As a doula, I am reminded time and time again that nothing about birth is predictable. No matter how much we plan or what we envision for the day we bring a child into the world, plans always change and sometimes tough decisions need to be made. It’s all about how prepared and empowered we are by the ups and downs, and by our team, that can really make for an awesome birth experience.
I had a healthy pregnancy and hospital birth with my son Lochlan four years ago so felt confident that I wanted, and would ultimately have, a home birth with my daughter. I picked amazing midwives and was preparing both mentally and physically to have her in the comfort of my bedroom by buying all the necessary items and reading everything I could about unmedicated births.
At 34 weeks, my daughter had other plans. I got out of bed on a Sunday morning and felt like I had wet myself but I knew that’s not what it was. I tried to take the day in stride. I wasn’t prepared to have her yet; there were so many loose ends I had to tie up and things I had to do to ensure her arrival was everything I had dreamed of. But after hanging out around our house, confirming with a simple test that I was in fact leaking amniotic fluid, and consulting with our midwives, my husband and I headed to the hospital that evening to have our daughter.
It was such a surreal experience to be back at the hospital where my son was born. It was a familiar place and somewhere I felt comfortable as I had volunteered for over a year in their postpartum and newborn care floor. But I had no experience in their NICU - a place where my daughter was sure to go once she was born. As I told a dear friend, being a parent of a premie in intensive care is a club you know exists but one you never imagine belonging to.
The staff were amazing and took good care of me. Knowing I was a doula who had planned on a home birth, they were respectful and thoughtful with the decisions I was making and left me and my husband to labor on our own (as much as a hospital can allow). While we waited for things to pick up, we watched movies, held hands, and with dry and sometimes tearful eyes talked through what life would be like once she arrived. Later the following afternoon, I had an acupuncturist come to my room to help alleviate stress, anxiety, and to hopefully kick start the labor process. My midwife became my doula and arrived that evening, about 24 hours after I was admitted.
The birthing process was somewhat of an outer body experience. I had been to 30 births and knew what labor looked like including the flood of people that emerged when a baby is about to be born and the sweet embrace that happens when mom and baby first meet earthside. My beautiful girl came fast, so when I was on the bed, I was simultaneously pushing but also taking inventory of the room to make sure all the necessary people were there. My husband and midwife were right next to me to keep me grounded, as it’s hard to be the mama and a doula all at the same time.
Of course I was so excited to meet my sweet girl but felt almost selfish about these feelings because I thought she wasn’t ready. And I was terrified that she wasn’t going to be ok when she was born, so when the sweet moment arrived I couldn’t bring myself to look down for fear that I couldn’t handle my sweet baby as she was. Aila was born and after I heard her first cry, I knew that she would be alright. For a brief few moments she was in my arms and my husband was allowed to cut the cord. The NICU staff were on hand and did what they needed to do and gave me a few more precious moments before she was taken upstairs to be hooked up to oxygen and a feeding tube.
As a birth worker, I have told countless parents that they need to take it easy and hunker down at home for at least the first few weeks to rest, recuperate, and bond with their baby. As a parent of a NICU baby, that just isn’t reality. Within hours after her birth, I was pumping around the clock to ensure she would have my colostrum and to increase my milk supply. It was eerily quiet in my hospital room without the sweet cries of my daughter. I would make the long trek to intensive care to see her all hours of the day and night to share just a few precious moments with her and by her second day of life I was finally able to hold her in my arms. I was discharged from the hospital after three days and came home to an empty bassinet and with a heavy heart. Every moment I wasn’t up there, I felt guilty and like a big piece of me was missing.
I am indebted to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin and the selfless donor mamas. My sweet daughter was the beneficiary of their generosity when I wasn’t able to supply her with enough milk within those first few days of her life. Providing breast milk to my daughter was important to me but was even more so as a tiny NICU baby. It’s something I will never forget and I hope to pay it forward in the near future.
My daughter spent 10 days in intensive care and is now home and in our safe, loving arms. Our family feels complete and my heart is full. Her birth was the exact opposite of everything I had planned for both mentally and physically and I am still coming to terms with it. I’ll never know why my water broke early and I continue to struggle with feelings of guilt that somehow my body failed her. I wept tears of joy the moment I found out I was having a girl and I’d like to think that she decided to come early because she was just as eager to meet me.
Like all major life events, birth has a profound impact on us as persons and our core being. Aila’s birth has been one of life’s biggest teaching moments and I’ll carry it with me forever. Surrendering to what has happened and those things I cannot change has been the hardest but most poignant lessons of all. My husband and midwife were a rock star team and I could not have done it without their support. This experience has further solidified my commitment to my work and I am eager to get back to my sisters at AustinBorn. I am so grateful that I’m in this field - a place where I can continue to grow, process my story, and share all the newfound wisdom I have gained.