First I should say that it was the most awesome way to celebrate the new year. I find the whole New Year phenomenon to be a little self-indulgent. A lot of time spent thinking and talking about how the year has effected us and how we want our lives to be better in the next year. Previously my best times on New Year's Eve was when I used to do the Midnight Run with my sister. That felt very healthy and positive--like I was already starting the New Year doing something good for myself instead of one last night of debauchery before submitting to my resolutions.
This was a completely different experience because I felt I was doing something important. I really can't stress that enough. In general I feel I do many important things with my life and my research but very little has compared with staying in the moment for 18 hours of someone else's labor. This young woman, through a number of unfortunate circumstances, had no one else to be with her during her birth and she was scared. While she had nurses and doctors--who were mostly wonderful and helpful--they were in and out of the room. Pumpkin and I stayed with her, comforted her, massaged her, encouraged her and kept her focused. No matter how tired I got (and I got plenty tired) or how bad I felt about bailing on b on New Year's Eve (he rang in the new year with Pumpkin's boyfriend), I couldn't shake the feeling that it was critically important to be in that room and by her side.
The act of touching, physically touching, is incredibly important to me. This is not at all apparent when you first meet me. I tend to be physically stand-offish until I get to know you. With some people I never get affectionate. I'm not a "casual toucher." I don't give fake kisses or superficial pats on the arm. If I give you a hug, you know you've been hugged and I believe strongly in the art of holding hands. One of the most painful aspects of Angel moving out has been his reluctance to be touched or hugged. More important to the current story, when I see someone in pain it is really hard for me NOT to touch them. Some women don't like to be touched when they are in labor. I think that will be a very difficult birth for me. This woman was shy about asking for touches and massages but they ended up bringing her great comfort. However, as her labor progressed, holding our hands became a ritualistic necessity. It is amazing to think that holding someone's hand can be that important but it was.
I thought witnessing the actual birth would be the most life-altering part for me. It was an amazing moment and I'm glad I got the opportunity to see a baby emerge into the world. However I wasn't filled with joy and wonder. Instead I felt relief--relief that her pain had finally ended. I realized later this was exactly how I felt when Angel was born. His father was overjoyed and filled with love for this new person but all I could feel was merciful relief. It was much later in the day before I had that moment of awe while holding Angel. I also did not feel any desire to hold this baby. He was cute and sweet as could be but I've realized I'm really not doing this for the baby. My loyalty, concern, and admiration was all for the mother. Mothering is incredibly hard work--it starts with birthing but doesn't really get any easier. I keep seeing more and more organizations and movements that call upon mothers to create social change but there are so few organizations that truly support mothers and motherhood. Public concern for mothers is thinly disguised concern for babies and children. Being a doula is one way that I feel I can directly support mothers.
In addition to being my first birth, this experience was especially meaningful because I did it with Pumpkin. Our original plan was for the four of us to quietly ring in the new year and then have my family's traditional New Year's Day dinner before Pumpkin moved away to graduate school on Saturday. While that would have been a lovely way to say good-bye, the time we spent in that birthing room took our relationship to another level. No matter where life takes her, this is something we will always share.
Pumpkin did an incredible job. We had very different but complimentary styles and I was amazed at all of the facts and techniques that she remembered from the training. In some ways it was harder for her having never given birth but she was also much closer to this woman's age and I think could relate to her in ways that are no longer possible for me. All-in-all I think we were a great team and while I definitely can see ways I can improve for the future, we gave this woman a positive birth experience.