Sweet Baby Mac, just hours old, in my arms.
Last week I had the chance to attend the birth of my little nephew. Let's call him Baby Mac.
My sister asked me several months ago to be her birth partner or doula through this experience. I was thrilled with the chance to do so. I had talked to her over the phone through the labor of her 2nd child and I had been invited to be her birth partner on baby #3. Now, she was up to baby #4 and I was invited again.
Her hubby, of course, was present and active during the delivery as her number one support. I was there specifically to assist her as she was birthing unmedicated. I know there is a whole realm of discussion about natural childbirth or medicated childbirth. My view of the whole discussion comes down to "As long as mama and baby are healthy and well then it is a win-win situation whichever way you go." I respect every woman's choice for her own birth experience. That said, I definitely am fascinated by natural/unmedicated childbirth and I've been lucky enough to get to participate with my sister through her own experiences with this kind of childbirth.
What my job was during the birth was to have toolbox of ideas and techniques to help Meg through the birth. Her whole focus--obviously--was centered on baby and getting him here. My job was to do whatever I could to make her as comfortable and supported through that process. We had discussed her desires for the birth, any interventions, and the baby's aftercare. I was there to make sure that those wishes were carried out when Meg was occupied with the all-encompassing process of birthing baby. More importantly though, I was there to tune in to Meg. What did she need? What did she want? What part of her body ached? Was she tensing up? What words would encourage her? Were the lights down low? Was soothing music playing? Was she hot? Was she cold? Tired? Hungry? Thirsty? Did she need to move? Change positions? Get in the tub? Go to the bathroom? Go for a walk?
My focus was to anticipate her needs and carry them out.
Here are a few things that I did during the birth:
- Foot massages--Meg really likes these and they help her whole body to calm down and relax.
- Light touch massage--think of someone lightly tickling your back or arms. Makes me want to fall asleep usually.
- Brushed my teeth & popped breath mints throughout time there because I kept leaning over and whispering in her ear or talking close to her face and I didn't want my possible bad breath to distract her focus.
- Applied cold washcloths to her forehead and back of neck when she suddenly got really hot during part of her labor.
- Wrapped her in blankets when her teeth chattered and she was shivering
- Spoke encouraging words often
- Walked with her
- Vocalized with her
- Helped back and forth to bathroom and in and out of the tub
- Communicated with nurses and midwife for her
- Suggested new positions for her try
- Used acupressure to help her during harder contractions
- Constantly offered her water to make sure she stayed hydrated
- Made sure she ate yogurt, juice, crackers immediately after birth to help her blood sugar
- When she hit the "I can't do this" moment, made sure that we got in different positions and moved and did anything we could to help her through that moment
Now looking over that list I know that it was a small contribution compared to the true work that Meg was doing. But certainly it was more than just holding her hand or standing helplessly by as she went through the birth alone. I hope it eased her way somewhat.
While Baby Mac's birth story is not my story to share, I did have a few thoughts and impressions from my own viewpoint of that day.
- Childbirth is simply an astounding process. That a child can be breathing fluids one moment and air the next moment, that a woman's body can manage to expel an 8-pound human being out of tiny crevice in her own body, that no conscious thought went into the creation of a ten tiny fingers and toes, two functioning lungs, a full skeletal frame, two bright eyes, and a brain that is so delicate and magnificent at the same moment that we as humans haven't even begun to understand it---this is a breathtaking experience.
- I like it when my normally mild sister gets a little feisty. Favorite feisty moment had to be when she was tired and beleaguered after a prolonged pushing phase and the nurse suggested a bit too sugar sweetly that Meg just pick a goal (like 15 minutes) and shoot for that goal. Meg's response: "I don't want a goal!" which could have been translated "And anyone who suggests such idiocy again can get a razor-sharp dagger and plunge it in her eye, thank you very much!" Don't mess with the mama bear in labor.
- When my sister cries--either out of pain or joy--I cry too.
- I suspect there is nothing quite as heroic and tender as watching a man hold his wife close as she endures the pangs of life-giving labor.
- The unbridled relief that washes through the room when baby finally arrives and is pronounced whole and well and is delivered immediately to his mama's waiting arms. Those first, brief moments of mother-love are priceless.
I've spent the last week stealing over to Meg's house as often as possible to snuggle, cuddle, and just look at Baby Mac. Why are new babies so fascinating? Why can I can spend so much time just looking at him and memorizing his features and his toes and his eyes? Why is there nothing on earth quite as delicious as a new baby? The chubby cheeks, the soft skin, that new baby smell?
Each one is a miracle.