A lot of it I don’t quite remember. Looking back, I think I had blinders on throughout my pregnancy and that’s why my birth surprised me so much. Minutes after we strolled casually into the hospital I was being prepped for an emergency cesarean. I had no emotions; I stared blankly into my husband’s eyes and he looked as dumbfounded as I felt.
We didn’t doubt the medical team for a second; they made the right call. We were just…shocked. Shocked to find ourselves in that OR, to be so close to meeting our baby, to feel so unprepared for birth after months of, well, preparing for birth. We did all the “right” things (whatever that means) but it was a rare complication that we couldn’t have seen coming. It was no one’s fault and I’m grateful for that doctor.
I only saw my son for a few seconds. I can still hear myself whispering, “He looks like my sister.” Soon after, we heard he needed some extra attention and that he would be taken to the Special Care Nursery.
Without hesitation, I told my husband to go and be with our son. I couldn’t find my words; all I could get out was, “You go.” I wanted to say, “Give him my love. Let him know it’s not because I don’t want to be with him, it’s because I can’t.” The memory of my newborn baby being escorted away from me is…hard. Again, I’ve never doubted the medical team’s decision. Still, it was unbearable.
The recovery room was cold and quiet. Our doula, who we’d called on our way to the hospital, had arrived during the cesarean and was waiting for me there with the bags we’d left behind in the triage room. I was incredibly relieved to see her familiar face and warm eyes.
She pulled a chair up to the side of my bed and took my shaky hand in hers. It was just the two of us in there. She didn’t say much; she just held the space, as they say. Without a word she let me know that however I felt was okay. That it was okay to be both gutted and grateful. Or numb, or confused, or angry.
After a few minutes of silence I wiped my tears, cleared my nose, and asked her to grab my makeup pouch from my overnight bag. She didn’t ask why, she just passed it over. I fumbled a bit until she reached out to hold it steady. Then I touched up my blotchy red skin, wiped my mascara-smudged eyes, and combed my hair.
I said to her, “I don’t want him to know I’ve been crying”…and later, “I just want to make a good first impression.”
She knew what I was really saying. What I meant was, “I want to be strong for him. Even though I’m devastated, I don’t want him to think I’m disappointed in him.”
I put myself back together on the outside because I was falling apart on the inside.
Our doula didn’t “save” us from going down an unwanted path; she reacted right along with us as we spun in a new direction. She met me where I was: anxious, disappointed, stunned. Doulas have a gift that is so much bigger than just helping people “achieve” their birth plan; the gift of a doula is unwavering, unconditional, non-judgmental support. On so many levels, she was exactly what I needed. I truly cannot imagine what it would have been like to be alone in that recovery room.
She didn’t question me or minimize my feelings. She didn’t bat an eyelash when I reached for my mascara. Supporting me as I quietly fixed my makeup, normalizing my unusual reaction to a stressful situation, I believe she kept me from going to a very dark place.
She never left my side that morning. A few hours later, she was right there with me when I met my perfect baby boy. The photos she took of that moment are my most treasured possessions.
It was all very unexpected, the way my doula supported me and my little family. When I eventually emerged from the haze of what happened, one thing was crystal clear: I knew I wanted to be a doula. I wanted to shout from rooftops about all the many ways in which doulas provide support. Years later, here I am blogging in a coffee shop so I guess I got it half-right.
For what it’s worth, we were lucky to have our doula come back on with our family and support us through our second birth which was, happily, quite uneventful. Again, she was invaluable. Again, she taught me so much about what doulas do.
I’ll always be grateful to my Makeup Doula for influencing my life in countless ways. I’m a proud doula partially because of the quiet moments we spent together in that room, highlighting my cheeks and waiting to exhale.