When she was six months pregnant, my younger sister Rachel faced a painful marital separation. It proved too much for her to bear alone. She needed calm, security, friendship, and loving support. So did her soon-to-be-born daughter. My husband Clark and I opened our home and welcomed her with joy. She lived with us during the final trimester of her pregnancy, the birth, and the postpartum recovery.
Before she arrived, she called me. “Amy, will you be my birth partner?” she asked. I said, “Yes” it was an answer that would change my life.
I projected confidence yet inside I felt nervous, hesitant, and out of place. Although I could outline the basic philosophies of various world religions, I knew next to nothing about childbirth. How could I support her through this rite of passage into motherhood?
While checking out a few books on birthing, I shared these fears with the librarian. “Have you considered hiring a doula?” she inquired. I never heard this word before. Gratefully, she took a break from her work to educate me about the services that doulas provide birthing women. I wanted to hire a doula for Rachel and later that afternoon, I met up with her and enthusiastically shared my new discovery.
She laughed and said, “Amy, I don’t need a doula. I have you!” I paused. “Well, I need a doula” so, she humored me. We hired a doula. Rachel’s midwife fully supported us in bringing a doula on board. We found a wonderful woman, full of passion for her work. As a former opera singer, she sang like an angel. (Her calming and beautiful melodies brought a great deal of peace to the early hours of labor).
When Rachel knocked on our bedroom door at 5:30 am on a late March morning, I bolted upright. My beloved niece was soon to be born. Knowing our doula would arrive at our request brought tremendous relief and calmed any lingering trepidation. I wouldn’t be alone in supporting Rachel through the trials ahead. Our doula joined us for the vast majority of Rachel’s twenty-four-hour labor. Her helpful, kind, and informed presence proved invaluable.
Rachel quickly morphed into the bravest person I knew. Wonder and pain mixed into a strong elixir coursing through my sister’s beautiful body. We spent hours walking through the springtime fields behind our home. She labored in the upstairs tub as water washes over her rhythmic contractions. At the hospital, she moaned and rocked and said she felt agonizing pressure. She cried and bled. I massaged her body as she mercifully rested during the five-minute respites between contractions. These respites are nature’s wise gift to birthing women.
At one point as Rachel rested between pushing, our midwife turned to me and said, “You’d be a good doula.” Her words fell into the fertile soil of soon-to-manifest dreams.
Then Rachel’s cervix opened fully and the downward pressure compelled action. While pushing, she compressed every bone in my hand. I didn’t dare say anything given what was happening to her vagina. The baby crowned. Then, with a hearty push, new life slipped out of Rachel’s watery, warm womb. A threshold opened, and my sister gave birth.
The energy in the room shifted with celebratory grace and tearful smiles. We welcomed this precious one to the earthly realm of gravity, air, and land. “A woman’s body knows what to do,” our midwife stated in the most matter-of-fact way.
Following Rachel’s birth experience, I devoted myself to doula training. Aztec elders taught that women who died in childbirth go to the same level of paradise as men who died in battle. After attending over forty births, I fully understood why. Men die in battle from intense wounds. They bleed as they sacrifice for a greater cause. The same holds true for women who die in childbirth. They bleed as they open to life. The juxtaposition of beauty and pain in each birth astounds me. Each story lives in me.
Image Credit: Amy Wright Glenn