It was Halloween, and there I was, enjoying a beer at a noisy bar when my cell phone vibrated in my vest pocket. It was hard to retrieve with my furry paws, but I went to a quieter place, removed my left pointed, rubber ear, pulled my three-foot tail out of the way and sat down to take the call. Dressed as one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, I’d soon be leaving a wild party and headed to a blessed event.
Let me explain. I am a doula, a labor coach. My client’s water had broken a little ahead of schedule and she needed me to join her and her husband at the hospital for the birth of their first child.
A tumbler of coffee and a lot of soap and water later, I was on my way to the hospital.
(I didn’t know it then, but my disturbing simian get-up of Tilted fez, red lips and black wings would take third prize with my friends in the annual Back Door Halloween costume competition.)
The newborn daughter arrived safely and was soon nestled in the arms of her mother, who commented in her postpartum glee, “It would have been cool to have you here in your monkey costume.” I smiled and brushed away a few welcoming tears, as well as some stray fur around my wrists.
This story is one of well over 150, all unique, personal and as unpredictable as labor itself. That is why I love being a doula. During my years of professional labor support in both home and hospital, there have been moments of pure joy, quelling fear and a lot of laughter. My goal is to keep the woman at the center of the birth informed and positive, and to keep the partner attentive and far from anxiety.
Music selections have gone from Brahms to Moby. Mantras and rituals have found their way into the room as well. Then there was the open-minded papa who scrawled with a Sharpie, “I Did This To You!” on the front of his T-shirt.
Some babies swim up through the water, some are born surgically, and there are a myriad of experiences and options in between. To be drawn into the gaze of a human being only minutes old is an honor, and it taps my soul. There truly is a god, and here he or she is.
In a workday that could last between two and 20 hours, I’ve witnessed empowerment and dignity – not to mention unforgettable and urgent articulation at 8 centimeters.
Birth does not occur the way TV and movies portray it. Dads don’t turn into ding-dongs like Hugh Grant or Ricky Ricardo, screeching moms don’t pop a jugular before pushing out what seems to be a toddler slathered in Vaseline.
One thing I do have in common with the “I Love Lucy” husband is that in the episode of Little Ricky’s birth, Dad was in a jungle headhunter costume because his wife’s labor began while he was performing his nightclub act. The final scene shows him tapping on the nursery window in feathers, nose bone and fangs.
I have clients around Halloween this year and I will try to keep any costumes simple – and easy to leap from with the agility of Clark Kent.
Then again, there are no phone booths. But doulas are thrifty; I’ll make it work.