Life and Birth in Manhattan
Anne was six months pregnant. Her family was in a faraway state. The father of the child, was dealing with health problems and couldn’t be there for her for most of the pregnancy. She was alone…
Anne found me via the nonprofit Avail, where I was volunteering my doula services. Avail specializes in providing assistance to mothers and fathers, as they navigate the tough terrain of an unexpected pregnancy. The day before her due date, to add to the difficult journey she had already taken, she slipped on ice and had sciatic nerve pain so severe she was no longer able to walk. And was immediately scheduled for a C-section. While we were waiting for the procedure to begin, I heard a tap, tap, tap. Getting louder and louder. And the door opened and a blind man walked in. Ann introduced me, “This is David.” I knew who David was, her unborn daughter’s father. But I didn’t know he was blind. As the doula, I helped scrub up David for the surgery and led him into the O.R. The door quietly shut behind him.
One hour and fifteen minutes later, I was reunited with them in the recovery room. Ann was shaking uncontrollably, and vomiting from the anesthesia. Nurses were buzzing around her. And in the midst of beeping machines and tubes sat David, holding his daughter, while his fingers furiously crossed his daughters face. Like her features were written in braille.
“Congratulations,” I said. And he looked at me with such a strained face. “Tell me what she looks like, Jane…”
“She has eyes the shape of almonds,” I said. “Skin fluorescent as a thousand crushed diamonds. Damp curls of blonde.” Tears were streaming down his face. And mine. Nine months of anticipation and worry, dissolving into a waterfall of love. And he whispered, “I can see her now; I can see her now.”
It’s these moments that will be etched into the hearts and souls of mothers and fathers, that will carry them through the sleepless nights, and the endless sacrifices to be made in the name of loving your child. That is why beginnings are so important. Why I find my job so fulfilling. We are blessed with many great doctors and nurses in New York City, but a doula does a vital and very different job entirely. She has the freedom to bring joy and wonder into the sometimes frightening and sterile hospital environment.
A doula is like a Sherpa, guiding one up the exhilarating, yet unpredictable terrain of labor. Someone you can talk to about the fear of delivery and your swollen and engorged boobs. Someone who focuses on the magic and wonder of pregnancy and labor. And reminds you of the joy that awaits you on the other side. Someone that can give you a killer foot massage, make you laugh when you need to be distracted, and encourage you when you’re disheartened. Knowledge is power and choice. And my greatest compensation is the gift of being a part of one of the most transformative parts of people’s lives, the first breath of another little soul entering this magical journey called life.
Birthing a baby is often the most defining moment in a woman’s life. And as she stands on that precipice, ready to jump, she needs emotional and psychological support, just as much as she needs physical support, for a fulfilling and bonding birth to be achieved. That includes un-medicated, medicated, and/or cesarean births. It’s still your labor, your baby, your story.
Mistakenly, some people think that doulas are only for the well to do, or for those who don’t want an epidural. This is simply not true. There are many different doula tiers and are priced accordingly. And an ever growing list of organizations that offer free doula services for women in need. Complying with the DONA international vision, a doula for every mother who needs one.
My first taste of a doula’s life began six years ago when I wanted to try for an un-medicated birth. After years of yoga/meditation and studying acting, I thought this was the perfect challenge of mind over matter. And as fate would have it, all my cards aligned that night. Water broke, nine hours of labor, doula present, a couple of pushes, and I had the birth I desired. Before that night there were many months of mindful preparation. Infatuation with the science behind it, a study into the plentitude of hormones that assist you, and the innate intelligence of the body that knows exactly how to release the baby into this world. At 7:11 AM, she was born. Little did I know, she brought a beautiful gift with her, and that was a complete and utter fascination with child birth and motherhood.
I become a DONA certified doula and started volunteering with Avail. And in walked Ann, in walked Lucia, Ming, Anya, Tatiana, each one of these, their own stories, challenges, hopes and desires. And love, oh so much love. “Tell me what she looks like, Jane.” She is your baby, and she is beautiful.
Jane Bradbury was raised outside Dublin, Ireland, and is a doula, living in TriBeCa with her husband and two delicious children.