intensely trivial

Sondra postpartum

You might recall that Sondra’s first birth ended in a beautiful baby boy and a mom with postpartum depression. She crashed after an epidural, and then her baby, Bryan, crashed, and then she had to have a cesarean, and she wasn’t able to bond with her baby for a long time. This time around, she asked her nurse-midwife for a prescription for antidepressants ahead of time, because she was terrified of being that depressed after this birth.
I was hopeful that she would be able to have a successful VBAC, and we made plans toward that. But the way labor actually went caused her to make different choices than she’d planned. She entered the hospital much earlier than she had originally intended to (at 1 cm rather than 6 or 7). Because she was in the hospital having a VBAC, she had to follow doctors’ rules, which called for continuous fetal monitoring and IV, which meant she couldn’t move around or use other comfort measures to deal with contractions (not that she wanted to move that much). Having such a limited range of comfort measures available to her, and having labored for so long already, led to her requesting an epidural at 1 cm. Getting the epidural in was hard, and several hours after it was placed, she needed another one. And the placement of the final epidural was a nightmare. And then her blood pressure crashed, and then her baby crashed, and then she had to have a cesarean, and then she couldn’t hold her baby for a long time. See how this story ends similarly to her first story?
Penny Simkin says the doula’s role is to help the mother experience birth positively, however the birth happens — and research substantiates this, as women with doula-attended births tend to have a more positive memory of the birth. Now, I’m not saying I’m the only one in Sondra’s story who was responsible for the outcome — not at all — but I did very much want her to have the best memory possible of Michael’s birth. How do you do that, when the way it turned out is a lot different from how she planned it?
For me, it meant asking questions so Sondra was being informed at every turn — even the crazy, precipitous turns. It meant asking for time so that she could make her own decisions. It meant creating an environment where Sondra was treated as the precious, amazing person she is — not just a pregnant body forced to expel its contents. I wanted her to be touched tenderly, spoken to softly, without condescension. And I wanted her baby to be able to be in his mother’s arms as soon as possible, and for her to hold his soft, warm, moist body immediately after birth — because that’s what she wanted. I believe parents are the authorities about their children, not medical people or anybody else. I guess, in a nutshell, I wanted her to feel empowered in the birth process.
So was she?
We haven’t had a chance to talk in depth about this, but we’ve exchanged some emails. Here’s the first one Sondra wrote to me (with names changed, of course):

“Things are going really well. Not as good as I thought they would be
but hey I am holding my handsome little boy and the world feels
perfect. So far PPD has been nothing like it was with [Bryan]. In my
heart I feel good about almost everything and that feels good to have
that feeling.
“I am suffering from a spinal head ache I am certain. The fact they
poked my back there at least 11 times kinda makes it hard to believe
its not that. Plus I have the facts that it goes away if I am laying
flat on my back and the ringing in my ears. But its getting a bit
better. [Vince] has confined me to the bed and I am feeling so much
better plus getting needed rest and healing.
“Little [Michael] is my nursing champ! No problems with latch or strength of
latch. I am confident that I will be having the same strong nursing
relationship with him that I had with his big brother.
“Rachel thank you for all you did for me! You have no idea what it
ment. You went above and beyond the call of duty and because of your
presence I, though not ending in VBAC got more out of this labor than
I ever did with [Bryan] and I feel so much triumph from it. Some people
may say “well how can you feel triumphant when you came to the same
ending”? Well my answer is this, I did it on my terms. I was
in control. I made the choices. I took my body to a place I have never
been challenged before. I feel so much pride in that! And there are so
many more answers to that question. But in all I hope you understand
what I am saying lol. It just feels good to know it was on my terms
and that I didn’t just go in and get thrown to the wolves. SHOOT I
even stayed home till I was able to go in and feel confident in my
self and not be under some vicious docs rule. Telling docs to wait.
All those things have impowered me. I feel so strong for it. You
helped me focus and it ment the world. You brought support and calm
when I needed it the most. And you made me feel safe when my husband
had to be elsewhere. Having your presence just really made me feel
like everything was ok. You were more than just a doula. You were a
friend. Thank you so much and I can’t wait to see you soon! Hope your
up coming births go wonderfully smooth.”

I’m kind of embarrassed to post that whole thing, especially the part that is so complimentary of me, but hey, maybe it will convince someone else to hire a doula for her birth. 🙂 It was especially gratifying to me to read this note, because the most highfalutin goals I’d had as Sondra’s doula were actually reached. (And I didn’t brainwash her ahead of time to say this stuff!! 😉 )
Of course, I would have liked to see her push her baby out. I have my own opinions (ha!) about some of the things that happened. I learned a lot about servanthood (that could be a whole ‘nother blog post). Best of all, I gained a sweet friend through this particular doula gig.
My job’s not quite over yet. I still need to write up a timeline of the events at Sondra’s birth, and I will drive over to her house one last time on Saturday for a postpartum visit. Maybe I’ll wash some dishes or fold some laundry. But I will for sure admire that beautiful baby boy, say hi to Bryan, and see how Sondra’s emotions are doing by then. She has to pack up their house for a move to their next station by the end of July.
I have more truth to tell, but you have to come over and have tea with me if you want to hear it all. Thanks for reading Sondra’s story.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Gail says:

    You are so sweet, Rachel! It doesn’t surprise me at all that she felt so comforted by your presence. Sounds like you did your job well!

    Posted 7 years, 10 months ago
  2. * shelley c says:

    I think what I appreciate about your stories, and my own experience with you as my doula, is your willingness to be honest about your expectations (the woman’s body doing its work unhindered) and yet live with the realities of each woman’s story as it unfolds. The result is a peace that is contagious. Keep up the honorable work, Rachel!

    Posted 7 years, 10 months ago
  3. * Sarah Siders says:

    Rachel, this is so encouraging. I think birth really is – among many things – about helping women to feel empowered. I think pregnancy birth are intended to be an opportunity for women to perform a miracle, to face discomfort, pain and fear and overcome them all. It looks different for all of us, but we can all come out triumphant. I’ll be reading other birth stories…and writing about my own on my blog too. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this.

    Posted 7 years, 10 months ago

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