By: Jacquelyn Duke
I will never forget the off-hand comment that changed the course of my life forever. I was sitting in the living room of our first home, holding my fresh, newborn daughter, Willow Grace, just 5 days old. Our labor doula had come to our home for a postpartum visit. We happily discussed how breastfeeding was going, as well as newborn care, sleep (or lack of it), nutrition, and finally the birth. At this point, she gently asked how I felt about my birth experience.
That’s all it took. The hormones and sleep deprivation poured out, and tears began streaming down my face.
I could see her surprise. She probably thought her question would be meant with joy. After all, I had had the perfect birth:
Fast, natural, and healthy. Every woman’s dream, right?
Wrong, at least for me. It’s true that I had desperately wanted a natural birth for a variety of reasons, (none of which included earning some sort of medal, BTW). I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, similar to a marathon runner’s desire to reach their goal; but I also wanted to avoid potentially dangerous interventions for myself and my baby, and I wanted breastfeeding to get started on the best foundation possible.
To prepare myself I read every book, article and blog imaginable on natural birth. I spoke with my mother about her births, as well as my friends, and I even took a Bradley Method® natural birth class, the most “natural” of all birth classes in our area at that time. After learning that statistically women had better outcomes with a labor doula present, I made the wise decision to hire one. I. Was. Ready!
Or so I thought. What I was NOT prepared for was the complete overwhelm and fear I would feel from a precipitous birth. Being a first-time mom, the books and classes told me I would likely give birth past my due date, and I would probably have an average—maybe even long—labor. This made sense to me. After all, my mother had taken 3 days to give birth to her first child. I mentally prepared for the challenges of a late and exhausting delivery.
Imagine my surprise when my water broke with an audible “POP” at 10:45 pm, at exactly 37 weeks gestation. A full month before I expected it! I called my provider and was told I must immediately come in. I didn’t know at that time that I had a choice, so my husband began hurriedly gathering our things, none of which were packed or ready.
I called our doula at that point, and she gently mentioned that I could likely take my time getting ready, maybe even take a shower before heading in. She told me to call her from the hospital to let her know when I needed her. I said okay, hung up, and went to sit on the toilet waiting for the flow of amniotic fluid to slow. I called my mother, surprised that I felt so much fear after all my preparation. I didn’t know at that time that my particular labor pattern caused adrenaline to surge through my body, making me shake violently and causing my nerves to feel on edge.
Contractions hit hard and fast. I jumped in the shower, thinking I had plenty of time. I could barely make it out. My husband found me just 30 minutes after my water broke on my hands and knees in the bathroom moaning and rocking for relief. He talked me out of the bathroom and as far as the kitchen before I told him to call our doula again, just 30 minutes after the first phone call to tell her I was in labor. I gasped into the phone that I must be weak, that I was so, so very sorry that I needed her already. She told me not to apologize, and that she would meet me at the hospital right away. I hung up again.
That’s when I began to hyperventilate. I have never passed out in my entire life, but this was the closest I’d ever come. My husband came around the corner, grabbed my shoulder in fear and shook me, yelling, “Breathe!” I thought there was no way I’d make it to the car, but somehow, I did. I told him to drive safely, but half way there I was already demanding that he either go faster or pull the car over on the interstate so that I could walk to the hospital. Not exactly logical, but I simply couldn’t stand the pain of being in the car. Luckily, he was wise enough not to listen to me, and drove as safely and quickly to the hospital as possible.
Unfortunately, he had not taken the hospital tour with me, and I was completely incapable of giving directions. We pulled up to the front doors at 12:15am. I leaped from the car and marched straight to the doors alone, only to find them locked for the evening. Somewhere deep in my brain I recalled something about entering the hospital through the ER after hours. I began walking to the ER doors, over 200 yards away. My husband looked at the half-parked car, looked at me, and wisely choose to follow!
I huffed and puffed my way into the ER and demanded a bathroom immediately. My contractions were deep in my back, causing an uncomfortable feeling of needing to use the restroom. I was afraid I’d embarrass myself, not being able to control the pressure on my rectum. The staff and my husband waited outside the bathroom door, but soon demanded I come out, afraid that the pushing noises I was making might be the baby coming. In hindsight, I believe my body was trying to turn Willow from an unfavorable position, yet the grunts I was making could certainly be confused with pushing.
The nurses demanded I get on a stretcher to be wheeled up to the maternity ward, when all I wanted to do was walk. They said it was not an option. I was angry, but complied. When we arrived in my labor room, I was so relieved to see the face of my doula. She was like a life preserver that I somehow knew could help keep me from sinking.
The rest of my labor was a blur of being in the bed, on the toilet, slow dancing, and on the labor ball. I was just 5cm when I arrived, much to my dismay. However, I was a +2 station and 100% effaced!!! Had I known what I know now, I might have understood that the baby was likely coming quickly. Many moms are not a +2 station until they are almost crowning, after all!
But at that time all I heard was that I was only half way dilated. I about lost it. At this point I heard a gentle whisper in my ear, telling me to go to the restroom, away from the lights, the beeping monitors, the strangers and the noise. My doula guided me into my own little oasis of privacy, joining me in my labor bubble. She closed the door, turned down the lights, and sat on the edge of the tub where she proceeded to tell me that I was not dying, that the pressure was because the baby was coming quickly. She kept me company while my husband went to park the car properly. When he returned, she guided my husband’s hands and encouraged him as well. She reassured me over and over again that what I was feeling was actually normal and not dangerous. Her calm presence assured me that even though I didn’t feel okay, I must be okay.
At one point during transition she held me, breathing directly with me. I heard out of the blue the worship music she had put on the CD player. I began to hum to the music. When the contraction would rise and I could no longer sing, I asked that she sing for me. God bless her, she did, though I know she probably felt a bit embarrassed to do so. Though probably not as devout as I ought to be, I felt Jesus in that tiny bathroom with me in those moments like no other time in my life. It gave me the courage to continue.
At this point the nurses wanted to check the baby’s heart rate. I had to leave my precious oasis and go back into the bright, scary lights of the hospital room. Willow’s heart rate dipped, and they demanded I get into the bed so they could get a better reading. The pain felt exponentially worse, and completely overwhelmed me. I felt out of control. I called for an epidural, saying I couldn’t take it anymore. I cried to my doula that I was so sorry I couldn’t do it, not understanding that she supported me, not just my birth plan. She told me over and over not to apologize.
They said they must check my cervix, insert an IV, and give me IV fluids before they could do an epidural. Knowing what I know now, I suspect they all knew that I was too far along for the epidural, but they humored me. When they checked my cervix, I was 9.5 cm! For a moment, I felt genuine terror again, knowing there would be no relief coming. But then I heard my doula, telling me she knew I could do this—that I was almost there—and I had the strength to make it through.
Within 30 minutes of that vaginal check, I delivered my little girl. My precious, beautiful, amazing Willow Grace…the daughter that made me a mother! The love washed over me in waves like I’d never felt before in my life. I felt such relief that it was over, mixed with awe of this little person that just came out of me. I DID IT! I gave birth naturally, the way I had wanted.
In the days after her birth, I was proud of what I had done, but still in shock at the intensity. I felt raw, vulnerable and insecure. When friends and family heard of my fast, natural labor, they made comments.
“Wow, aren’t you lucky?! A fast labor! I wish I had had that! That must have been so easy.”
“I labored for 12 hours before getting the epidural. I could have done it too if my labor had been that easy.”
“Wow, you hardly had to feel anything! I labored for 3 days!”
I felt shattered. Everything I had accomplished—survived—erased with these insensitive, ignorant statements to a brand-new mommy. I began to question if I could even call my labor natural—after all, I did ask for an epidural, so maybe it didn’t count? I was really loud, scared, and vocal—maybe to be proud of your labor you have to get through it without making a noise, with no fear…completely “zen” or something? Maybe I wasn’t that strong after all.
This is how my doula found me at that postpartum visit. Her innocent question, “How did I feel about my birth?”
I felt like a failure. Like I hadn’t done it right for it to “count”.
In her kind eyes, I saw that I could be honest with her, that I could pour out my insecurities. And I saw a fierceness come from her, a protectiveness that showed she was on my side! She had my back! She looked me in the eye and said that she was there. She saw what I went through. She explained to me that a fast birth can feel like a million rocks are falling down on you, similar to loads of pitocin being dumped into your system. She hugged me, and validated me. She affirmed that I was strong, powerful, and that it didn’t matter what I had to say or do to get through my birth. I DID IT.
I looked at her face through my tears, smiled for the first time in days, and said “Wow. What a job you must have. To help women the way you do! To repair their very soul! I’d love to be able to help women like that!”
And to my surprise, without missing a beat, she looked at me and said, “Maybe you have a calling. You should become a labor doula!”
And the rest is history! 🙂
*If you feel this calling in your soul, I strongly encourage you to follow it!!! It made NO logical sense for me when I began this journey. At the time, I started my doula career I had a new baby, a full time desk job, and I was finishing my master’s degree in the evenings. If you are meant to do this, the pieces will fall into place! I hope you’ll consider joining me at one of my upcoming CAPPA Labor Doula Trainings. For a full schedule or to learn more visit us at, Powerful Mamas.
|Jacquelyn Duke – Labor Doula Faculty||
|Aside from being a mother, (her most important career), Jacquelyn’s passion is helping others understand their choices and find their own inner power during childbirth. Jacquelyn has been teaching natural childbirth education classes since 2011 through Powerful Mamas™. She enjoys being able to use her advocacy experience from her former careers on Capital Hill and as a Paralegal as she comes alongside families during their pregnancies and labor experiences. Her masters degree in education comes in handy, along with her CAPPA CCE and CLD certifications when she is educating families on their birthing options. However, she is quick to tell you that the most valuable education she has received by far is from the amazing women she has been blessed to work with over the years.