Confessions of a Rookie Doula: Amy’s Birth Story
Amy was due June 2, but she was a rookie too, so when June 2 came and went with no serious contractions no one was very surprised.
On the evening of the fifth, she texted me about some slightly more forceful contractions, but then went to bed. Friday evening she texted again, because they were becoming more and more convincing, more and more often. Still, Amy knew that if she could sleep she needed to, so she did.
Saturday morning my husband – with Man Cub in his new bicycle seat on the back, and three of our young adult volunteers, pedaled their bicycles out of a parking lot on the bike trail with 19 teenagers in tow, for a 66-mile weekend trip. The other support vehicle drivers and I swapped morning plans, and just as I declared my intentions, Ethan (baby daddy) called.
She woke me up early. She’s having pretty good contractions every five minutes. Still talking through them, but it’s harder. She didn’t want to talk on the phone.
That last part made me perk up. Ethan and Amy used to live across town, but Ethan recently accepted a great job offer two hours north, so I knew I had a pretty serious drive ahead of me.
On a Saturday.
In about 10 minutes I had dumped all of the tents and bags from my car into the big van, rushed home for a phone chord and some treats I’d been saving for Amy, and was copying their new address into my phone.
I sped up and slowed down and sped up and slowed down for hours, wondering what was happening and how she was doing and if her mom was on the way and when the midwife would show up. I wondered how my little man was doing on his very long bike ride and how long he would be okay without me and how long I would be okay without him nursing.
Speed up. Slow down.
By the time I got there I was such a bundle of anticipation and excitement that I don’t think I bothered to even knock on the door I’d never seen before, and eagerly pushed it open.
To a very quiet, little house.
Ethan was slumped casually in an armchair. A very sweet-looking woman in a cap much like the one I’d just left in my car was curled up on the far end of the couch. Both sipped coffee out of mugs. Both turned very casually to me as I stepped inside.
Oh. So not as urgent as I’d thought.
You want some coffee?
No thanks. I had some on the way.
Amy hadn’t slept much the night before, so she was tired and trying to get some sleep. As well she should. She gave up after about an hour and got up.
Billy – the sweet-looking woman from the couch with excellent taste in hats – is a midwife, but so is her mother. Mother showed up after a short while, and they watched a few contractions and asked a few questions and decided there was probably still a good while to go. So they left.
We played Skatergories between contractions – which were now back to about 10 minutes apart – and waited.
Billy had mentioned that baby Nora’s head wasn’t quite where they wanted it, so Amy need to try to squat during contractions. Which Amy wasn’t having. She did a couple, but it was really painful, so we ended up kind of passive-aggressively arguing as I timed each one.
You wanna squat for this one?
Next contraction, let’s try to squat.
Okay. I know. I know.
Try to get down a little bit for this one.
I don’t wanna.
We went for a walk. She tried to lay down. I went for a veggie burger. We made her pace in the kitchen as it started to rain. The contractions started to pick up again. Amy was such a rockstar through each one (except for the squatting thing), and Ethan was right there with her every time.
Several hours later the contractions were back to five minutes apart, and Ethan wanted to text Billy.
I don’t think you need to text her just yet.
By the time Billy came back, the contractions were slowing down again, but she at least was confident enough to start calling some shots. (She’s delivered over a thousand babies. I felt like I was in the presence of greatness all night.) Four contractions on this side, four on the other side, four on your hands and knees. They were still kind of slow, but they were taking Amy away from us now. She was fully invested in each one.
Amy had requested music by this time, and she was leaning into a pile of pillows for contractions – with Ethan right next to her. She relaxed and breathed through a contraction and then, with her face buried in pillows, started to sing along with the Spotify station. I only heard her because I was six inches away from her head. Ethan, with his face buried next to hers started to sing with her.
Our God is greater. Our God is stronger.
It was a slow, very natural, very real labor process. We all just sat around and stared at each other for five minutes, and then jumped into our positions when Amy started to breathe heavily. Finally, the rain let up (mostly), and Billy got us out for another walk. Amy was tired already from not having slept much, but the afternoon was starting to wear out and I think she realized that it was time to try to pick up the pace.
Amy treated several of their new neighbors to a front-row view of a woman in labor handling a serious contraction like a boss. One group was sitting around in their open garage. Another almost backed into our little contraction-huddle with her SUV. We just beat the rain back to the house, where Amy jumped in the shower.
Which became a, “Why didn’t we think of that?” moment. Because a woman in the throws of labor will take as long a hot shower as she pleases, and no one will argue with her. But we will also need hot water for the birthing tub. The midwife duo started boiling water in stock pots and tea kettles, and as soon as the shower turned off, Amy’s mom used whatever was left of the warm water to fill the tub with the hose Ethan had connected to the basement faucet.
The contractions stalled her, and the women did their thing, and somehow Amy came out of the shower and stepped into a hot tub in the middle of their small kitchen.
The sun went to bed behind the closed blinds and we gathered at various, self-imposed stations around Amy to wait. Each contraction sent one woman to her clipboard, one to rub Amy’s back, one to a cold towel or a cup of water or words of encouragement. Ethan breathed with her and told her how awesome she was. And he was right.
And in between, we just waited.
Every once-in-a-while someone would speak, comment, joke, but even then it was always hushed. There’s a solemnity that settles when labor gets serious. When everyone wants to help, but nobody can. When mama is so ready for what’s happening that she can rest between those moments that her body takes over. It’s serious business – birthing new life, and everybody feels it without anyone having to address it. It’s almost holy. And so we revere it without even meaning to.
Amy hit transition and started pushing in the tub, but after about an hour she was exhausted. She asked us to pray, so the five of us laid hands on her together and Ethan spoke the prayers that had been in all of our hearts for hours.
Amy mentioned a pain in her lower abdomen, and Billy wanted to get her on her hands and knees with her head down to try to alleviate that pressure. Amy was about ready to do anything to be done. It was 11 PM, and the sleepy little kitchen burst into a bustle of activity as we moved her to the bedroom.
After a couple more good contractions, she rolled to her side and then her back. Contractions on her side, resting on her back, and no one was going to tell her otherwise. She was so tough and so peaceful at the same time, that the rest of us yielded to a mama’s intuition.
Contractions started to get more forceful, and Amy actually vocalized more than a whispered, “That really hurts.” Her new volume level told the rest of us that we were finally almost there, and so just as Amy reached the end of her rope the rest of us picked it up. The still, quiet evening gave way to shouts of childbearing followed by choruses of praise and encouragement. And none of it was platitudes. She really was doing an amazing job.
She had rolled and contorted herself pretty close to the wall by the bed, and as Ethan took up his position to catch his baby girl, he mentioned it. Several times. But the midwives ignored him. Amy was too into the process to try to talk her into moving if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. And it wasn’t.
There was a crown.
And then a head.
She didn’t want to touch the baby. She didn’t want a drink or a cold towel or another pillow. “I just want her out.” I cringed as I remembered.
With one foot on Ethan’s shoulder and one on his thigh, Amy’s body squeezed her into herself one more time. A yell and a push and a very small cry were all that was left, and at 11:50 PM, Ethan leaned forward to rest his brand new baby girl on his wife’s chest before curling up next to them both.
Nora Grace was born at home on June 7, at 7 pounds and 7 ounces. Definitely a gift from God.