Remembering Shonnie, Bruce and Gracelyn’s birth, I am happy and grateful that I was fortunate enough to witness and provide assistance to you. This memory is a sacred one for me, and I am glad to share it.
Shonnie was in contact with me during the day on September 6th. She was experiencing contractions that started out 20 minutes apart and got closer throughout the day. By around 3 pm, she was ready for my support, so I packed my bags, set the kids up with a babysitter, and headed over to her house. On the way, I stopped for a sandwich. The cashier at KFC saw my birth doula car sticker and asked me if I was a doula. He had had a doula at the birth of his child, and sent me off with happy wishes for a good birth. I was amused and delighted by the synchronicity of the Universe, and glad to be heading to a birth that the Universe was supporting with love and community.
When I arrived at their house, Bruce directed me upstairs, to the bathroom where Shonnie was laboring in the tub. Her face had the look of a woman who is beginning to experience the reality of labor. I sat with her as she breathed through her contractions, and offered a honey stick to help her stay nourished despite the nausea she was experiencing. Soon after that, Shonnie emerged from the tub and we labored for a while in her bedroom. Her contractions were regular, 4 minutes apart, and almost a minute long. She was experiencing them as intensity in her lower abdomen. I was fairly sure we were still in early labor, but I had no idea how early. Shonnie and I chatted for a while, and talked about the use of the word “relax” in labor. Shonnie was worried that the word might encourage her uterus to relax, instead of working, and I encouraged her to use it, since if the rest of her body relaxed, her uterus would be able to do its work more effectively.
Shonnie, Bruce and I went on a walk around their townhouse complex. The movement brought on more contractions that were more intense, which was a theme that lasted throughout this labor. Shonnie leaned on Bruce during contractions, and I rubbed her back. After a while, we settled back in the house, with Shonnie laboring behind a chair in the living room. I was reminded that many women choose a small, safe place to labor in, and I was glad that Shonnie was following her intuition in finding the places and positions that served her the best.
After about three hours of this kind of laboring, I mentioned that we could probably head to the hospital whenever Shonnie was ready. She said she had been having some of the same thoughts, and Bruce began making the final preparations for leaving. We spoke with Dr. Lisa, and she and I chatted about Shonnie’s labor and how it was progressing. From all outside indications, this labor was proceeding apace, but I remember wondering if we should spend some more time at home or not. But Shonnie and Bruce were ready to go, and that for me was confirmation that it was the right time.
We got to the hospital close to 9 pm. I sat in the waiting room while Shonnie and Bruce went in for her intake and first check during labor. At around 9:45, Dr Lisa came and spoke with me about what she had found. Shonnie was 1-2 cms dilated and effacing well, and we talked about whether it would be best for her to stay in the hospital or head back home. We discussed natural labor augmentation such as continued homeopathy and nipple stimulation, with the aim of strengthening Shonnie’s contractions so that they would do more work. We went in to talk with Shonnie and Bruce, and Shonnie decided that she would rather stay at the hospital than return home. We decided to walk the halls for an hour and a half, to see how contractions and dilation progressed, before admitting Shonnie into her L&D room.
Shonnie, Bruce and I headed down to the first floor and walked the hall. We climbed the staircase, which brought on a good spate of contractions. When we emerged on the first floor, Shonnie was feeling nauseous from the heat of the stairwell. She vomited, which I hoped was a good sign of progress. We did some nipple stimulation in the bathroom, which also brought on good, strong contractions. Then, at 11:30, we headed back upstairs to see how things were going. I noted to myself that, when she was moving or doing nipple stimulation, Shonnie was having good, strong contractions. But when she was just sitting or standing, the contractions spaced out more and seemed to be less intense. Shonnie’s body was also very tense. I was aware that there were many factors contributing to the pace of this labor, but I decided to focus on encouraging Shonnie to move and massaging her tense leg and back muscles, to help her relax into the intensity of her labor.
Back upstairs, we discovered that Shonnie had effaced more, and her baby had moved down from a floating position to a solid -3 position, engaged in her pelvis. Shonnie and Bruce decided to check in to their labor room, and continue the process. We labored for the next 5 hours on the L&D floor, alternating relaxation in the room with walking the halls. Walking continued to bring on good, strong labor. Shonnie felt very nauseous, and although acupressure and homeopathy helped a bit, they weren’t doing enough to make her comfortable. So she accepted some nausea medicine, which made her drowsy. She slept in her bed from 2:15-3:15, and her contractions spaced out to between 6 and 10 minutes apart. I was glad she was getting the rest, since she had been up much of the previous night with early labor. But I also knew that we were on something of a timetable, although a generous one, and so at 3:15, I woke Shonnie and encouraged her to begin walking again.
I was beginning to suspect that this baby might be in a difficult position, possibly posterior. As Shonnie leaned onto the hallway rails during contractions, I used a blanket as a rebozo to sift her belly side to side. That sifting action can encourage a baby to move to a more favorable position. Shonnie was definitely having a lot of contractions, and I sincerely hoped that they were doing work to match her efforts. Earlier in labor, I had encouraged her by saying that she had pushed herself through extremely difficult physical conditions while running marathons. Now, she told us that this was the hardest work she had ever done, and that she would take the shut-in over labor any day. But her attitude remained strong and patient, as she took each contraction as it came and breathed and moaned through them. I felt a great deal of respect for her acceptance of this challenging labor process. I also noticed that her body was beginning to relax as all her attention focused on working with the forces of her womb.
At around 4:45, Dr Lisa checked Shonnie again and found her to be 4 cms dilated. I was again amazed by Shonnie’s patience as she cheered at the amount of progress she had made. We continued to labor in the room, alternating between the bed and the toilet until 6:15. Dr. Lisa checked Shonnie again, and discovered that she had dilated almost another centimeter, to just shy of 5 cms. She said, “I’m sure this is going more slowly than you’d like it to. But you are doing work. Your contractions are strong. Do you think you can cope with this level of intensity for a while longer?” Shonnie said that she could. So Dr. Lisa suggested that she get in the tub, to encourage her body to relax more as she continued to do her work. I filled the tub, and Shonnie got in around 7 am.
The tub, as it always does, worked wonders for Shonnie’s labor. She felt better immediately, and more able to cope with her contractions. Her labor pattern picked up again, and her contractions became more intense. I was delighted that this environment was providing Shonnie with comfort while allowing her to work with even more intensity. Once he was sure that Shonnie was comfortable and ok, Bruce laid down for a nap. I sat with Shonnie, pouring warm water on her back, giving her sips of water and Recharge, and accompanying her through the contractions. Our new nurse, Sheila, came in, and I was delighted to discover that she was a lover of birth and knowledgeable about the birth process. She spoke with Shonnie and encouraged her very sweetly. It was nice to know that Shonnie and Bruce were so well supported for the rest of Shonnie’s endeavor.
I should mention here briefly that Gracelyn was incredible during this labor process. Her energy stayed consistently good, even though her mama was working so hard and for so long, without being able to retain food or liquids. When I’d place my hand on Shonnie’s belly to talk with Gracelyn, I’d feel her moving and wiggling. I’d felt that kind of activity from babies in tricky positions before, and I was sure that Gracelyn was working hard, too, trying to find the right way to turn so that she could come on out. She was a very conscious and aware baby throughout this process.
While Shonnie was laboring in the tub, Sheila and I both noticed that Gracelyn’s kicks were all over the front of Shonnie’s abdomen. We both suspected strongly that Baby was posterior. This position would explain much of Shonnie’s labor so far. Posterior babies’ heads have a harder time applying well to the cervix and finding their way down into the pelvis. The labors tend to take a long time until baby rotates to a more favorable position, and they can be very exhausting. Shonnie appeared to be experiencing labor just as a woman would in transition, with close together, intense contractions, shaking, and a feeling that she couldn’t do it any more. I hoped that this sweet baby might find her way down soon, so that Shonnie could complete her process of dilation before she was completely worn out.
At around 9:00 am, Shonnie emerged from the tub, shaky and cold. We warmed her up with heated blankets and got her into bed. My heart was with this exhausted mama who had coped so beautifully with a challenging, long labor. I felt such respect for her and Bruce as they supported one another throughout their time in the birthlands. During this trying moment, their love for each other was so clear, and I was glad that this baby was being born to such spectacular parents. Shonnie told us that she wasn’t sure that she could cope with labor much longer. I suggested that we call Dr. Lisa to come and check on her, and then see where to go from there. She agreed. Dr Lisa came to check her, and found that she had not dilated much, although the baby was continuing to descend into the pelvis. Shonnie broke down in tears, telling us that she just couldn’t do it anymore. We all reassured her that it was alright, that there were things we could do to help, and that she was going to be ok. She was afraid that she would need a Cesarean, but then Dr. Lisa reminded her about epidurals and told her that, if she had one, it would give her the opportunity to rest. I told her that this is what epidurals were designed for, to help a mama who had gone beyond her ability to cope, that an epidural would give her the opportunity to sleep and recharge her energy for pushing. Shonnie looked to Bruce, who was crying, and he told her that of course he wanted her to have one, if she wanted it. He was distraught that she was experiencing so much intensity, and he wanted her to be able to be comfortable. His support calmed her, and she made the decision to have the epidural.
Shonnie rested with her epidural from 10-11:00. At 11, she had dilated almost another centimeter, but progress was very slow and the contractions didn’t have enough power to do the work they needed to do. So, after much discussion and weighing of options, Shonnie and Bruce decided to start Pitocin. Once it was started, Shonnie and I went to sleep, and Bruce took a breather. Over the next 6 hours, we all rested, then worked on flipping Shonnie from side to side in the bed, to assist her baby’s rotation and descent. At 5 pm, Sheila felt Shonnie’s belly, then called me over to feel, too. We could both feel Baby’s back in the front of Shonnie’s belly. Hooray! The baby had finally rotated, and I was fairly sure that things would proceed much more quickly from here on out. Dr. Lisa checked Shonnie and found that she was 7 cms dilated. More cheers! This birth was going to be able to proceed without further intervention! I was elated for Shonnie, Bruce, and the baby.
We all spent the next hour and a half sitting, talking, listening to music and singing. I asked Shonnie whether she would like to tune in on the baby and the process that was going on in her body, since she couldn’t feel it any more, and she told me that she preferred to continue that delightful experience of community. Her and Bruce’s community is very important to them, and they wanted Baby to come into the world in the love of all the people who were knit around them. I was glad that she had found her own deep meaning and purpose in this time of labor. We all sang Amazing Grace together, a song that has popped up in my life at deep and strong times. It was a beautiful moment, and so appropriate, considering Gracelyn’s name.
At a little after 6 pm, Shonnie began feeling some pressure. Dr. Lisa checked her and found that she was fully dilated, and +2 station. This baby had found her path to the outside world, and she wasn’t waiting any longer! Shonnie began pushing at 7 pm, amidst much delight and joy, both hers and her support people’s. She pushed with vigor, strength and purpose. All that power that is in her, that had waited patiently and resolutely through the long hours of the preceding days, was now brought into full force in her pushing effort. Very quickly, she discovered how to direct her efforts, and in a little more than a half an hour, her baby was born! And Gracelyn showed her strength as well, quickly clearing any meconium that might have been lingering in her mouth or nose, and making plenty of noise and movements to let us know that she was just fine.
We all spent the next few hours in elation over the birth of the beautiful Gracelyn Lavender Mulkey (though I didn’t know her name til a few days later), and in awe at the power and strength of her incredible Momma. Gracelyn proceeded to nurse well, and Shonnie was able to eat for the first time in days. I left the happy family as they were getting ready to move up to their labor and delivery room, and I couldn’t stop smiling as I walked out of the hospital. What a lovely birth!
Mayari Waymouth, birth doula