This is a story of courage and strength. Lauren went through days of early labor before discovering that her baby was breech. Read how she handled a change in her plans and how she bravely welcomed her daughter into this world.
<Written in the perspective of Lauren’s sister and doula>
By Merrill Durham (Lauren’s sister and doula)I had just assisted a couple at a birth of their daughter when I switched gears to walk through labor with my twin sister, Lauren and her husband, Evan.At 37 weeks and 6 days (May 14th), Lauren had contractions off and on all day. We officially entered into “is this it?” mode. During the final weeks and days, a doula is there to keep the mom (and partner) sane. It is so easy to question everything. I responded to texts and phone calls and helped ease the concerns and questions. I am learning how to wait with the mom as well. Because during these days my life feels like it is on hold, too. But I’ve learned how to continue living my life while still being on the ready.On May 16th, Lauren recognized that she was focusing too much on the sensations and so she released the day and painted, something that she hasn’t had the energy to do in a long time.May 17th came and luckily she had a wedding to distract her.It was Sunday night, May 18th that things really became consistent. And as Lauren defines it, labor really began. So many times woman ask, “How will I know I am in labor?” and the best answer I can give is, “You will know.” Of course, that is not helpful at all for first time moms. But sure enough, they knew when things felt different than the practice contractions and Braxton Hicks they’ve been having before. That’s part of my job, to help moms know what they are feeling. Contractions started coming every 5-7 minutes and lasting 1 minute that evening. We went for a walk and then tried to get some rest. Nighttime brought a fizzle in contractions but they were still occurring every 10 minutes keeping Lauren from a goodnights rest.
May 20th came with hope in the air. Contractions were steady all night but Lauren needed a change of scenery and Evan needed a good nap after being up the last 2 nights with Lauren. So Lauren came to my house and my mom and I massaged Lauren and walked her through contractions while Evan slept for 3 hours. Things were picking up once again and we left at 12:30 pm for Lauren’s scheduled midwife appointment. The news was not the most encouraging, baby was station -3, cervix was very posterior and only 25% effaced and 1 cm dilated. They were having a long, prodromal labor. Lauren and Evan took the news like champs and decided to go to get milkshakes and walk in the park. I went home and had a major breakdown.
As a doula, it is very important to process your own birth experience thoroughly before helping another mom. I thought I had adequately dealt with everything that happened in my labor but after walking Lauren through 3 days of early labor (identical to mine) and then hearing that she really hadn’t progressed much (also similar to mine), it truly brought me back to the deep, hopeless feelings I experienced in my own birth. It was very painful. I held it together until I ran to the car and bawled my eyes out. I was so exhausted from 3 days of being with Lauren, I couldn’t even imagine how she felt. And then to find out that she was really still near the starting point just overwhelmed me. After talking to my mom and my husband, I realized that there was still trauma from my birth that was surfacing by watching my twin sister go through it. I was triggered by some post-traumatic stress that I experienced during my long labor. My mom graciously walked me through those emotions and helped me work through them. I took a break from seeing Lauren and Evan knowing that it was early labor and could still be days before anything happened. So I napped.
I checked back in with them around 7 pm and contractions were still 5-7 minutes apart and Lauren had just showered. She said it was during the shower that she felt like she let go of all expectations and told her baby and her body that they were free to do what they needed to do. It was her ‘moment of truth’. Moms face this moment in early labor. It is the point that most people who aren’t planning a natural birth get an epidural. The next 3 hours they ate food, played Monopoly Deal, and hung out with Evan’s brother. I came back over at 10:30 pm when she got in the bath to see if her contractions would ease off at all so they could rest. They didn’t. Lauren got out and looked me in the eye and said, “It’s time to go to the hospital, NOW.” I never question a mom when she says this. They know. Her contractions were coming now at 2-3 minutes apart. So we raced to the hospital. I knew something was strange because her contractions were so strong and close together and yet Lauren was still very alert and aware of her surroundings. So I really didn’t know what to expect when we got to the hospital.
Unfortunately, it was after hours so we had to enter in the Emergency Room. But 20 minutes later we made our way to triage. At 11:30 pm, Lauren’s midwife checked her progress. Baby was station -1 and the cervix was 90% effaced and 3 cm dilated. Progress! I knew that with contractions this strong it wouldn’t be long before she would be admitted. But I could tell that the midwife had some concern on her face. She said that she felt something soft, it didn’t feel like the baby’s head so she called for an ultrasound. Five minutes, two midwives, and two doctors later, they confirmed that baby Nora was breech.
All their plans for a natural, vaginal birth changed in a second. It was crushing. They hadn’t planned for a C-section at all. They had spent months preparing for a natural birth. In minutes, people came flooding into the tiny triage room to prep Lauren for surgery. Thankfully, we were able to ask a lot of questions and it was very important to me that Evan and Lauren knew what to expect. The staff were very kind and delicate knowing that this was so far from what Lauren wanted. The anesthesiologist went through the whole procedure with Lauren to make sure she understood what was about to happen. I just rubbed Evan’s back, hugged him, and kept him calm because I know he was very disappointed in the change of plans. Lauren was incredible. Of course this was not what she wanted. But she also knew that it was time to meet her baby. She had that sense at home knowing it was time to go to the hospital. She was so brave as she continued to work through painful contractions knowing that it would all be over soon. I just held her hand and told her that she was going to meet her baby in 30 minutes! They took Lauren back at 1 am to get prepped. The nurse came back with the protective clothing for both me and Evan. Vanderbilt has a policy that only one person can be in the operating room at a time but they were so kind to let me switch places with Evan once the baby was born and taken to the nursery. I called our families and they rushed over. I then walked Evan through what he should expect and helped him understand what would happen once the baby was born. They then took Evan back to the OR and I showed our families where to wait.
Nora Marjorie was born on Wednesday, May 21st at 1:37 am.
And then the moment came where Evan came in with Nora. Goodness, it was so precious. We got the baby skin-to-skin with Lauren and Nora immediately went to breastfeeding. I stepped out of the room for 15 minutes and the three of them spent their first moments together as a new family. Parents and siblings said a quick hello and goodbye. We then got Evan and Lauren comfortable in their postpartum room by 4:00 am and I finally left at 5:00 am.
This birth taught me so much.
It is so important to be informed and educated on the type of birth you want, but ultimately you have to work with the situations you find yourself in. C-sections are rarely someone’s first option for birth, but in the case where it needs to be done, it is important to still empower the mother in the experience. It was very important to me that Lauren knew that there was nothing she did or could have done differently. That she did nothing wrong. It is also essential that the mom knows that she DID birth a baby. After 3 days of consistent contractions, she did go through so much labor and she did birth Nora. She worked hard! But when births don’t go according to plan, moms need to be given the room to process their disappointment. Most people say, “Well at least mom and baby are healthy”, which is absolutely true! But we must also recognize that moms can still feel a loss when their birth was different than expected. This doesn’t only apply to c-sections. It can happen to moms who, on paper, had the ideal birth experience. Childbirth is a powerful experience and every woman responds differently. I am there to help a mom and her partner still have an intimate, empowered birth if a c-section becomes necessary.
Lauren’s birth was so beautiful. As a doula, I’ve learned that it’s not about my strength for the mother that will get them through, it’s up to them. It wasn’t my birth and it wasn’t my mountain to climb. It is their inner strength that will carry them through. I am just their to walk alongside them. Lauren climbed her own mountain that she had to overcome and she did it with so much courage!
Two year later Lauren had an amazing VBAC at home. Strong does not even begin to describe her strength. She went from 6cm to delivery in 3 contractions! She’s a rock star in my book. And witnessing both these experiences reiterated that birth is magical and birth is beautiful. Bringing life into this world is a big deal and walking alongside a mother in labor is always a privilege.