Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How being a doula is like crewing/pacing an ultramarathon runner (or running one yourself)

Shortly after I attended the Birth Doula Workshop last summer, I connected with an expecting mama who would become my first ever client.  When this amazing mama went into labor 3 weeks early, I found myself doula-ing a little bit earlier than I had anticipated.  In fact, we were still at my parents’ house for Christmas when I got the call.

Luckily, we were only a 3 hour drive away from St. Louis.  Rob, Will, and I loaded the car and headed back without delay.  When we arrived at our house, I had some peanut butter toast (what I eat in the morning before running an ultra), and quickly gathered a few more items to put in my doula bag (which was actually my Victory Bag— what I use for a drop bag during a race).

V bag

I made myself a bottle of Tailwind Nutrition (company motto: “All you need, all day.  Really.”), figuring that since this was the stuff that got me through the Farmdale-Jubilee 30-mile trail run, I could use it to keep myself fueled/hydrated during the birth (however long it might be).  I put on a pair of field pants (the ones I wore everyday when I lived in Nicaragua) because they had lots of pockets, and at our training workshop, the instructors told us to make sure to wear something with lots of pockets when we were at a birth.  (The pockets did come in really handy).  Then I put on my Buff headband, because you can pretty much do anything with a Buff headband, including but not limited to, keeping your hair out of your face.  I looked kind of like this:

IMG 2742 (Note, this photo was actually taken several days before I was on my way to the birth.  It just strongly resembles what I looked like when I showed up at the hospital).

Then it was time to decide on footwear.  I went with my New Balance Minimus WT 1010’s.  I love these shoes and am pretty sure I could run or doula in them forever, but they are falling apart, and I knew I wouldn’t mind if they for any reason got ruined.

IMG 2506 (See that rip in the fabric? It happened with less than 100 miles on the shoes and is terribly disappointing).

It was time to go.  

Being a doula involves emotional support as well as physical support and pain management techniques, but in many ways it felt so much like I was crewing or pacing someone in an ultra.  It reminded me of last year at Fuego y Agua, when Rob was in a really rough patch by the time he finally made it to El Porvenir.  I could see how low his spirits were, and I could see the dread in his face as he contemplated the 4200 ft climb up Volcan Maderas.

I cheered for him.  I told him that he was doing great and that everything was going to be fine.  I told him that he would get a second wind, enabling him to charge up the volcano and into the elfin could forests, where it would be cool and misty and he would have a break from the relentless heat.  I told him that after he made it to the top, to descend like Kilian.  

You just have to find the right words, the right tone.  Make them find the strength that they don’t even know they have.  You can’t let them think about how long it might take or what might be down the road.  We are just here in this moment, getting through this one contraction.  Then we rest, we breathe.  And we go on.

The baby was born, healthy and vibrant, late that night.  When everything and everyone had settled down, I came back home.  I showered to scrub the hospital off of me.  It was midnight and I hadn’t eaten in over 12 hours.  I didn’t even end up drinking the Tailwind I’d brought with me.  I was hungry, but too tired to prepare anything, so I drank some chocolate soy milk and ate one of Rob’s mint-flavored Builder Bars.  It is the kind of thing I do after running an ultra, and I wondered if this might become a post-birth ritual for me, if I ever have the chance to be someone’s doula again.

I hope I do.

Thanks for reading.

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