When my first baby entered the world, she was both gray and silent. Thanks to the amazing medical team that had been caring for me throughout the process of labor and delivery, I was mostly unaware that things had gone desperately wrong somewhere along the line. I was definitely unaware that one day I’d need another amazing person, a postpartum doula, to help me leave my traumatic birth behind.
My doctor didn’t make a big fuss when he called the head of the NICU team into the room after I had been pushing for three hours straight. And, when he told me that he was going to need to use a vacuum to help my daughter get out as quickly as possible, I didn’t panic. Because I didn’t know that she was in such extreme duress. In fact, I was almost relieved because the moment I’d been struggling to get to for the past 12 hours was finally here: I was going to be a mom.
My daughter was born “sunny side up,” which is a nice way of saying that she wasn’t facing the right direction during delivery. That positioning had caused her to get stuck on my pelvis, where we later learned she had gotten tangled up in her umbilical cord, and began to suffocate. Thanks to my quick thinking doctor, who assisted her birth with both a vacuum and an episiotomy that left me with a third degree tear, she eventually made her way into the world.
I never did get to see the moment she pinked up and took her first amazing breath, though. In fact, I hardly remember much of my early moments as a mother. Sometime between my own mother tearfully telling me that my daughter was OK, and my husband and I agreeing on her name, I began to hemorrhage.
Those moments remain a blur to me. I remember a nurse telling me what they were about to do was going to hurt, I remember the doctor running into the room as I screamed, and I remember my husband’s tearful face floating over the shoulder of someone in a white coat as everything started to fade to black.
I spent my first week as a mom in the hospital receiving around-the-clock care. I needed blood transfusions and help getting to and from the bathroom. My veins collapsed from all of the IVs, and I grew to dread the sound of the nurses pulling back the curtain to check on me in the middle of the night.
Eventually, we were released from the hospital and I went home, where it took weeks for me to even be able to stand up straight again. Simple tasks like changing my baby’s diaper left me in a cold sweat with the sound of my blood furiously pumping in my ears. Between the hormones, and the physical toll of losing that much blood, I was barely able to function.
As time passed, I forgot about the worst of it and started considering having a second baby. It wasn’t until I got pregnant, that all of the memories and the fear returned. I was terrified of suffering from another hemorrhage. I could hardly care for one baby before, how would I care for both a baby and a wild toddler? What if I didn’t make it home at all?
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My doctor told me that I was not at a high risk of experiencing the same complications. And, that even if I did, this time we’d be prepared. Still, with all the reassurances, I couldn’t shake my fear. Even as the baby in my belly grew big and strong, I worried.
Finally, I shared my fears with my local mom group, which is where I heard the phrase “postpartum doula” for the first time. I knew what a doula was. Many of my friends and family members had opted to hire one for their deliveries. But the responsibilities of a postpartum doula were a mystery to me.
I quickly found out that a postpartum doula is someone who comes to your home after you’ve delivered your baby and helps with the aftercare of both you, your newborn, and, in some cases, older siblings. They’re more than just a mother’s helper or a nanny, though, because they are especially tuned to postpartum needs.
We met with Nikki the doula one sunny winter afternoon, and I immediately fell in love with her. She showed up wrapped in a shawl, and had kind eyes and a low raspy voice that both my husband and I found soothing. We clicked instantly, and I hired her on the spot. The peace of mind I got from knowing that she would be there if I needed her was life changing. I finally felt like I could be excited about the upcoming birth of my second daughter instead of worrying about what we would do if everything went wrong again.
In the end, our second baby entered the world quickly and complication free. She barely waited until I got to the delivery room before making her grand entrance, and she was out after just two pushes. When we were released from the hospital shortly after, Nikki showed up to our home and took care of everything for me so that I could focus on bonding with my new baby girl.
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She played with my oldest, made me lunch, and offered me swaddle tips and breastfeeding suggestions, all while being a calming presence in our home. Although I didn’t need her for the intensive help that I thought I would, having another adult by my side after my husband immediately had to return to work made all the difference in the world. Best of all, I felt cared for in a time when so much focus was on the baby and what the baby needed. It was nice to be asked what I needed.
Not everyone can afford a postpartum doula, nor does every family have use for one, but for our family, she was exactly what we needed.
Childbirth is nothing like in the movies, as these beautiful photos show.
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