Due during Deployment - Soul Mama Story
Birth, like breastfeeding, needs normalizing, and one way to do that is by sharing our stories, in person or online (our birth story sharing circle, open to anyone who has a story they want to share, or hear starts tonight!! 7 pm at Park Community Centre. And its not just about birth - parenting or postpartum, anything goes! Please join us to connect with other parents!) Anyhow, I would like to start by sharing one of my own birth stories, ecause it will resonate with many of you, particularly now.
A baby during deployment - A Soul Mama Story
(Written by Bethany - words in italics added by doula!)
We are a military family. My spouse has 14 years in the military, and in 2017 he had the opportunity to go overseas. I was pregnant with my second child, a girl, and of course the deployment was right over when she was due. It just so happened that no matter what, he was going to be somewhere else, but for a while we thought it would be in Canada, on a course. But, if you’re military you know that things change all the time, and there’s no sense in counting on something until it happens (or doesn’t happen!) So, when the option came up for my spouse to go on a deployment to Latvia, he took it. It was a good move, career-wise, and although the downside was pretty huge - missing the birth of our daughter, and the first month or so of her life - ultimately he had to go. (It really wasn’t a choice - when you’re deployed, you go, you don’t get a choice, most of the time. The saying goes ‘well you signed up for this.’)
I know there are people thinking exactly that - you’re a military family, you kind of signed up for this. Well, let me tell you - nobody expects to have this particular scenario. No woman WANTS her partner to be away during the birth of their child, and not meet them for however many weeks/months/whatever. So yeah, while we always knew it would be a possibility that he would be away for important events (anniversaries and birthdays in particular get missed a LOT). But you kind of think in the back of your mind that the birth of your child is one event that there’s exceptions for (Spoiler alert - nope.) I cannot tell you the number of non-military friends and family that asked us “what do you mean they won’t let him come home for the birth?” We got that often. And really, there’s no explanation I could give that would explain it to people - they just don’t get it. Although, logically, this one made a LITTLE bit of sense. I would tell people, he was in a time zone about 8 hours ahead of us. Even if I called the MINUTE I went into labour, and he was able to hop on a plane within the hour, it was still a trans-atlantic flight with a stopover in at least one (if not two!) major cities in Europe and North America. Plus a two hour drive from the nearest large city to our home. There was NO WAY he would even make it for the birth, even if the stars all aligned and the flights were available and the connections short, etc, etc. Oddly enough, everyone still seemed to think they should send him home anyway, for a week or two. Sorry - I wish, but that’s just not how deployments work! Oh well. I’m not the first military spouse to have a baby without their partner around. I won’t be the last. Now, some spouses are lucky enough to at least have family close by to support them. Some are not. I am not. My family (and my partners family) live in Ontario. His nearest family is a 24 hour drive away. Mine is about 28 hours away. And the nature of having babies is that you have an ESTIMATED due date, not an expiration date. That baby could make its arrival two weeks on either side of that estimated date. So it is not easy for family to even plan to come out. Of course we had made plans for it - my mother had booked a flight to come out when I was 39 weeks pregnant, as my son had been born at 39 weeks 1 day. And because I had a toddler already, even if my mother was here when I went into labour - she would be staying with my son while I made my way to the hospital, still on my own.
So what’s a girl to do? Faced with the scenario of giving birth without my husband even on the same continent, without family to support me, and with no friends locally that I was comfortable asking to be my person (they have families too, you know, and some of their spouses were also away. It’s a lot to ask someone to come be with you at the hospital when births can take anywhere from a few hours to more than a day!), I made the choice to hire a birth doula. To hire someone that I knew would be there for me 100%, who would prioritize me and my birth, and help me navigate the intense emotions I would go through giving birth without my partner. Of course, for me, making the choice of who my doula would be was easy - I had been a doula myself for 5 years already, and it was an absolute no-brainer to choose Sheri. Not only had we taken our doula training together, we also had similar views on birthing, and backed each other up regularly for clients. Of all the wonderful doulas I knew and was friends with, Sheri was my first choice. And fortunately for me, she was also available!
Like any client, Sheri and I met prior to the birth a few times to establish what my needs and desires for birth would be. We discussed my previous birth, anything I wished could have been different, and what I was hoping and wishing for this baby. She couldn’t do anything about my biggest wish (my husband being there) but everything else she was able to support me and provide care and comfort for. She was going to be doing one extra thing for me, and drive me to the hospital (doulas normally don’t do that!) which I was eternally grateful for, as there was no way I was going to drive myself to the hospital in labour! Anyway - once I had Sheri as my doula, I felt so much better about everything. I had a plan. I could make arrangements for my son, and we had other friends that would make sure he was well taken care of. I had a way to get to the hospital, and I had someone who was going to be there just for me. I was SET.
So, towards the end of my pregnancy, I had my last day of work at 37 weeks, and I had given myself a couple of weeks to get everything prepared at home, spend a little time with my son, and really prepare for this baby girl to arrive. Of course, I had thought I had at least two weeks, based on my sons arrival at 39 weeks, but due dates being estimates - I did not quite get what I expected! The day I was 38 weeks pregnant was a Wednesday. I had moved our couch on my own a couple of days prior (deployed spouse, needed to plug in the MamaRoo, ya know - gotta do what ya gotta do!) and pulled a muscle in my side. Every time the baby kicked me, it hurt. And so I was a little sore, and didn’t think anything of it. I simply told myself to take it easy. But this particular Wednesday I had a full day ahead of me. I had a bunch of plans to go into Brandon to run some errands (pick up some baby things, midwife appointment, groceries, etc). So I dropped my son off at daycare and headed into town. First stop was the midwives. The appointment progressed normally, with one notable exception. Every once in a while, I would flinch. When the midwife asked what was wrong, I told her about moving the couch and pulling a muscle, and how it hurt when the baby kicked. It happened at least twice during the exam, but none of us thought anything of it. I felt fine, baby sounded great - all was well in the world! So I continued about my day. Went and got some groceries, and stopped in at Baby Bump to pick up some last minute baby items for the nursery, which was nowhere near ready yet. And the owner of the store, being a labour and delivery nurse, also asked why I kept flinching. So once again, I gave her my story. Of course, it wasn’t until much later that I found out from her that she suspected that I may be having contractions, but she never said a word! I remember it being a beautiful day, and I had so many things to do. So when I finished my errands, I went home, picked up my son from daycare, eventually put him to bed, and was sitting downstairs folding laundry, thinking of all the things I still had to prepare for. As I was sitting there, I felt that the cramping was fairly regular, and thought to myself, gee, maybe I should time these - they seem pretty consistent. So I did, and they were about every five minutes or so, fairly short, about 30 seconds long. Well, as a doula, I told myself they were likely due to having overdone it, and so if I rested and drank some water, they would likely go away. After all, I was 38 weeks pregnant, my labour bag and the babys bag weren’t packed, and there was no way this baby was coming yet! And yet - I thought it would be prudent to call a couple people JUST in case I was wrong, and this was labour. So I made a couple phone calls - and the first one was to my doula.
This was about 9 o’clock at night. Maybe Sheri can chip in with what was going through her brain when I called, but in my mind, I was being silly. (I remember you calling lol and being in denial!! I remember thinking hmm ya ok 'you think this might be labor but your not sure?’ It's not your first rodeo you know the difference between braxton hicks and the real deal 😂 its totally labor and I need to get my stuff together and be ready cuz I had a hunch I would be gettin the 'ole midnight call 😝) I distinctly remember telling her that I was going to go lay down, and that I was pretty sure the cramps would stop. I also remember her going, “hmmm, well, I’m gonna go take a shower and make sure my stuff is ready.” And truthfully, I was scared. I was still alone, with my sleeping 2 year old upstairs. All the potential complications were running through my mind, but you know what? Talking to my doula helped. She validated my feelings (even if she was certain I would be calling her in a few hours), and calmed my fears. Because, you see, even though I was home alone - I knew that my doula would check in with me later. She also recommended that I call my friend and give her a heads up, in case I needed someone to come to the house to stay with my son. And (though this piece of advice I did NOT take) she also asked if I had spoken to the midwives. Which I had not. And to which, I said, “naw, I am sure it’s just braxton-hicks. I’ll drink some water and go to bed, it’ll stop. I’m not in labour.” (Famous last words!) So I got off the phone with her, and called my friend up the road, to make sure she also left her ringer on just in case! And then, I left the laundry (after all, I could fold it tomorrow) and headed to bed.
As I laid there for about the next two hours, I still couldn't sleep. The cramping was coming still pretty regularly, and seemed to be getting stronger. Around 11PM, I called my husband. The best part of him being on this particular deployment was that we were able to communicate fairly easily. 11PM our time was early in the morning in Latvia, so I called him. And I told him I was probably in labour, and that I was scared, and that I wished he was home. And after that phone call, I started timing the contractions again. And at five minutes apart, and about a minute long, after about an hour - I decided that this MAYBE really was labour. And that MAYBE I should prepare a couple things - like my labour bag. And the baby’s bag. You know - important things that I would need in order to go to the hospital! So I got up, and tried really hard to stay quiet while I was packing those two bags. As I puttered, gathering diapers and baby outfits, and clothing and toiletries, my contractions really amped up. But, they also got a little shorter. So, while they were about 3 minutes apart, they shortened to about 45 seconds. And I knew, finally, that I needed to call my midwife. Because 3 minutes apart is pretty close together! So I went downstairs to the kitchen, chucked the dog outside, and phoned the on call midwife. When she called back a couple of minutes later, I tearfully told her what was happening, that I was having contractions every 3 minutes, and that they were about 45 seconds long. She was surprised to hear from me - I wasn’t a mama even on her radar! She told me (rightfully!) that I should come in, and asked how soon I could get there. Realistically, I told her, it would probably be an hour and a half - I told her I would call as soon as we left Shilo. I hung up the phone, and started calling my people. My first call was to my doula - who woke up and headed straight to Shilo. My next call was to my friend up the street, who was going to come stay at the house while my son was sleeping, and bring him to daycare in the morning. And as I was on the phone with her, my son woke up. So I told Steph to come in and wait while I tried to get my son back to sleep.
You know what? It was about 1 in the morning, at this point, and it was so nice to spend a last few minutes snuggling with my son. I told him that Miss Stephanie would be there in the morning, and that Mommy was going to go have the new baby. I cuddled him back to sleep, all the while having contractions. I heard my friend come in and settle herself on the couch. And she heard me, too, having contractions in the hallway, breathing through a particularly intense one. So I headed back downstairs, my son safely back to sleep. The contractions were once again getting stronger, and longer - probably close to a minute long by now, and still about three minutes apart. We needed to get going to the hospital, but my ride wasn’t there yet! And also - although I had packed myself some things, and packed the baby some things - I forgot to pack a bag for my son, as I didn’t know when I would next be home, or how much longer labour was going to take. So, me, being ridiculous, sat on my birth ball, breathed through contractions - AND CONTINUED FOLDING LAUNDRY. I felt like I was having a completely normal conversation with my friend, in between contractions. I’m sure she would have a different opinion, though! Anyway, we’re sitting there, me folding laundry, my friend telling me not to worry about it, waiting for Sheri to arrive. And, as we are waiting - I started to feel sick. Fortunately, Sheri arrived right about then. So she walked in the door, it was greetings all around, and then I said, “Sheri, please move, I need to go throw up in the bushes.” So out the front door I went, and I vomited over the railing into the raspberry bush. I don't know who knows this, but vomiting in labour is totally normal. But quite often, during normal labour - it also means the birthing person is getting pretty close to the end - it is often a sign of transition. So while I felt super calm about everything, we needed to go. From my perspective, Steph and Sheri were a little bit frazzled, trying to get me a drink, hold my hair back, while simultaneously get me into Sheri’s truck. I think I said I needed new shoes three or four times, as I was definitely wearing slippers. Anyway, sooner or later I got more appropriate footwear, had a quick drink to rinse out my mouth, and got into Sheri’s truck. She had, quite thoughtfully, provided me with a puke bucket, put a garbage bag down on the seat, and was thoroughly prepared in case my water broke in her truck (Spoiler alert: It didn’t). (Lol I may have a pic of this set up.. I would.have to look back!!) We called the midwife and told her we were on the way.
Driving while in labour is awful. Having contractions while you’re belted into a seated position and cant sway or shake or move your hips is no fun. I don’t recall much of the drive, except that Sheri and I were having a completely normal conversation, punctuated by contractions where I am pretty sure I said some idiotic things, like “owwwww ow ow ow ow this hurts, ow ow ow” (also many, many curse words). But as each contraction ended, I felt no pain, and we carried on our conversation. I remember it now as being super surreal feeling! Meanwhile, poor Sheri is paying attention to my contractions, and putting her foot down on the gas, because she was nervous! They certainly were long, strong, and close together. We got to the hospital around 2AM. In emerg, I told them I was in labour, (hah! Like they couldn’t tell) and they offered me a wheelchair. Hah! There was no way I was going to be using that torture device! I could walk myself upstairs, thank you! And so off we headed - me, Sheri, and a poor porter following along with a wheelchair, practically begging me to sit down every time I stopped for a contraction.
I don’t remember when the midwife joined us, whether it was in the elevator or the hallway, or if she was already upstairs. Anyway, we got up there and were admitted directly into a labour room. Usually you go to preadmit and then to a labour room, but it was very clear that I was in labour. So we were admitted to the hospital.
To be honest, from here most of the rest of my labour is kind of a blur. I remember getting into the room, and the midwife performing a cervical exam. She told me I was ten cm with a small cervical lip. And as a second contraction came upon me, she said oh! The lips gone! And there I was, fully dilated. I got up on hands and knees on the bed, and growled my way through a few more contractions. Sheri provided me with a cool cloth, and encouraging words, and truthfully was my lifeline, my focal point. Very shortly I felt the urge to push - that fetal ejection reflex is NO JOKE! I don’t remember feeling it for my first, but this time, there was no way I could not push! I pushed in hands and knees for a while. I remember when my water broke - I could feel it happen and thought that it had burst like a water balloon, and was convinced it splashed across the whole room (Spoiler alert: It didn't!) and at some point the midwife suggested I change position to see if it helped baby somewhat. So we switched positions (not an easy thing to do when pushing, let me tell you!) to side-lying. Three pushes later, my daughter was born. At 4:56 AM, she came into the world. And she was the most beautiful baby, so alert, and so determined. And within a couple of minutes of her birth, I was being congratulated by Sheri, and by the midwife - and Sheri got my phone and video called my husband. (Actually with how fast everything had went we hadn't even gotten a chance to call Jon, and by the time you had birthed miss penny both Steph and Jon had contacted me to see how you were doing/coping!! I didn't want to be the one to share the exciting news via text so we decided to call him with surprise..His brand new daughter!!!!) Within minutes of her birth, we were able to communicate with her daddy. And he was still the first person to hear of her birth and meet her.
And as much as I cherish the photos of me and my daughter, with her daddys face on the phone within minutes of her birth, it still makes me sad. Sad, because it would be six weeks before he would be home to meet her. Six weeks where I had to navigate parenting a newborn and a toddler. Six weeks where I was still going to be alone. The birth was the relatively easy part - yet, I couldn’t have done it without my doula. She was my rock, throughout the birth, and even in pregnancy - and I knew she would be there for me no matter what. I needed her support during pregnancy, and especially during labour - there is nothing like it for being scared and vulnerable. And having a doula, especially when my partner couldn't’ be there for me, was key. She kept me from being scared - because she was familiar with labour, and familiar with what I was hoping for labour. She kept me from feeling vulnerable - she was like a safety net - someone I knew was there just for me, 100% for me. Having that trained professional there helped me not feel guilty about taking a friend away from their family. She knew comfort measures to help me, and always had a comforting word to say, exactly when I needed it. My doula took care of things I didn’t know I would want, without my partner there - photos of the baby and me (and my husband on the phone), photos on the scale and such, and just generally being there for me, with a light massage, or a cool cloth, or just that hand to hold. And I absolutely will have a doula for the next pregnancy and birth - and hopefully, my husband too. (Better fly me out!😘😘😂)