As many times as I have experienced being a doula, nothing could prepare me for the physical and emotional task ahead of me, being the sole support for an inmate in labor with her first child...
When I was call to go to the hospital, the inmate was already well into her labor and was 7cms dilated. She had done so much of the hard work alone, at the jail before she was transferred. When I walked into the room a look of complete relief washed over her face. She said, "When they told me I was 7cm I didn't think you were going to make it...I kept telling them to call my doula, that I needed my doula, and I didn't think you were going to be here." I didn't know how I was going to feel walking into this very different situation, being in the room with an armed deputy, how the hospital staff would be, how emotional it was going to be. But somehow, despite all of my worries, when I saw her there with that frightened look on her face, I knew just what to do. And that was to help her, listen to her, and just be there for her the same as I would for any other woman in labor.
She had gotten an epidural just before I arrived and was more relaxed and at ease then she apparently was before. When the Doctor checked her again she was 8-9cms. This was very exciting news. It was right around the same time though that baby boy's heart rate became irregular. It would spike and drop with no real rhyme or reason and the staff and doctor became concerned. We began the flipping from side to side to try and stabilize him. This worked for a while. During this time we talked. Talked about her past and her future, about the future of her baby, about how excited she was and that she still couldn't believe that she would be holding her baby any time now! She felt very comfortable with the fact that her baby would be going to her parent’s house and that they would take as good care of him as she would herself. They already had rooms full of things for him and were anxiously awaiting his arrival so that they could spoil him! She was thankful that he wouldn't remember her not being there for the first year and half of his life. And that her parents would be sure that he knew who his mother was and would bring him to visit her as much as possible. All of these thoughts were comforting to her then.
Baby's heart rate never really stayed regular for long. Flipping from side to side worked for short times, but it would soon be irregular again and when the doctor checked her again, she was still only 8-9 and baby's head was very high. It was then that she mentioned a possible cesarean section if his heart rate continued to drop and she didn't progress any further. Luckily I had discussed with her at the last class cesarean sections and told her to read about it and put it somewhere in her head just incase...she thanked me for making sure she was prepared for just this kind of situation. And then we prayed about it and asked for God to watch over her and baby boy and to provide for a healthy outcome for both.
The doctor came in to check her one last time and the decision was made that the cesarean birth was necessary, and preparations began. I asked the staff if I would be allowed in the operating room and she said "I will not go in without Heather. She is acting as my mother right now and she has to be there." There were no tears over this change in plans; there hadn't been any tears all day. She was at peace with this and we were ready to go. They prepped her in the operating room and when they finally called me in after what felt like forever I immediately went to her and took her hand. She squeezed tight and did not let go, closed her eyes, and just waited for it to be over. When she heard baby boy’s first cries she cried too for the first time that day ...and she continued to cry as the nurse brought him over to meet his mother for the very first time. Tears of joy and tears of fear all mixed together. It was the sweetest mother child meeting I have ever witnessed.
The hours of that day and days of postpartum were just as emotional. This mother did everything she could to make the most out of every minute that she had with her son. She had made the decision to breastfeed for the short time that they had together, giving him the best start that she could and bonding like only a mother and child nursing can. And it seemed like he knew that he needed to take advantage of this. There was no problems latching on and feeding, it came completely natural to both of them. She held him every minute and vowed not to sleep until she got back to jail so as not to miss anything. She seemed to barely feel the pain from her surgery because she was focusing all of her energy on her son. Seeing that look in her eyes when she looked at her son broke my heart, knowing that after three short days she was going to have to say goodbye to him and not know when she would get the chance to hold her son again.
We talked a lot about his first year of life, about what she would miss and how he wouldn't remember. This consoled her for the time but she knew that what she had to do would be the hardest thing she had ever done in her life. We prayed about it and cried about it, and I tried my best to prepare her for the task ahead of her. She thanked me again for being her "mother" and for everything that I had done for her, and yet somehow I felt as though I hadn't done enough.