Natural Birth with a Doula (by Julie Swanepoel)
Facing the birth of my first child was a daunting experience. My mother had often spoken of child birth and I had been left with deep impressions of pain and suffering. However, being from the UK I was used to caesareans being for high risk pregnancies and emergencies so a natural birth felt like a ‘normal’ one. I did a lot of reading and realised that much as I liked the idea of a midwife led birth, with a husband who is 6 feet 5 inches and who weighed ten and a half pounds at birth I would be taking a risk. Therefore the safest option seemed to be a hospital birth with an obstetrician attending. During our ante-natal classes our midwife was very supportive of natural birth and at one of the classes she had Ginny Oosthuizen, a Doula, come and speak to us. That evening it happened to be my mother-in-law who attended the class with me. She has six son’s, all born naturally, so was also supportive of a natural birth. Leaving the class, my mother-in-law and I spoke about having a Doula present during labour, and both felt it was an excellent idea. It felt like a compromise between the more clinical, but safer, option of the hospital and doctor birth, and the more ‘natural’. In some ways I felt like I was gaining the best of both.
Ginny came to visit before the birth and was very supportive from the start. There was some talk of me being induced because the baby was due on Easter weekend and my doctor was going to be away. This caused me some anxiety as I had read of inductions causing the birth to be quicker resulting in more pain. However, between Ginny and the ante natal class nurse I was calmed down and decided to wait and see. As it was a week before I was due, my waters broke at three thirty in the morning. This could have been helped by Ginny’s little homeopathic white tablets.
We held out calling Ginny until quarter to six thinking she would need her sleep. A couple of phone calls later she said that as my waters had broken we had better head to the hospital. I was hardly having contractions, just something like a mild period pain. On the way to the hospital my husband declared he was hungry so we stopped by Mc Donalds to pick up some breakfast for him. Thinking that I needed strength that day I also had a breakfast muffin and Rooibos tea. (my healthy muesli seemed like a long time ago). This caused some amusement in the hospital later when after vomiting I confessed it was perhaps my breakfast burger.
We arrived at the hospital and were greeted by Ginny who stood waiting at the hospital labour ward entrance. Apparently when she arrived the hospital staff had said that I would have to go to the other hospital due to their beds being full. Ginny managed to persuade them that as I would be in the labour ward most of the day, surely they would be able to find a free bed in the afternoon. Already we were very grateful to have decided to have a doula.
My contractions were still slow so my obstetrician prescribed some oral hormones to speed things up a bit. At this point things were still very relaxed and so Ginny, my husband Franz, and I, took a walk to the café where Ginny could grab some breakfast. We continued walking around the hospital until at the end of one corridor Ginny proved her mettle by helping me in a slightly stronger contraction that had me on my knees. Back to the ward we headed. From here on things are a little hazy but I remember well Ginny’s frequent offerings of ice packs and reheated wheaty bags. For that alone she was well worth having along, especially as I was very reluctant to allow poor Franz out of my sight. This was because Ginny had shown Franz the pressure point in the small of my back that helped with the pain. I found that it really did help and therefore as soon as a contraction began Franz was commanded back to his post. Ginny had also shown me how to lean over the exercise ball she had brought along. This combined with the pressure points worked extremely well until I had to lie back in order to be monitored.
Things progressed normally through the afternoon but by around four o’clock I was beginning to tire. I was repeatedly asking how far along I was, and how long to go. I knew that I was at the point when if I was going to have an epidural now was the time. This is when the moral and emotional support of other females around was invaluable. Both Ginny and the midwife were reassuring me I could do it. I can remember asking the sister if she had children.
“Yes” she replied.
“Yes, two boys naturally”.
This was a turning point and from then on I was more determined to do this naturally and without an epidural.
Dominic was born at about a quarter to six. I remember being asked by the Doctor if I felt ready to push. I wasn’t really experiencing pushing contractions, but felt that I could push if she wanted me to. So, we pushed. I was very glad for the regular swimming I did right up until the birth as I really believe it helped me to have more strength at this stage. Pushing went well.
Dominic was given to me straight away, but when they took him back to tidy up a little he began “grunting”. Apparently this was a sign that he was cold so they took him off to be warmed under the lamps in the nursery. In the meantime the Doctor was seeing to the taking of blood from the umbilical cord for stem cells, and then giving me some stitches. Franz had disappeared to make some phone calls to family and Ginny was bustling around tidying up and generally helping me to feel a little more presentable.
When the sister brought Dominic back he was crying, but as soon as they handed him to me he stopped. I had not spoken a word. I suppose many mothers wonder if they will bond with their baby, but from that moment of recognition as we looked into each others eyes I had no doubts. Some say that this is the point when a mother is born, and that was certainly my experience.
Before the birth, when considering a Doula my only hesitation was in wondering if my husband might feel sidelined with another female present seeing to my needs. In fact, I believe that my Doula empowered Franz in that she could show him how to be a real support. I feel for the many birth partners who are left standing helplessly watching as the mother endures pain, not knowing how to help. This is where a Doula with her training and experience is so invaluable.
Ginny has since become part of the family. My parents live in the UK, so in a sense it was like Dominic had another Granny in SA. It was to Ginny I automatically turned when I had to leave him with someone for my six week check up.
Since Dominic has been born people have asked me will I have another. I always answer yes, but only if Franz and Ginny are there to help me again.