowed him in with me. I had to go in first, to get prepped, and then they showed him in. I was having really bad shakes from the spinal and it was making me anxious, which made me shake even worse. As soon as Dan came in and sat next to me, he started using Hypnobabies cues and some tricks the doula showed him to help me relax. Even though he claims it didn’t look like it made a difference, I felt much more relaxed and felt like I was shaking less.

Once Elliot came out (greeting the world with a fountain of urine!), Dan was the one to cut the cord and held him the rest of the time the doctors were finishing up. And once I was back in recovery, doing skin-to-skin time, Dan and my nurse made sure to watch us so that I didn’t have to worry about feeling drowsy from the effects of the anesthetic (and over 36 hours of labor and surgery with very little sleep!).

Throughout our hospital stay and the weeks after, he was the one who made my recovery possible. When I had trouble picking up Elliot because of my incision, he reminded me that most people who have abdominal surgery are told not to lift anything, rather than “nothing heavier than the baby,” so that as long as I had him to help, he would do the lifting. Every night when Elliot woke up to nurse, Dan was right there to pick him up out of the bassinet and hand him to me. Sometimes, Dan is better at soothing him to sleep than I am!

His quiet resilience and willingness to help with everything that was possible for him to do made it possible for me to rest and recover from my surgery, while his emotional support has helped me through some of the mentally toughest moments I’ve had. I feel lucky to have such good support and know Elliot feels lucky to have such a good dad.

[photo by Jenny Corbett]

Fourth trimester

Welcome, Elliot

 

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this space. If you follow my Instagram, you’ll know that’s because baby Elliot decided to arrive just over a week ago. We’re all very busy at home getting used to our new little family, but as soon as I find some time, I’ll share the story of Elliot’s birth and start updating with how these first weeks are going.

Holidays

Thoughts on a Quiet Christmas à Deux

Well, we had thought this would be our first Christmas with a baby. Had my due date proven a more accurate guess, we would probably be in the throes of cluster feeding and sleepless nights still. But due dates, like the pirate’s code, are really more like guidelines, and here we are, waiting on our baby, fielding well-meaning inquiries from friends, and getting a lot of comments about having our own “baby Jesus” (for what it’s worth, I did suggest that if the baby came on Christmas, we’d have to consider using “Noel/Noelle” as the name, but Dan vetoed that.

We had always planned on this Christmas being a quiet affair with just the two of us. We hadn’t even planned on making the 20-minute drive to my mother’s house nearby because, if we had a newborn (and a recently-postpartum body, for me), there was little chance we were going to both put on real clothes, let alone leave the house. But the eerie calm-before-the-storm feeling of being overdue and alone together during Christmas wasn’t expected.

I’ve had quiet Christmases before, and Christmases without a large gathering, and even Christmases where we woke up on Christmas morning with just the two of us in our house. But somehow, this one feels different. We didn’t really have anything planned because the hope was always that I would wake up suddenly and be gearing up to give birth at any moment, so why make big plans for one specific day?

This year has also been a bit of a trial run for an idea we had for future Christmases with our child: gift-free. This year, we’re not buying gifts for each other and just focusing on spending time together on a quiet day off. Our hope is that in the future, we can make this holiday about spending time together and not about gifts, at least in our immediate little family. That way, we’re not adding our own excesses to the inevitable pile of gifts from grandparents.

So this year, we’re having a quiet day in, waiting patiently to see if I manage an eleventh-hour birth on my own before my scheduled induction later this week. I’m making a bit of a special breakfast because we need something to mark the day, and just generally trying to celebrate the return of sunlight into the world without as much to-do as usually goes on.

pregnancy, Third Trimester, Weeklies

Forty-one Weeks Pregnant

Yup, still pregnant. I now refer to myself as “excessively pregnant.” And it’s certainly been a week. I spent this week working from home, which was at least nice because I didn’t have to fight crowds on my commute, but it also meant that I didn’t get the benefit of interacting with other people on a regular basis. It did get a little lonely and made me wonder how I’m going to handle being at home with the baby for three months after Dan goes back to work.

I’m also just starting to feel big, ungainly, and tired. The baby is obviously running out of room, and is starting to grow back up into my stomach, causing my reflux to get worse. Friday and Saturday nights were the worst, but I’m hoping that upping my Zantac dosage (doctor’s suggestion) will help that. I’m still not showing any signs that the baby is coming soon. I’ve had some contractions, off and on, but nothing major and nothing that progresses.

So I’m scheduled for an induction this week and that’s when the baby will probably come out. At least I know this is my last full week of pregnancy and have an end in sight, but I do hope my next few days are better than the last couple have been.

Dan and I are now both officially off work. I’m using my paid time off to cover any days between now and the birth, and Dan has two Federal holidays and an undetermined amount of time furloughed before he can get his leave re-approved. Thankfully, our finances are robust enough to weather the shutdown at the same time as I’m heading out on partial paid leave.

So we’ve spent our time being relatively lazy and just resting mostly. I prepped some homemade gelatin to have on hand, since it’s what I’m allowed to eat right before my induction, and I’ll probably make a batch of lactation bars to take with me to the hospital for after the baby comes out, for when I need an easy, hand-held snack. But other than that, we’re mostly as ready as we’ll ever be.

childbirth, pregnancy

Seemingly-Simple Wisdom from our Doula

I’ve made references to our doulas in the past. We’re having a doula from Silver Spring Doula attend our birth. Since both of them share duties, either Jenny or Rose will attend the birth, but our “primary contact doula” is Rose. She’s a certified Hypnobabies instructor and has been really helpful as I’ve gone through my self-study, and has been working as a doula for over a decade. Plus she has two kids of her own. So she’s learned a thing or two. And I thought I’d share some of her little wisdom gems.

  1. Freezer meals: I’ve mentioned this one before, but rather than carving out separate time to prepare “freezer meals,” simply make a double-batch of whatever you’re making for dinner that night. And then freeze half. It’s so simple, and yet I hadn’t thought of it. I was dreading figuring out when I was going to have time to make casseroles, not to mention buying spare dishes to freeze them in and figure out the freezer space. But since I’m only freezing two servings at a time and cooking when I would already be cooking anyway, it works out with much less headache.
  2. Shelf-stable high-protein snacks: She suggests having some shelf-stable snacks that are high in protein stashed around the house for eating while breastfeeding. Energy bars and peanut butter are good ideas. I imagine beef jerky would also work (although I’ve heard you get incredibly thirsty while breastfeeding, so that might be counter-productive).
  3. Hospital bags: Rather than packing a “his” and “hers” bag, pack a bag for during labor and after labor. That way, you only need to bring one bag in with you when you get to the hospital, and your partner can run out to the car to grab the other one after the baby’s come out. We actually re-packed our bags after hearing this and I feel much more confident about our packing because it also gave us a better way to organize things to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything.

I know, I know. This all seems so simple and obvious, right? Well, I hadn’t thought of it. And I’ve mentioned it to other pregnant women I know and they were surprised not to have thought about it. But it’s helped me feel so much more prepared for birthing and the postpartum period to have these little ways to get things done. That way, my mental energy can go where it’s really needed: washing so many things for the baby.