Doula life is unpredictable, but almost always busy! Every day looks different, but for those who are interested, here's a fairly typical series of days while on call for a birth.
Last Tuesday around 5pm: On the way to a prenatal appointment my doula partner (Karissa) and I had with a client who had been in prodromal (i.e. very long and slow) labor since Friday. Her surges were finally picking up a bit. I let her know we'd be near her house for two prenatals that evening and to call when/if she needed me as I'd be the one attending her birth.
5:30-7:00ish: We had a great time chatting with our clients at our first prenatal meeting of the night. We finalized their birth plan, and Karissa taught them several acupressure points to use in labor.
7:00pm: As we were walking out of that meeting my phone rang and it was our client in labor. Things were progressing, but she wasn't ready for me yet. I had her stay on the phone chatting with me long enough to hear her through a few surges, and I had a feeling it wouldn't be long until she asked me to come over. (Doesn't my doula mobile look cute?)
7:30pm: We arrive at our second prenatal meeting of the night. This couple had chocolate and strawberries for us!!! I got exactly one bite into my first strawberry when my phone rang again. This time it was the husband of the laboring client. That typically means it’s go time (when mom is too busy laboring to call me herself). Sure enough, he reported that she was ready for me.
As I was about to zip out the door the client at our prenatal meeting kindly put some homemade soup into a mason jar for me since I hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Karissa and the couple at our meeting joked that I should take a selfie while driving and drinking my soup. We all deemed that ultimately unsafe, so instead I took a soup selfie before getting into the car - blurry because I wasn't taking time for photo ops on the way to a birth.
I did end up drinking the soup as I drove to my laboring client's home, and I ended up VERY grateful for that soup as I would have very little to eat over the next 24 hours! (And it was DELICIOUS!)
8:00pm: I arrived at our laboring client’s home to find her snuggled up in a cozy robe on her bedroom floor, with lavender oil diffusing, and peaceful lullabies playing as she was eating dinner while leaning up against her bed. She felt safe and comfy - perfect! And she was EATING - important because the hospital would discourage her from eating once we arrived.
Her surges had lessened in intensity so her husband was worried they had called me too soon. I assured him that following his wife’s lead and calling when they did was the right thing to do. After prodromal labor it can be hard to believe it’s the “real deal,” but I could tell.
We spent the evening alternating between walking, lunging, in child’s pose, and resting.
12:30am: The couple talked and together made the call that it was time to go to the hospital. We drove separately and I grabbed some Taco Bell on the way. (Note: it’s harder than you’d think to find food in the middle of the night).
When I arrived at the hospital I changed out of my not-labor-friendly boots into a ratty old pair of gym shoes I keep in my trunk for just this occasion. They aren't pretty, but I was grateful I had them.
We spent the remainder of the night continuing to labor much as we had at home. I set-up fairy lights and fake candles and turned off the lights in an attempt to keep the environment as safe and cozy as it at felt at home.
People often ask if I sleep at labors. I do when and if I'm able, but often I don't. If my client is resting peacefully and there's a place to close my eyes for a few minutes I will. I also follow my own advice for my clients: when the estimated due date is approaching take daily afternoon naps so you're rested if labor starts that evening.
8:00am: Another client went to a different hospital for a scheduled induction. Karissa was handling this case. Throughout the day she and I texted many times sharing progress updates and suggestions regarding our two labors.
8:00pm: 24 hours after my arrival at their house the night before, mom delivered a beautiful and healthy baby girl!
9:30pm: After getting baby latched for her first feeding, helping dad hold his daughter skin-to-skin, and answering questions from the nervously excited new parents, I said my goodbyes and slipped out just before they were moved to their postpartum room.
When I returned to my car I removed my mask (yep, I'd worn it the entire time), and then I laughed at my front seat filled with my discarded water bottles, Taco Bell bag, and empty soup jar.
Karissa still had a long night ahead of her, but I was headed home to bed.
Thursday: Karissa’s client also delivered a beautiful and healthy girl!
And that night, as I was about to fall asleep trying to catch up on my sleep, I ended up awake until past midnight talking my client through some challenges with breastfeeding and jaundice 24 hours past their birth.
So all in all that’s actually way more than a single day. But that’s #doulalife. It never really ends.
And I love it.
There's a secret about cesarean births (at least in the USA).
How many people do you know who had an "emergency cesarean"?
Probably a lot, because over 30% of births in the US are surgical vs vaginal. And many of those aren't planned - otherwise known as "emergency cesareans." Right? Wrong.
NOW THIS NEXT PART IS IMPORTANT: If you had a cesarean birth you are ALLOWED TO CALL IT WHATEVER YOU WANT!!! If it was an emergency to you, then it was an emergency. This is not meant as judgement on anyone's previous birth experience.
THIS POST ONLY APPLIES TO FUTURE BIRTHS. When planning for your birth experience it's important to know that there is a vast difference between an URGENT/UNPLANNED cesarean, and a true EMERGENCY cesarean.
A cesarean is typically recommended by your health care provider for a variety of reasons, usually surrounding your safety or your baby's safety. It could be risk of infection, heartrate issues, a less-than-ideal position of the baby making pushing difficult or impossible, and sometimes maternal fatigue after a long labor. Sometimes this is a true emergency situation: all hands on deck, rushing the pregnant person into the operating room with very little time to breathe or think about what's happening.
But many, many times the reasons are URGENT, but not an immediate emergency.
When you believe it's an EMERGENCY situation your fight or flight instincts kick in, typically placing the physical health of your soon-to-be- born infant above your own physical or mental well-being. Welcome to parenthood! You'll do this many, many times in the future years.
The only problem with this scenario is when there isn't a true emergency. Believing you're in an emergency situation when you aren't floods your body with unnecessary stress hormones, which can have a negative effect on you and possibly your baby. It causes the more rational and analytical part of your brain to take a back seat while the fight-or-flight center takes over - this may cause you to not process information appropriately when hearing the risks and benefits of the surgery. Finally, the urgency that accompanies this "emergency" belief causes us to skip steps that might reduce our overall stress and raise our satisfaction with the overall birth experience.
Consider for a moment what a difference it might make if, when your provider suggests a cesarean birth, you clarify that this isn't an immediate life-or-death emergency situation.
This is a MUCH more gentle approach, and you deserve to have the gentlest birth experience possible. Emergency cesareans ARE sometimes necessary and I don't certainly don't mean to invalidate anyone's previous birth experience. April is Cesarean Awareness Month, and with such a high rate of cesarean births in our country, it's important to be fully prepared for this possible outcome.
Unless you want to!
"I'm just going to check you quick."
"Just a quick stretch and sweep."
These procedures come by many names. But they're all basically the same thing: at a prenatal appointment in your last weeks of pregnancy your medical provider sticks his or her fingers in your vagina and feels around, presumably to tell how ripe/open/thin your cervix is. Sometimes they do more (with or without your consent) to manually stretch out your cervix (sometimes called a "stretch and sweep" or "membrane sweep" or some variation thereof).
Here's the thing: this procedure prior to labor provides zero useable knowledge. Literally zero. (Because it can change AT ANY MOMENT).
And... it comes with risks. Most notably, a risk of infection to you or your baby, a risk of unplanned breaking of waters (premature rupture of membranes or PROM), uterine irritability (lots of useless contractions or braxton hicks), and just plain old disappointment (because, honestly, no matter what info your doctor gives you it's never good enough when you're just ready for your baby to be in your arms).
So.... pregnant people... just stop letting people stick their fingers in your vagina without a solid reason.
Solid reason = your pleasure. Or knowing that some useable knowledge will come of it.
Unfortunately, as much as we'd all love to have a crystal ball, no one knows when labor will start, or how long it will last. Even your doctor (or midwife). Even if they have their fingers in your vagina.
Anyway, as always, I recommend you do with this information whatever YOU want. If you enjoy cervical exams, if you believe the snapshot of current information will relieve your anxiety, then by all means... go for it! Truly. No judgement.
But for those who find it invasive or uncomfortable... just fucking say no.