You became my friend before I became your doula. But before I knew you at all, you left your family and everything familiar to you on another continent. You had been married less than a year and were four months pregnant. With unimaginable difficulty, you were forced to flee your homeland not just for your safety, but for that of your unborn child as well.
The flight that brought you to a completely foreign life must have felt endless. A woman you had never met before but had spoken to met you at the airport and arranged for you to travel to from NYC to Buffalo, NY. You lived among strangers and depended on their kindness as you acclimated to your new surroundings. Not long after arriving in Buffalo, you met Sarah, my sister-in-law, and she introduced you to my husband and me. After moving in with Sarah, you began to focus on preparing for the arrival of your baby.
December came, and with it, your first sight of snow. Sarah captured the delight sparkling in your eyes as you scooped up two handfuls of the powdery white substance and tasted it. As the month grew colder, and the baby’s arrival loomed closer, you moved once more so that you would have more support caring for a newborn. This time, your uprooting landed you in my home. You immediately became a dear member of our family.
The weeks passed, and at each doctor’s appointment there was more and more talk of the baby’s small size and the potential need for induction. I watched the apprehension fill your eyes as the topic of induction was broached at one prenatal visit after another. “This is not the way women have babies in my country,” you told me later as tears ran silently down your cheeks. The more the question of induction was raised, the more anxious you became that your baby needed to come on its own.
We spent late nights studying together about birth and breastfeeding, and softly reading Scripture aloud to calm your fear that the baby would not come in time before the doctors pushed you to accept an induction. For as unsettled as you ever became in the face of being asked to schedule an induction, you were sure and steady in your dimly lit bedroom offering prayers of trust in God’s strength and timing in your gentle, melodic Zimbabwean accent.
You bravely faced Buffalo’s wintery gusts and snowdrifts to walk each day in those last days of your pregnancy. My toddler and I could almost always find you bouncing on the birth ball when when you were at home, willing your baby to come on its own. My little one would ask for a turn on the ball, and you could not hide the joy from your face as you obliged this little girl who had adopted you as her auntie.
You walked laps at the grocery store, wondering if the tightening you were feeling was early labor or Braxton Hicks, while we chose snacks and drinks to sustain you during labor when the time came.
I still smile at the recollection of you walking down our street in the crunching snow, pausing to look back and admire your footprints every few steps. This was a cold and hard season for you, figuratively as well as literally, but you still managed to find ineffable joy in so much of your situation.
“My due date by then had just passed, and I was so stressed out that they might induce me. You kept me going and promised that, ‘You could be surprised to see the baby being born even before they talk about inducing.’”
Your due date came and went, and with tears in your eyes you asked the doctor for just a few more days before agreeing to schedule an induction.
And then, five days later, on a Sunday morning, I came to ask if you would like breakfast, and there you were kneeling on the floor with your head on the bed. I could tell immediately that this was different than the “false labor” or Braxton Hicks you had been experiencing for a week or more. I waited until you looked up and asked, “Are you having contractions?” Yes. Every ten minutes since 10:45 the night before.
Just as you got on a plane and moved across the globe completely alone, you had quietly, courageously labored alone all night. You stepped into this transition from pregnancy to motherhood in the same way that you had stepped into a life isolated from all your loved ones. By yourself. Your strength astounds me. It did then, as I realized you had been laboring alone for ten hours while I slept upstairs, and it does now as you continue to raise a child an ocean away from your husband and family.
That night, you had tried everything you could remember to help alleviate the pain. The shower, the bath, sitting on the birth ball, rocking your hips, getting down on your hands and knees. You had worried about making too much noise as you moved about the house and waking the rest of us, and you chose not to call anyone to come and help you. Let them rest, you thought, choosing self-sacrifice over comfortable company once again.
When I joined you that morning, you weren’t able to say much between contractions. It was hard to tell how things had progressed throughout the night, but you were clearly in quite a lot of pain. My daughter brought your bowl of oatmeal to you along with a picture book, oblivious to your pain and your need to focus. I called Sarah, who had planned to accompany us to the hospital, and the three of us decided to head there right away and find out how far along things were.
The world had taken on an icy shell overnight. An overwhelming thaw the day before had given way to cold temperatures once again, and every surface outside gleamed with a smooth layer of ice. “Be careful out there,” the nurse on the phone had said before we prepared to leave the house. The drive to the hospital was rerouted due to an accident involving a city bus. We crept along each road in anticipation of the many slippery patches. You sat quietly, barely acknowledging the work your body continued to do as we slowly made our trek across town.
After declining a wheelchair and gingerly picking your way across the glossy, frozen parking lot, we arrived at the hospital where you would deliver and meet your baby. Walking into Labor and Delivery, your pains came one after another. Things seemed to be moving quickly, and you were handling the pain well, hanging onto Sarah and me and relaxing as much as possible. But when you were required to sit in triage for nearly two hours, your contractions all but stopped. Once admitted, your labor took up speed again, and you coped beautifully, sitting on the birth ball beside the bed, kneeling on the bed, and leaning on your friends for support.
As each wave of pain approached, your right eyebrow arched as if to ask, “Another? Really?” I recall standing in front of you in the bathroom at one point, and you wanted to push. It was clear that you were in more pain than earlier, but now it also appeared to be scaring you. You became distressed and told Sarah and me that you wanted to go home. Above your head, I caught Sarah’s eye and grinned. “That’s a good sign!” I whispered. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Saying things like that is often a sign of transition!” I was giddy, but I was alone in this sentiment. The contractions were beginning to overwhelm you, and you requested another check of how far you had dilated.
The news left you reeling with pain over the next few contractions. Six centimeters. The same as the last check. This moment cracked your resolve, and you began to clutch at Sarah and me and weep through your contractions. Your focus went deep inside yourself as you breathed through one contraction and then another, only coming back to your surroundings in order to ask, “How long?” of any new person who walked into the room. You raised your hands toward the ceiling during several waves and whimpered, “Lord… Lord…” with tears in your eyes. Eventually, your exhaustion and pain were beyond what you could manage, and you asked for an epidural. With the medicine’s immediate relief came full dilation, and before you knew it you were being reminded to push during each contraction. It had been a long eighteen hours by this point, and you were weary.
“I could hardly remember who I was. All I knew was that I was tired, but you kept on telling me you ‘can see the head…’”
That head full of curly black hair teased the roomful of doctors, nurses, and friends for half-an-hour, but then a sweet face emerged following the downy curls, then shoulders, and there was your baby.
“It’s 6:08pm and the baby came…… and then you cut the cord!!!!”
Born of her mother’s resilience.
Finally, you had family, of your own flesh and blood, here in America. Your long-awaited new daughter had arrived, and you would not need to be alone again. You had made the long journey through the night and the pain, so much of it spent in solitude, and now you had arrived with a sweet new companion.
Your friend, and then your doula,
Shared with permission