I walked into the hospital room slightly nervous. I had performed this herculean act myself, a few months earlier, but this would be my first time experiencing a birth after giving birth myself. My cousin Maria was in labor. I was awoken by a midnight call and her distressed voice demanding my presence. I was completely confused because my sister was her acting doula. She, the registered nurse, was supposed to be in the room ensuring my Maria’s needs were met and her wants were tended to in a prompt fashion. This task was now handed over to me because my sister was out of reach.
Now, I was prepared, as any good *unofficial* understudy would be but my real plan for this day was to assist my sister in tending to Maria. Something I knew I could do, hands down. But this? OMG, was I supposed to have the answers for real now? Sway, help me!
I compose myself, and try to forget that only a few hours earlier I had been drinking. That’s right folks, mama’s gotta live too! I went to a friend’s wedding and I got my drink on because I knew Nina was safe with her grandma drinking a mixture of pre-pumped milk and supplementing with formula. Now, the 15 minute drive felt like it took forever. Despite it being the wee hours of a Monday morning, I must have caught every stoplight and was unlucky with parking. Under normal circumstances I would chalk it up to living in New York and move on. However, today was different. I could still remember my own labor and delivery day like it was last week. The excitement, fear and pain all melding into one continuous stream of thought. I remember needing to feel supported. Needing someone I loved and could count on to be in the room with me. Needing someone there whose presence reminded me that everything would be okay. Right now, I was that someone for my cousin. Her fiancé had just made it back to Maryland when he got the call that she was in labor; Her mother was in California where she now lived and was unable to come for a few days; Her father was visibly shaken and though he tried, wasn’t much comfort. I felt this responsibility heavily as I drove over; reminding myself I needed to be a calming but firm presence in the room.
I walked into her dimly lit hospital room. I came in and asked the question you know you shouldn’t, but had to: “How are you feeling?” I got myself up to speed on her dilation, length and consistency of contractions, and how long she had been in labor. I also tried to understand if there were any concerns or if everything was going according to plan. For a while she wanted to rest, which transported me back to a few months earlier on the coldest day in November.
I was rudely awakened by what felt like the stomach flu. I ran (well, as much as a 10 month pregnant lady could run) to the bathroom where I was held prisoner for an hour. Let’s just say I dealt with the symptoms people with the stomach flu deal with and at 6:00 am I finally thought I could safely remove myself from the bathroom. It was at that point I noticed that I was having consistent contractions. I timed my contractions for an hour before waking my husband up. I finally yelled out to him at 7:00 am that I was in labor. This part of the story makes me smile now, but I wanted to pause labor to shake him back then. He jumps out of bed, with energy and a goofy smile and states: “It’s go time”. The man proceeds to prep like he is back playing college football and its Saturday morning: makes a coffee or smoothie for himself, double checks that the bags are packed, calls my mom and sister to inform them and “pep talks” me through the contractions. His excitement was palatable which annoyed me, because I wanted to feel excitement through the contractions, but could not. My sister talks me through techniques to ease the pain which help make some of the contractions bearable. I manage to take a shower and get dressed to head to the Brooklyn Birthing Center once I confirm with one of my midwives that it was indeed the correct time. My sister arrives, she is helping me and I am being snippy with her. I realize this as I am doing it but cannot help myself.
Present day, I’m back in the hospital room now looking at my cousin. She is sleeping but has a few minor requests. In trying to get help from her main nurse I am met with major resistance. Why? I am not sure. I immediately think of all of the podcasts I’ve listened to regarding women and their families, being dismissed by caregivers and I am not having it. I have something like a “coming to Jesus” moment with her, and we are all good to go. It reminds me how important it is for all of us to have people who listen to us and care about our wants and needs. As she is comforted I think again to November when on the way to the birthing center we have to stop to meet up with her. We were hosting a gender reveal for her and of course I go into labor on the same day. I try my best to smile for her but I manage to barely lift my head and grimace. I realized it would be a long day.
It’s a little after 9:00 am when we arrive at the birthing center. I am given my intravenous anti-biotics and make myself comfortable. Actually, I just lay down; my hubby puts on the essential oils, plays the playlist and dims the light. As I start to drift off I notice that he is watching the Cowboy’s game on his phone, but decide to leave it alone, I had more pressing issues at the time. I sleep on and off for hours and around 5:00 pm I start moving around. One of the reasons I chose to labor at a birthing center was the freedom of mobility. I was allowed to walk around and do whatever my body needed at any given moment in time. It felt liberating to be able to do whatever I felt I needed without the restrictions of hospital policy. My family is slow to arrive because everyone is still at the gender reveal I am hosting, but around 7:00pm they are all there. I have been laboring for over twelve hours at this time but the “nap” I took has me feeling like I can continue on.
My husband and I both feel when the contraction arrives that finally breaks my water. It was powerful, and we call the midwife. She confirms that indeed the water was broken and we were getting closer to this baby being out here with us. My midwives help me to get Nina properly aligned by raising my tummy when my contractions come. By around 10:00 pm I am on my knees, literally, praying that the baby comes soon because I do not want her to have the same birthday as my little sister. I feel like I have no idea what anything looks like down there, and I warn my midwife every time she goes to check me “it’s a mess”. She gives me a look that reminds me she’s seen a laboring mom before and I am able to put my shame aside.
Finally, I believe I have to poo, which I knew was a sign that the baby could finally be making her entrance. My mom is sitting directly in front of me and I am on the toilet. My sister is crouched down in front of me trying to get a good view. As my doula, mother of three and a RN, I trusted she understood what she was seeing. My mother quickly peeks over after I have a hell of a contraction and says “I think I see the head”. My sister confirms and I begin to feel what everyone references as “the ring of fire”. I have since forgotten that sensation, but I remember intellectualizing the pain and also realizing that the baby must be near. My midwife swoops in and safely delivers my little girl. She is placed on my chest and I am euphoric. Probably because of all of the endorphins that have been released in my body as a reward for delivering this baby. I still think back to those moments right after her birth and calm comes over me. For a few minutes everything felt right, and I was super proud and in love.
I drift back to the present time and things are picking up for Maria. I try my best to ensure her birth plan is respected and that she understands everything that is happening. Her fiancé arrives just in time to hold her hand as she pushes and a full head of hair emerges. It was surreal to witness this moment. I felt so connected to my Maria, and to women everywhere, as she went through this ritual we all have been participating for thousands of years.
In the end I felt amazing about my birth. I felt listened to, supported and I knew everyone there was there for me. Helping my cousin deliver also reaffirmed for me that birthing rooms are a place I would like to spend more time. That experience confirmed something I had been debating for a while, a seed planted when I was a little girl, but needed a little push to pursue. While I continue to ponder this, sparkle on y’all.