I haven’t had a “worst” birth, but I definitely have had a most stressful birth…and it’s not the way you think. I’ve had births where I’ve been at the hospital for more than 30 hours. Births where I have come home exhausted to the bone. Ones where the next day I’ve been sore head to toe from all that I’ve done. Frustrating births that have ended in unplanned cesareans and births where the babies have been whisked off to the NICU. None of them were anywhere as taxing on me as this one: The one where I did nothing.
Sometimes a doula doing “nothing” is a good thing. The birth is going so well, the mother is supported by a birth partner (or two!), or she is managing contractions in a way that doesn’t need the doula’s physical support – those are times we love to be “doing nothing” (though we often still take photos, notes, refill beverages, etc). Stepping back, holding the space, reassuring mothers (and birth partners) that there is no reason to be worried, these are “nothing” things that are part of the job. Unfortunately, it wasn’t this time.
“Mary” seemed like an ideal client: excited for a natural birth, in excellent health and shape, and with a supportive husband. Normal, perfect pregnancy. She and her husband took all the prenatal classes and seemed ready in every way. I anticipated a wonderful birth. But during labor, Mary wouldn’t let me help her in any way. She closed herself off from me and her husband, sometimes even physically turning her back on us and slapping her husband’s hands away. She wasn’t managing her contractions well; she was visibly suffering, but refused our help, suggestions, and touch. The doctor wasn’t interested in natural birth, regardless of what Mary’s birth vision said and refused to discuss options, telling Mary that medical interventions were the only way “out of this pain”.
In the end, Mary had a normal, vaginal birth with a healthy baby and no complications. She said she was content with her experience and with her, I left it at that. I thought it was a long, lonely labor that could have been different. I don’t know what led her to be unable to accept help in that time. I am sad that I couldn’t reach her and hope that this is a reminder to all of us that it’s okay to accept help when we struggle, in any part of our lives.
So that is my hardest birth – the birth where I did nothing.