About two weeks before my scheduled due date, early morning contractions signaled to me that I was in labor with my 3rd baby boy. This birth would be in a hospital,and besides the presence of my doula and my hospital birth team, I would endure this labor alone…
By Shayla Brown
It had been a stressful 9 months so I wasn’t surprised when labor started before it was technically time.
I got up and waddled to the room of my 2-year old and my 1-year old. Frustrated that I, alone, still had to fix us all breakfast, get us all dressed, and prepare us all for the transition ahead, I snapped at the two babies crying to me for food, and I angrily stormed from their room to the kitchen.
I called my nurse midwife to very matter-of-factly tell her that I was in labor and that my contractions were already 5-7 minutes apart.
Labor was happening pretty fast and I was excited about that.
The Nurse Midwife
My nurse midwife, a black woman I had met through my 2nd son’s Homebirth midwife, responded “okay…” half surprised and half amused.
Like I said, I was pretty sure of myself and now that I think back on it, my certainty displayed an understanding that I had the authority of a customer paying a provider for a service, so I get how that could come off a bit jarring and maybe even a little rude.
Still, this was my 3rd rodeo as a very successful birthing mother and during my 2nd pregnancy I’d attended my 2nd doula training, and I had attended a few other women’s births as well.
I knew that I knew what I was doing.
We agreed that I would go on to the hospital and inform her when I arrived.
After I got off the phone with my nurse midwife, I called my brother to let him know I was in labor and that I would need him and his girlfriend to keep the kids while I went to the hospital. I had written out all my instructions for keeping and feeding them, and I had stocked up on food for the occasion.
My mother had been with me in Arizona up until about three days before when she went home to get her husband, her car, and more of her things. It was supposed to be a 4 day trip, but once she got home she just stayed there for a while.
So there I was; alone, waiting for my brother to arrive instead.
Initially my mother was supposed to keep the kids at my place so they’d have easier access to everything that went into keeping them.
Because he had not been originally a part of my birth plan, neither my brother nor his girlfriend, (who was in the 1st trimester of her own pregnancy), were prepared to stay.
Still in labor, I didn’t have time to argue and I just tried my best to trust that all would be okay. They were also seemingly in a hurry so taking me to the hospital was not something they wanted to do either. I didn’t have my own car, but because my insurance covered transportation to doctor’s appointments, I didn’t make a big deal about it.
Once my brother finally left I called my insurance to schedule transportation, but when I told them I was in labor they informed me that I would have to call an ambulance instead; I wasn’t expecting that.
Because I had no choice though, I called an ambulance and gave them the run-down of what was going on, “I’m in labor and I need a ride to the hospital”.
I definitely should have labored longer at home; especially since at the moment I had the peace and quiet I had not experienced in any labor before; but of course, hindsight is 20:20 so…
Just moments after hanging up with my insurance, I found myself on the other end of an ambulance dispatcher’s instructions to lie sideways on my couch and wait for first responders to arrive.
Now…I’m in early labor…I’m in no pain…and as a labor doula, I’ve literally encouraged clients by telling them that “labor is not a medical emergency”. Yet, here I was lying sideways as the sirens in the distance grew closer to my house.
I can’t remember if I was instructed to leave the door unlocked or if I’d just done that anyway. I just remember that when first responders arrived, they all but busted into the door with mounds of equipment surely expecting a laboring woman from a TV scene, sweating and screaming that “the baby is coming”.
Yeah, that wasn’t me.
This was all a bit much and while this was, unfortunately, the channel I had no choice but to go through, I still saw it as nothing more than transportation to the hospital. It wasn’t until I was placed on the stretcher and wheeled out in broad daylight before all of my neighbors that I started to feel the gravity of what it seemed was going on.
That’s about when my labor slowed down.
In the ambulance, my all-white male team timed my contractions, gave me an IV, and made small talk. For the most part, they were nice. Initially, they were going to take me to the nearest hospital, which I contested because my nurse-midwife had no privileges there, meaning she wouldn’t be authorized to attend my birth, but when they saw how far apart my contractions had become, they conceded to take me to the hospital of my choice.
Once at the hospital, I was wheeled into the emergency entrance where I was greeted by what felt like all the eyes on that floor of the building.
I can’t remember how long I sat on the bed situated in front of the check-in desk, under bright fluorescent lights, but I remember being extremely discouraged by how much my contractions had slowed down. They had gone from 5-7 minutes apart—consistently— to almost not even happening at all. I just kept thinking, all this for nothing. I was concerned about how I would be viewed and how little my knowledge of what was happening in my body would be trusted now that I was barely even in labor anymore.
At some point beyond my thinking this, I was taken to triage where my doula met me outside the entrance.
I must have alerted her I was in labor because she showed just as I was answering all of the questions at the triage check-in. She was her usual positive and focused self; a steady symbol of the truth that countered the instability of lies headed my way.
Once we checked in I changed into a hospital gown and got an IV put in my hand. My Group B Strep test had come back positive at the time of testing (I say “at the time of testing because those results can change from test to test, but I digress…).
Because of my positive GBS reading, it was the hospital’s policy that I would also be given penicillin throughout the entire course of labor. I hadn’t known this was the policy beforehand because no one had mentioned this so I had not researched this scenario ahead of time.
That being the case, I let them do what they said they needed to do and I didn’t really question whether or not it was a beneficial or a harmful thing to my child or to me.
What did bother me though, was the fact that the penicillin burned as it coursed through my arm.
I voiced my discomfort to my attending white triage nurse and let me just say, she was a bitch about it.
I don’t remember which dismissive words she used, but the message of what she said in response to my expression of pain was “yeah, okay, whatever”. She then proceeded to do nothing and left me in my triage room in pain.
I’m not sure where the second white nurse came from because my first nurse’s shift wasn’t up yet. Maybe my doula and I flagged someone down; I don’t remember, but, when the second nurse came by I voiced the same discomfort by asking the same question: “Is this stuff supposed to burn?”
She affirmed my pain and unlike the first nurse, I remember exactly what she said in response, “yeah it burns. I can have them adjust the dripping so it will go slower.”
She did it or got someone else to do it and sure enough, the burning stopped. I would say that I was grateful for her solution, but 1) it’s what should have been done anyway so really she just did her job while she was at work, and 2) had there been no solution, I was taking that stuff out of my arm and it was going to be their loss to deal with. I was not about to stay in any more pain than I already had to.
After the whole penicillin drama, Nurse Bitch came straight in with the same amount of attitude.
She checked my cervix and told me I was 2 centimeters dilated and that my baby’s head was too high for her to feel. I “asked” if my doula and I could walk around to help things along. She was hesitant but she “gave” us 30 minutes to walk the halls and see what kind of progress we could make.
My doula and I walked around and talked for the 30 minutes we were “given”. Getting out of bed and from under the eyes of my nurse was refreshing and a welcomed break from the stress that was starting to mount.
It was also nice to have my doula, whom I’d met through the local black Birthworkers’ community, be someone who knew me outside this hospital and who saw me as more than a vulnerable subordinate black patient.
She knew that I had done birth before just as she had and she knew that the experience of birthing gave my knowledge of birthing credibility, but she also knew that I was a trained birth worker and that in addition to my personal experiences, my professional training informed every decision she witnessed me make because she had been trained the same.
After our time was up, we headed back to our triage space and waited for the same nurse to come in and check me again.
I want to say here that normally I don’t allow or even ask for anyone to intrude on my personal space and check my cervix for progression. It is not necessary and there are so many other ways to monitor progression.
However, being in the hospital, I understood that it was the only tool and the only evidence the staff would respect, and I desperately wanted to progress to their satisfaction so I wouldn’t be sent home or pushed to undergo an unnecessary c-section.
Strangely though, in my case even the evidence revealed by each cervical exam was half-heartedly believed, accepted, or satisfying to the staff I would come to work with during my stay; starting with my triage nurse’s dismissal of the admitted change in the station of my baby’s head after my and my doula’s walk.
“I can feel your baby’s head a little bit more now” was all she said after my check. Was that a good thing? Was I progressing enough? Of course, I knew it was and I knew that what my doula and I had just done was helpful. I also knew this because I could see the shape of my belly changing as labor continued to progress.
Even though my contractions were inconsistent, they were progressing my labor because my baby’s position in my belly became visibly lowering as time passed. Hospital staff didn’t seem to notice this, however.
Talk Of A C-Section
The triage nurse left and at some point, my nurse-midwife showed up to check on me. She reiterated what the nurse had reported to me: 2 cm dilated and a too-high baby station. She informed me that she would request a room for me and “let” me labor for a designated time then if I hadn’t progressed enough in that amount of time she would have to do a c-section.
Related: How Do C-Sections Affect Doulas?
I said “okay”, surely looking as worried as I was, and she left to go back home. I laid back in bed and looked up at the ceiling. I remember that the cover of the fluorescent lights above my bed was decorated with clouds. Something about staring at them gave me a bit of peace, but I was still overwhelmed to the point of tears because if I’m honest, I was disappointed in my nurse midwife’s attitude and her lack of faith in my body.
Talk of a C-section was the last thing I wanted to hear, and it dug directly into my mounting insecurity about my assessment of my being in labor.
While I now realize I was obviously progressing the whole time, and that I would have progressed sooner had I not been being antagonized, in the moment, my battle against all of the doubt was starting to wear me down.
I don’t know if my doula sensed this exactly or not, but she felt something because, although she said nothing, she held my hand knowingly and offered silent empathy with her eyes.
We were eventually moved to an actual room and once I was settling in, my new white nurse checked me and found that I was 4 cm dilated. I expected that since I finally had my own room I would receive enough time and space to get into the groove I was used to establishing in labor.
I just wanted to breathe, to focus, dim the lights, walk around my bed, sit on a birthing ball —normal labor stuff—but no.
The external monitor had to be attached and it had to be in the best position to get the most accurate reading. This meant that 1) as I progressed and as my baby’s heartbeat moved lower, the monitor had to be readjusted and 2) when I moved to manage labor the monitor had to be readjusted.
Because both of these things happened regularly, the monitor regularly had to be readjusted. This meant that I would constantly have labor interrupted, and I would constantly be touched by some white lady I didn’t know.
Unfortunately at the time I didn’t know that intermittent monitoring was an option, meaning that the staff could connect me to the monitor for 30 minutes and leave me off the monitor for the other 30 minutes and repeat. I also didn’t know that using a hand-held doppler monitor was another option.
What I did know though was that wireless monitoring existed and that most hospitals had at least 1 on site.
I can’t remember if the 1 my hospital had was already in use, or if this was the instance where it hadn’t been charged. Whatever the case, I couldn’t get the wireless monitoring and I was stuck with monitors connected to cords. It sucked because not only did it limit my mobility, but it was just one more thing that attached me to one more thing and kept me from moving to manage the pain.
Even if the monitor had been wireless and if it hadn’t needed constant readjustment, the other downfall of monitoring was the attention and care that it stole from me as the laboring woman.
The nurses were more concerned with, and more confident in, what the monitor said I felt, or what the monitor said my baby “thought” and not what I said I felt to be necessary or true.
“Your baby doesn’t like it when you get out of the bed during contractions,” one of my nurses came in and told me, “we gotta get you to stay in the bed.”
Her extremely unscientific expression was linked to the monitor’s interpretation of my baby’s heart rate during and after contractions. Her claim was that his heart decelerated too much after each contraction. What a normal deceleration looks like vs what my baby was doing, I don’t know because that was never explained. Looking back though I think she simply didn’t like the work of constantly having to readjust the monitor and would have much rather have me sit still so her job sitting outside the room watching me on a monitor could be made much easier.
I tried things her way for a few contractions. I layed in bed gripping the side railing of the bed trying to find a position that made managing contractions much easier. I found that for me in that moment, there were no comfortable positions; so after sitting there enduring what felt like pure torture, I forced them to trust me more than they trusted the screen.
“I’m getting out of this bed” I told my doula, and that’s what I did. If any of the nurses ever came to argue with me about it I don’t remember because I didn’t care what they had to say. Managing contractions while sitting in bed was excruciating and I wasn’t about to sit there and abuse myself because some white lady reading a machine said I was supposed to.
I had the God of heaven on my side and in that moment I reminded myself to trust that belief.
Eating in Labor
While I had heard tales of hospitals not permitting laboring moms to eat, my nurse midwife called in to sign off on my eating while I was in labor after I asked about getting some food when I first settled in. I’m not sure how I would have handled being told I couldn’t eat. I’m just glad that for both my sake and the staff’s sake that neither of us had to find out. Next to how I birth my babies, food deprivation is the one thing I don’t play about.
After eating and taking the green light to labor outside of the bed, my doula and I spent the next day and a half working through contractions.
The Real “Buss It” Challenge
My go to move when contractions got really intense was to hold her hands and, with both feet planted firmly on the floor or on the balls of my feet, I would squat down, knees apart, as low as the floor would allow, and rock side to side.
I pretty much did the “buss it” challenge each time; it seriously works great for active labor.
My doula and I even joked about creating a labor playlist full of R&B and Hip Hop songs about “dropping it like it was hot”, “dropping it low”, or “getting low”. I really still should make that labor playlist.
On the second half of the second day I spent a good deal of my time begging nurses to check my progression.
“You wouldn’t be progressing”, “I don’t think you’re progressing” and “I doubt you’re progressing” were among the responses I got from 2 different little childless white nurses. This was the most confusing notion to me. Why wouldn’t I be progressing?
I was having consistent, regular contractions as evidenced by not only my shifting disposition as pain intensified but also by the readings on their monitors AND by the fact that those monitors had to constantly be moved lower to keep track of my descending baby’s heartbeat.
Why wouldn’t I be progressing?
What, if not contractions constitutes progression to them, and what else would have to happen for them to think I was progressing?
It all sounded very stupid to me.
Eventually a nurse gave in and, big surprise, I was not only progressing but I was approaching completion as I was 9 centimeters dilated.
“Oh my gosh,” one of the nurses exclaimed. She alarmed the other nurses and they started the scramble of contacting my nurse midwife and getting the birthing equipment moved into the room.
From that moment on every nurse in the room took interest in what was happening and they all backed off and gave over to trusting that I was capable of doing my own thing.
It was as if they had never seen a labor happening like this before. I declined administration of an epidural for pain, I refused artificial drugs for “comfort”, and I hadn’t consented to Pitocin to start things or to “help” them move along more quickly.
I was just giving birth, naturally, giving my body time to progress and fighting the whole time to give it the time it needed.
The nurses all commented on how strong I was and each of them admitted at one point or another that they had never seen a birth progress naturally. I even remember a random nurse coming in just to see what it looked like.
My nurse midwife arrived and for a few more minutes everyone stood at a distance and waited to see what I was going to do. After I started to feel pressure, like I needed to poop, I transition from my “buss it” dances on the floor to the bed positioned on all fours. My water finally broke in that position and after a few pushes my baby’s head passed and the rest of him just fell out followed by the rest of his amniotic fluid.
I immediately cried; some from physical relief, and some from the exhaustion of all the fighting I had done up until that point. My doula hugged me compassionately and everyone else hooped in amazement.
They all raved for a bit that they had never seen anything like what I’d just done.
More nurses came in to perform an in-room examination of the baby then eventually everyone was on their way.
What Doulas Do
I stayed in that room for a little while longer, thanked my doula who stayed with me 2 days straight without leaving my side, then relieved her to go home to her own family. Her staying with me was huge because had she not been there I would have completely been alone in my fight for my birth the way I knew it should be. I also understand the sacrifice that she and her family made for me because she was also a wife and a mother to 2 small children herself.
Her impact on the positive outcome of my birth was not lost on me.
Doulas are great for rubbing your back and everything, yeah, but we are powerful advocates, representatives, and teachers. We give you the language and the knowledge to walk up to any provider and MAKE THEM PUT SOME RESPECT ON YO NAME! (And on your prenatal and laboring process).
When you know your stuff they come correct and are scared to try just anything to get over on, or harm, you.
How did having a doula make you more knowledgeable for your birth? Me, I was unfuckwithable! (And still am!)😎💅🏾
MY HOSPITAL BIRTH STORY is part of that proof.