“Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” Alma 5:14
Life as a doula. Every birth changes me in some way. I always learn. Often the lessons are unexpected. A little over three years ago, I attended at birth that I recognize as one of those unexpected yet key experiences that shape a doula. I still talk with this friend and I mentioned to her that this birth changed me profoundly. She asked me to explain. I have to admit that I struggle to put it into words on a page because it was a change in my heart and mind. So I will make an attempt to put words to how my heart was changed but just know that I’m not sure I can fully capture what I want to express.
To explain I should start with experiences that shaped my thinking in regards to birth. I grew up being afraid of birth and that transferred to my own first birth experience that ended in an unnecessary cesarean section. I was filled with love as I held my baby for the first time but I felt robbed of something. Somehow I felt something wasn’t right. I knew I wanted more children but struggled to know how I could possible accomplish it with all of the fear I felt inside me.
I replaced my fear with faith and knowledge. I read and studied birth and took a comprehensive natural childbirth class. I admit I felt anger and guilt after realizing my birth could have been very different. I didn’t want other women to have to do things the hard way. After the beautiful natural VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) of my son I became a childbirth educator. I was a birth activist. I had an Us vs. Them mentality as it relates to birth. We, the birth advocates, were fighting the establishment and all of the lack of informed consent/information and cultural misconceptions of the mainstream birth world. Even though I was teaching a lot of good information in my classes I know that I taught with my own bias because of my own experiences. I was often judgmental of the birth experiences of others if they didn’t turn out “ideal.” I worried when someone was making a decision differently than I would. I didn’t want them to suffer through the emotional baggage that I had.
Well, four years ago I met my friend whose birth I am referencing. She was easy to talk to and fun to be around. We quickly became close friends. She had had two cesarean births. All of her sisters had cesarean births. It seemed it was the just what they had to do in her family. I was quick to share with her that I believed she could have a VBAC. I had done it. She was open to learning more. I kept feeding her information which she read and studied. She wanted to have a VBAC. She became pregnant after we met but soon experienced extreme fatigue and nausea while at the same time being weighed down by prenatal depression. We went on walks most mornings. I checked on her often. We carefully talked over her options and made a plan. She took a childbirth class with her husband, planned to have me as her doula, chose a supportive caregiver that she had to drive 45 minutes to see. I was excited. I felt like the Lord brought us together so we could experience her VBAC together.
And then she moved to another state in the last trimester. We scrambled to find the right birth place and birth team. She found a supportive group only to be faced with a cesarean birth because her body seemed to not be cooperating as she passed her due date by 10 days without any change. She was in tears. I was two and half hours away. I jumped in my car and made it there just before she was wheeled into the operating room. I sat in their room and waited. I paced the floor. It felt so long. I wracked my brain. What could I have done differently? What does this mean? Why were we brought together if this is how things were going to unfold?
As she was wheeled into her room with her perfect baby boy, a quiet reverence surrounded her. All of my questions melted away. I stifled my own tears as I watched her tears fall. She had given what she could.
This past July I had the privilege of listening to Dawn Armstrong speak. She is the “missionary mom” from Meet the Mormons. Her story is not your typical missionary mom story, it is powerful, it is messy, it is real. And that is how I felt a little with this birth, that we are all here very different children of God having a human experience, just trying our best to find our way. Sometimes it is messy, fully of tears and heartache, but it is real. It is someone’s life experience and journey to find their way back to their Heavenly Home. Along the way we experience disappointment but hopefully we also experience God’s hand in lifting us up. Hopefully those experiences open our hearts to the greater scope of the plan, love. Christlike love. I couldn’t judge my friend’s experience. I could only be there for her. Mourn with her. Be a friend.
See? I know I didn’t fully capture here the change in my heart. But let me just say that now, when I encounter someone and they are telling me about their birth, I don’t have to judge what they have experienced. It is liberating to just love them and listen.
What heart changing experiences have you had as a doula or midwife (or birthy momma)?