I have birthed four children, all of them out-of-hospital. My oldest was born in a free-standing birth center after 37 hours of labor, including two to three pushing. My second was born in my own bed after eight hours of labor, and a few minutes of pushing. My third and fourth were also born in my own bed after just a few hours of labor. All attended by midwives.
So many things played a part in my success in having four natural births. My good health, my husband’s support, my education, my friends, and wonderful care providers. Not one of them holds a candle to my mother’s role, though. Throughout all four birth experiences, there is one steady factor that stands out above the rest, and for which I am most grateful: My Mother.
I am thankful for my mother, who refused to share her own difficult birth stories with me, knowing it could influence my own perception of what I could or could not do. I didn’t learn her story of my own difficult birth until several years later, when all my own children were born. She believed in me, and let me know it.
I remember asking her, point-blank, if she thought I was crazy for the choices I was making. Her answer? “Not at all. You have to do this however you feel is right.” And she meant it. She never once questioned my decisions, or even gave a hint of trepidation, because it wasn’t there. She just supported me, and defended me to others in our family who were questioning me. On top of that, she shielded me from their comments. I never knew that most of my extended family thought I went off the deep end for choosing to birth out-of-hospital.
I am thankful that she was there for me – in a very physical and emotional way. She came out to D.C., all the way from Oregon, to help, even though Levi and I had told her we didn’t really want her at the birth itself. She had told her employer that she was coming out to help me, and if she had a job when she got back, fine. If not, she didn’t care, because this was more important to her. She still had her job when she got back home – all four times she came out.
I remember that as we were getting into the car to go, I demanded she come with me, instead of staying home to wait. “I can’t do this without you!” I remember nearly crying as I asked her to come anyway. She did. (A huge kudos to my husband here too, who didn’t say a word in protest, even though he had really wanted it to just be us. The kind of control my support team gave me was phenomenal.)
I am thankful for the support she gave me in labor. At about the 24-hour mark, things were really slowing down, and I was so discouraged, and so very, very tired. My mom kicked everyone (even the midwives) out of the room, lay down on the bed with me, and gave me a motherly talking-to.
“I’m sitting here, watching you trying so hard to be quiet and breathe [I’d learned the Bradley Method], and laying in the same position on your side. You’re HURTING, Tiff. If you need to yell, YELL. If you need to cuss, CUSS. If you need to walk or shower or whatever, DO IT!!! This baby won’t come if you won’t let it – stop trying to be ‘good,’ and just do what YOU need to do. Who CARES what any of us think???”
Well, it went something like that anyway.
Needless to say, it gave me the second wind I needed so desperately. I wanted to get outside, so I threw on a skirt I’d brought, and we all took a walk around the block in downtown Alexandria. The sun was shining, my mom was holding my hand, and I couldn’t help it. I began singing. I don’t remember which song, but everyone knew it, and sang with me. And God touched me, reminded me I could do this, that He had created me for this, and that He had already equipped me with the same strength He gives to ALL women – the strength to birth.
I am thankful that Mom believed in my ability to breastfeed my new baby, even though it hurt at first. She never told me that I had so severely damaged her nipples, as she tried to learn with no support whatsoever during my own newborn days. Nary an ounce of bitterness did she carry from that time. She knew and accepted that my path was my own, and supported me completely.
She allowed me to learn and grow and make my own mistakes. Never once did I feel that she thought I should do something different. Never once did I feel like she thought I couldn’t do it. Never once did I feel like she wanted me to choose the same path she did.Mom was the epitome of what it means to doula – to serve. She catered to every need of mine, no matter how miniscule. She may not have the education and training a labor or postpartum doula has, but she didn’t really need it. She knew the job. She knows how to serve wholeheartedly, and that’s what she did for me. Mom showed me the depth of her love for me by supporting me the way she did. I may not have gotten information from her, but I got the emotional and physical support I needed to succeed – and sometimes, that is far more important than all the education in the world.
Because of her, I was able to rest and learn to breastfeed for at least two weeks after every baby. Because of her, innumerable practical needs were met for me, relieving so much of the burden too many new mommas carry on their own. Because of her, I learned that I don’t always have to “behave.” Because of her, I learned the depth of my own God-given strength, because she had it too. Because of her, I learned what it means to truly support someone.
I look around and marvel at this glaring lack in so many women’s lives. Many women have wonderful mothers, who want to be there for their daughters, but cannot come and support them the way every woman needs so desperately during this time. I know every situation is different, and it just makes me all the more grateful for the example of support given by my mom. I only hope to live up to it as I serve my clients.
It is this heart to support women that drives me. I know that I am a poor substitute for a supportive mother, but I strive to get as close as I can.
I am thankful for my mother – for it is she who made my birth experiences amazing. The most important piece of my already wonderful support team.