Friday, July 14, 2006

Doula by default...

Brew of the day: Double strength Red Raspberry Leaf tea!

The highlight of this week stands head and shoulders above anything else that has happened.

I met my friend Elizabeth a few years ago. And, like many of the special women in my life, we met through The Mother magazine. Elizabeth had travelled from her home in Yorkshire to Cheltenham in order to go to the Natural Parenting Exhibition where I was exhibiting a ‘newborn’ magazine. From memory, The Mother had only been going about a year at that point. Elizabeth had a son, Felix, born by emergency c section.

She wanted a different birth experience for her next child. In reading the birth stories in TM, something awakened in her and she truly believed she could have a VBAC but wasn’t sure how. With lots of chats between us and Lynda, our US publisher who is also a midwife and lactation consultant, changes in confidence really started happening with Elizabeth. Our words counteracted whatever she heard from the medical know-it-alls.

When she went into labour with her second child, I lit a candle. A pink one. I knew it would be a girl. Andorra arrived naturally and to this day, one of my favourite photos in TM is of Elizabeth’s face with a ‘just born’ Andorra in her arms. (Issue ten) It’s a photo that shows a woman who has done something nothing short of miraculous and yet, a woman who is also aware of it being an every day act. Such a jubilant, “I DID IT”, photo.

Earlier this year Elizabeth became pregnant with their third child. Empowered by the natural birth of Andorra in hospital, she felt ready to have a VBAC at home this time ~ ideally unassisted.

I had been honoured to act as celebrant for Andorra’s naming ceremony a couple of years ago and in a few weeks was going to facilitate a Blessingway Ceremony for Elizabeth just before her third baby was due.

On Tuesday evening she phoned to say she thought she was in labour. “Er, a bit early aren’t you?” I asked, thinking ahead 4 or so weeks to the Blessingway date.

“I’ve lost my mucus plug,” Elizabeth said.

“Right, well this is it then. Better get someone around to help with the kids.” I felt uncomfortable her looking after two rowdy toddlers and trying to give birth to a breech baby at home who was apparently a few weeks early. I was curious to know why she'd gone into labour early. Was she stressed? "Are you sure you're not having twins?"

"No," came the reply. "A (friend) midwife had checked and there was only one baby; one heartbeat. I think I'm stressed because Felix is at that age when testosterone kicks in ~ about four. I'm finding it really hard."

We had a few phone calls the next day and by late afternoon labour was in full swing.

By early evening we just stayed on the phone to each other constantly. I expect I was on speaker phone as I was able to talk with her and her husband Craig. Elizabeth had phoned just after I had dinner to say she’d lost faith and didn’t think she could do it.
I figured this probably meant she was a bit tired, overwhelmed and hadn’t ‘really’ gotten into full labour yet and was daunted by the thought. It is work after all! No doubt she had memories of her five day labour with Andorra!

She hadn’t been timing her contractions so couldn’t educate me as to how regular they were. I quietly timed them at two minutes apart, 20 seconds each for an hour. She was concerned that although the baby was breech it appeared to be transverse.

Well, I’m NO midwife, but babies don’t come out sideways so we needed to help him find a way out of there. Her body was certainly working hard enough to help. There was nothing insipid or irregular about her contractions. We used a couple of techniques from The Pink Kit ~ an invaluable resource for helping women give their birthing babes more space regardless of what position they’re in.

She lay on her side, opposite to where the baby was and gently rolled her hip back and forward (hip where babe was). Elizabeth felt there was some change. She also lifted the leg on baby’s side up high onto a table (in between contractions!)

A lot of time was also spent on all fours.

Her pace quickly changed from here on in to contractions one minute apart and 40 – 50 seconds long.

“I can’t do this anymore!” Elizabeth said. “I’m dreaming of air and gas!”

I offered her the best encouragement I could, knowing that, even though it was about 10.30pm babe was likely to be born by midnight. “Women always say that when they’re near transition. YOU CAN DO THIS!! Your body was made for this,” I affirmed.

However, all along I also said that she could make different choices at any point. One thing she was very clear on was that if she went to hospital they’d immediately give her a c-section and she didn’t want that!

We chatted about a video I’d lent her showing women giving birth unassisted. It includes an interview of the very beautiful, late Jeannine Parvati Baker. I imagined Jeannine, a mother of six including a breech and twins, with us in Spirit...guiding us. The ultimate ‘freebirth’ midwife…

Jeannine said the only problem with a breech is when the attendants know about it!

Elizabeth and I had chatted about breech a few days ago and she was so thrilled that the last issue of The Mother had articles in there about it and how it had helped her a lot. As far as we were concerned, it was perfectly natural for this baby. I had no concerns about babe being breech though did have some concerns about the baby being premature as I couldn’t really get an exact date from Elizabeth….so guessed it to be about 35/36 weeks.

Contractions were now pretty well back to back. She had two birthing pools in the house but felt she couldn’t keep either of them warm enough to birth in. I suggested she might like a warm shower. My mum said she found it very soothing when birthing her last three babies at home unassisted back in the 1970s.

I really learnt something from being a doula by default…by sitting on the phone LISTENING…All I had to ‘monitor’ this woman was my hearing. Elizabeth endured no invasive vaginal tests, no constant heart monitoring, no unnecessary anything. She was able to fully be and experience the power move through her body. Imagine if all midwives were trained in this way? Really! Imagine it…learning to intuitively feel a birth rather than trying to control it. Sure there were moments when I wished I could have given her a hug or looked into her eyes to offer more encouragement or to hold up a cup of raspberry leaf tea, or wipe her brow. But now, looking back, it was all perfect.

At 10.46pm we ended the phone call so she could have a shower. Having re-educated my sleep patterns to head to bed by 10.30pm at the latest these days, I was feeling knackered so went to bed with the phone right next to my ear.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrng Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrng

“YES” I said at 12.30am, instantly awake.

Craig and Elizabeth were on the phone to tell me they’d gone to hospital when she had a show (slight bleed) and as soon as they got there Elizabeth gave birth to a BREECH in a chair in the lift! Wahoooooooooooo. I knew she could do it!

Both of them were in shock. Their words couldn’t come out fast enough.

Their little breech born son was then followed by another little (head first) boy!

Two sons, born either side of midnight. One on July 12th and one on July 13th.

VBAC twins with a breech. Way to go!!!!!!!!!! I can’t begin to express how proud I am of her.

Needless to say neither I, nor Lynda in the States, who got a very late night email from me, could sleep a wink! It turns out baby Milo and baby Oscar were actually 33 weeks and not about 36/7 so are having lots of ‘kangaroo’ care and Elizabeth is expressing colostrum for them. Welcome to the world little boys. Enjoy your journey.

What I find marvellous is that the babies needed to be born in hospital because of their age/prematurity, yet they had as perfect a birth as possible given the circumstances. Elizabeth’s case was a classic Emergency C Section story…breech, twins, premature and let’s not forget, Elizabeth is 40 and in medical terms she may as well be 80!

Elizabeth recently joined The Mother as a regular columnist writing on the Ethical Family. Should I give her maternity leave for a decade or so now she’s got four kids, the oldest only being four years of age? I’ve decide maybe she could have some time off in lieu of an article on breastfeeding premature twins.


I think Summer has come back again! It’s a divinely beautiful morning here in Cumbria. We’re off picking wild cherries this morning ~ the past couple of weeks the girls have been furiously foraging for whatever fruits they can find in the hedgerows; gooseberries and raspberries. Later the four of us will head to a nearby village green to play rounders.

Enjoy your weekend and I hope it is deliciously vibrant for you, whatever the season, wherever you live.
~ Veronika ~

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