04 September 2010

Birth Day

“I still think you should be a doula.”

It was one of those big dinner outings, where you're ostensibly out with 20 people, but really you can only talk to 4 or 5 other people because the table is so long and the restaurant is so loud.

“I'd love to be able to do that for my friends.”

Three people and one conversation down the table the pregnant woman said “Ooo.” We both leaned forward and around to make eye contact.

“Think about it.” I said, trying not to get my hopes up.

“I will.” she promised. I vowed to say nothing more, not wanting to be pushy, not expecting to hear about it again.

But a couple of weeks later she did bring it up. She asked what I would do as her doula. When I answered she nodded and said only “Yes.” I was excited and giddy and humbled to be invited into such an intimate space. And also, a bit worried. What if I'm really bad at it?

We arranged to meet to talk about what she needs from me. It seemed straightforward. I read through my favorite birthing book. I made a list of on-call babysitters. And finally I got the call that they were heading to the hospital. I jumped up and down in excitement, and I beat them to the hospital so I waited until they arrive and waited again until she was admitted.

It was a long night, and a hard labor. I suggested positions and rubbed feet and shoulders and hips. I filled the water bottle over and over again, found washcloths to wipe her face and wash her feet. I smuggled in the ultimate contraband: solid food. I translated a bit of doctor speak. I told her again and again that she was amazing, that her baby was doing great.

There were other things I wanted to say but couldn't, because I would have wept. That, I think, is why doctors and nurses are so officious. They have to separate themselves so that they don't weep love, joy, and sorrow for their patients.

When it was time for her to push there was a doctor and two nurses and her husband and there was nowhere for me to be but above her head, wiping her face, exhorting her to breathe deeply, and touching her shoulders in benediction as she pushed.

And then: one beautiful, perfect baby girl. I filled the water bottle again, fetched the camera, told the people in the waiting room, made sure the baby was snuggled skin to skin on her mama's chest and slid back out of the way. When I left my friend's mother hugged me and thanked me, for the second (maybe third? More?) time. Because to whom are you more grateful than you are to the person who eases your child's pain and fear? I had done that. I can say that assuredly, not bragging, but grateful that I was able to provide that gift, and hopeful that I will have a chance to do it again.

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