These aren’t “real labor” contractions, they aren’t even Braxton Hicks--they are a special breed of torturous hell, which increases in frequency, intensity, pain, and annoyance as the uterus grows. I knew I was going to struggle through this pregnancy, but I did NOT know it would be as miserable as it was.
To make this pregnancy even more exciting, my husband, who is a Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer (He’s a bomb guy), was to embark on a five-month training mission, all over the United States. Since we are currently stationed on the tiny island of Guam in the South Pacific, it meant he wouldn’t be around at all through my pregnancy, nor be close when Evie was born. We chose to “move” home to my parents' place and have the baby here in Washington State. At least then we’d be on the same continent! We then got word that his training schedule was being changed, and there was NO WAY he would be allowed to leave and miss any training and evaluation for Evie’s birth. We were both devastated, but also know that’s how this life is, so we went to plan B. Hiring a doula.
I knew I would need a support person who could help me do this, that knew what they were doing. I had experienced an awful, mismanaged, borderline malpractice delivery with our first in Guam at the Naval Hospital, and part of that experience was hating the epidural that I “had to have” to prevent my and my unborn child’s death *insert hindsight eye roll*. It numbed my legs, but not my back labor, which was caused by the sunny-side up baby. They didn’t seem to think his position mattered. They told me he was too big to come out, but let me push, ineffectively, for 4.5 hours, with him just moving further back station-wise.
After a spontaneous water-breaking, contractions starting on their own, a cervix that changed from 1cm-10cm in an HOUR, 21 hours had gone by with no baby. His heart rate was dropping too low, and mine was spiking too high, and they called in the emergency OB to come perform a c-section. When the OB came into the room, she took one look and asked why we were performing a c-section. The on-call family practice doctor repeated what he’d been telling me for hours: “He’s too big to come out -- he’s at least 10lbs.” The OB responded, “He’s not at ALL too big, he’s just sunny side up and can’t get into her pelvis”. She asked if she could reach in and turn him, to which I said yes, and she did. He was then pushed out in the next two pushes, during the next contraction. Thank God for OBs who know what they are doing!
But fast-forward to this pregnancy and delivery, which is now full of apprehension because of my last experience. I knew I wanted to skip an epidural just in case that contributed to my long labor last time, and if I was going to have an unmedicated birth, I definitely needed a doula.
I was referred to Suzanne for doula services. I really didn’t know much about what a doula did; I just know I needed one. ;) After a phone “interview”, which really just felt like catching up with a close girlfriend, I knew she was the one for me. I was so at ease with her, completely comfortable, and trusted what she said. Of course the fact that she asked what I wanted from her, and genuinely listened to what I said were icing on this doula cake. I was EXCITED to go into labor and “nail it” with her help!
I filled Suzanne in on my uterus situation, including the two surgeries it had undergone, one of which left perforations and scar tissue, so she knew we had a mess going on in there. She knew I contracted all the time, but also knew that I “knew” when “real labor” contractions happened with my first, so I’d “know” when to call her into action. I was confident that I’d know the difference between the irritable uterus contractions and labor.
Enter prodromal labor. As if the irritable uterus contractions weren’t bad enough … But let me rewind a bit first. After my 38 week check-up, my OB told me I was 3cm dilated and 50% effaced. Since I delivered our first at 38w5d, we all assumed this one would be early too. So when I started having what felt like “real labor” contractions, for 6 hours, which were getting closer in frequency, and increasing in intensity, I told Suzanne that this was it -- it’s FINALLY time to go have this baby and get relief! So imagine our surprise when we get to the hospital, get a cervical check, and are told that I am only 1cm dilated, and 50% effaced. How does the cervix go backward? And more importantly, how are my “LABOR” contractions NOT changing my cervix?! I was told to go do the infamous “hour-long walk”. I couldn’t believe it. I was disappointed, confused, and a little embarrassed, because I should have known better! I’m a second time mom! I’ve HAD labor contractions before! I KNOW the feeling! But I also didn’t know that prodromal labor was even a thing.
After more than an hour of walking, squatting, taking stairs two at a time in wide-foot stances, I went back for another check. Honestly, expecting to at least have dilated to 5cm by then. Nope. Nothing. This nurse’s check yielded “barely 1cm”. I was NOT in labor. Despite what the contractions on the monitor showed. Dejected, we left and went home. I think it’s fun to note that this was from about 2am-6am. No sleep for anyone!
This “false labor” really shook me. Now, how will I really know I’m in labor? How much of Suzanne’s time am I going to waste? How many times will I be disappointed? Am I going to end up having a baby in my car because I waited too long because I wasn’t sure? All these questions that weren’t there before were now rolling around in my head. All the while, I was still contracting every 3 minutes, around the clock. Fun. I hadn’t slept in days, my morale was low, and I was devastated. I was utterly miserable. And then came the phone call that changed it all. My husband was able to take a couple, specific days off of work and fly up here, IF I was in labor.
Well, you can’t force a baby out on a specific day, right? Turns out, you can. I asked my OB at my next appointment if I was a candidate for induction, and gave her the reason. She had previously said I wasn’t, because my cervix wasn’t changing enough, which she feels is a sign that the baby and my body aren’t ready, and too often that leads to failed inductions which result in emergency c-sections. She did a cervix check, and was able to perform a sweep and stretch, all the way to 4cm! I was SURE I’d go into labor that night, but in the event that I didn’t, she offered to schedule an induction on Saturday, May 7th, at 7am. My husband could get in that Friday night, and stay a few days, so it was perfect! Except the whole being induced thing. I was pretty scared. I knew that for me, pitocin meant an epidural was on the table, and that terrified me. But I also knew that I had Suzanne as my secret weapon for when things got crazy during labor.
After a slight delay on induction day, I received the call to come in to start my induction at 1pm. Suzanne met us at the hospital and we began the journey. I was hooked up to IV pitocin, and was prepped to have my water broken 30 minutes later. But when my OB came in, she decided to have me wait a bit long to get Evie more well applied to my cervix before breaking my water. So we walked the halls, bounced on the birthing ball, danced around to my eclectic labor music choice, and just enjoyed the calm before the storm. Suzanne and my husband took turns holding my IV pole while we walked and catering to my needs. I could get used to this!
Shortly after that, I was still at 4cm, so we upped the pitocin and broke my water to see if that would get things going. Sure enough, it did. My experience with contractions went from, “Ok, these suck, but I can handle it”, to “I think I might actually die” in a very short amount of time. With each contraction, I felt myself panicking inside more and more.
The ball didn’t help anymore. The warm bath, which I thought would be an ace in the hole, didn’t help. Walking didn’t help. Standing, sitting, laying, ANYTHING didn’t help! At that point, I knew I needed pain management other than what I was doing. I tried two doses of IV pain medication first, and neither worked. I knew I wanted an epidural, and finally made the call for it.
I remember being so lost in pain and panic, yet I could still hear a voice coaching me on what to do. Through the mental chaos, I heard things like, “Ok, now just slow your breathing a little bit”, “Good, good”, “Just relax those fingers now”, and I was able to cling to and follow those instructions until the contraction started to wane off and I felt relief. That voice was Suzanne. I vaguely remember a hot pack being applied to my back, and it feeling soooooo good, but I didn’t think about where it came from. It was Suzanne. She just knew what I needed, when I needed it, without me having to think of it or ask.
I had told Suzanne at our first prenatal appointment that making noise during labor was stressful to me. I didn’t want to hear it from other women, and I didn’t want to make any noise myself. Making noise makes me feel self-conscious, and I didn’t want to be focused on THAT while trying to manage through a contraction. She suggested that she would make a noise, and I could imitate it, or if I made a noise, she would make the same one, and be a little louder. She gave the analogy that we’d be like a choir, versus me singing a solo. It was perfect. It was just what I needed.
When contractions started to make me feel out of control, I heard Suzanne making noises that I remembered to copy, without fear or insecurity, and it provided relief! And as we were waiting for the second attempt at an epidural to be placed and provide relief, I needed her. I wouldn’t have made it through without her.
After a very fast transition to 10cm from being stuck at 4cm dilated for hours, it was time to push! I was instantly afraid and didn’t want to do it. I had pushed for 4.5 fruitless hours with our firstborn, and I was so afraid it would happen again. I decided not pushing would be better — ha. Suzanne suggested that we do a “practice push”, just to “see what happens when I pushed”, without starting the push clock. It was the perfect idea! It allowed me to test my ability, without fear of negative consequences. Apparently my first push was successful, as it moved our baby right where she needed to be. It was a huge confidence booster, and I was ready get her all the way out! Delivery got a tad scary as baby’s heart rate dropped with pushing, so we had to push every other contraction.
As our daughter was briefly being tended to by the NICU team, and then returned to me, Suzanne noticed that my OB was in fact ignoring my requests not to manually deliver my placenta, and was tugging away on it. I quickly piped up and asked my doctor what was going on, which got her back in line with MY request. Had Suzanne not been looking out for me as my advocate, neither my husband nor I would have noticed, and who knows what shape my uterus would be in right now. I’m so thankful she was there, from start to finish.
I would never have another baby without a doula involved. My husband, who is a very private person, and initially had the opinion that it was “weird to have a stranger in the delivery room” has vastly changed his tune. He is now telling everyone we know that no one should deliver a baby without a doula, and how she knew how to help me in ways that he couldn’t. He even hugged her when she left!
Not only would I never have a baby without a doula, I wouldn’t do it unless that doula was Suzanne. She is incredibly knowledgeable, compassionate, kind, supportive, and sincere. I really felt like I was delivering a baby with an incredibly intuitive sister with me.