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July 27, 2007

Not without my doula

I gave birth to a healthy 8 pound, 1 ounce girl on Tuesday, July 17th. She is my second child, but my first experience with labor and delivery. I had a scheduled c-section with my first daughter because she was breech, and while it went as well as a c-section can be expected to, I had my heart set on having an all- natural, drug-free VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) this time around.

Turned out it wasn't going to be easy. Baby number two liked the breech position too. I saw a chiropractor and an acupuncturist and gave every old-fashioned trick for turning baby a go before going in for an external cephalic version at week 37. I guess my uterus was a little more pliable this time around because the baby flipped head down and stayed that way!

Did I mention I'd never gone into labor before? Well, at 9:27 p.m. on Monday night--just three days after my official due date--I found out exactly what I'd been missing. My labor lasted nearly 25 hours. Twenty-five hours of grueling labor on top of the full day I'd had on Monday (curb walking a mile to the post office and hitting the pool with my daughter in an attempt to kick start labor).

It was really hard, and I couldn't have done it without the support of my doula, Tricia Fitzgerald. As her last training client before certification, I was able to access her services at a significant discount, but her dedication and support was worth far more the typical going rate for a doula (around $1000).

Doulas have become more popular in recent years, and for good reason. Research shows that doula-supported births are less likely to require Pitocin or pain relief. They are also shorter (ha!), have fewer complications and result in fewer c-sections. You're at your most vulnerable and the medical establishment isn't set up for natural births. Without an experienced advocate on your side, it can be tough avoiding interventions in today's hospital environments. More importantly, it feels so good to have someone focused entirely on you. Doulas don't monitor or deliver babies; they're dedicated to mothering the mother, helping her achieve the birth experience she wants. And contrary to what some people think, your doula will not displace your husband. Rather, she just may keep you from cursing out your well-meaning partner who just can't seem say the right thing or rub you the right way.

Tricia came to my house at 2am and never left my side. All the childbirth preparation I had done went right out the window with my first contraction, so I relied on my doula to suggest laboring positions. She kept me comfortable too, offering massages, fetching beverages, playing soothing music and reminding me to breathe.

When my progress stalled around 5pm Tuesday, I was ready to throw in the towel on the whole natural childbirth thing and order up a nice, fat epidural. I was exhausted and discouraged, but Tricia kept me going. She and my midwife brainstormed a few more ways to augment my labor, and they worked!

I was in the home stretch when my midwife was called across the hall to attend to another birth. For two and a half hours Tricia guided me as I floated in the birthing tub, gently breathing my baby down the birth canal. Had my husband and I been alone for that long, I surely would have panicked. As it was, by the time my midwife returned to deliver my baby, I was just minutes away from pushing her out.

If you're considering natural childbirth, look into hiring a doula. You can find one here. Or call Tricia. My hero.

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