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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Begin at the Beginning

Beginnings are never easy. At least not for me. Whoever came up with "Once upon a time..." Is an absolute genius! I know it's trite, but the trite of today is the genius of yesterday.


Once upon a time there was a young woman who was pregnant for the first time. She was thrilled! She had been on birth control since she was 18. She and her husband had been trying to get pregnant for nearly a year and she began to worry that her ship had sailed, although she'd never allow herself to think it, let alone, say it aloud. But all that was in the past because now she was pregnant and all the worry melted away!

Until one day she had her first check up...

She sat in a room with every kind of prenatal drug imaginable postered garishly on the wall, diagrams of insides, and warnings against doing this or not doing that! It was overwhelming.

But more overwhelming than that was the silence.

Women were perched, teetering on the edge of their seats, staring blankly. Waiting until their name rang out like a thunderclap from a nurse in sickeningly pink scrubs. Maybe it was the nausea but the room seemed uncomfortably small and looking around made all the colors on the wall swirl around and slosh behind her eyes. So she did like the others and stared down. Daring not to look at them for fear of breaking some unspoken code of conduct.

She had to pee. She wanted to puke. She distracted herself with a magazine for a millisecond before the sound of her name rang out. She jumped, just a little, and stood to walk back with Nurse Pepto; the resonance of her own name still stinging her ears.

Nurse Pepto's entire countenance was as loud as her voice. Besides her bright pink scrubs she had high bobbed hair lined with bright blonde highlights that had been fluffed and quaffed and held fast into place with hairspray. She wore strong perfume, large earrings and so much jewelry she tinkled as she walked.

Nurse Pepto handed her an empty cup with instructions to fill it. Then gestured toward a bathroom to allow the young woman to do as instructed. The young woman had to pee so badly but steadied herself as she would have to undertake the precarious work of aiming into a cup. She wasn't aware at the time that with a growing belly this task would never get much easier. She would just accept the spills and splatters as unavoidable and move on with life.

She had managed to get what could be considered an adequate sample into the cup, placed the sample inside the cupboard, and was lead into a room with a table that had scary stirrups sticking out. She was instructed to remove her clothes and drape herself with pink paper. The young woman hadn't before realized how cold the room was.

Again she did as instructed and waited for the doctor. Outside her exam room she could hear loud talking, doors opening and shutting, and the occasional phone ring. The sound of her own exam room door opening caused her to jump, once again. The doctor entered. He had dark hair and an orangey tan.

The young woman's legs were placed in the stirrups and the doctor made small talk while he examined her most private areas. His hands were cold. The young woman stared at the ceiling and attempted to answer his banal questions while she was terribly uncomfortable and prayed her voice did not betray her. She breathed deeply counting tiles in the stark white ceiling surrounded by shiny sterile metal, waiting for the moment she would be told she could put her clothes back on. Praying it would be soon. By the time she was told to do so her clothes had already become as cold as the room and the sensation of sliding them over goosebumped skin was like rubbing sandpaper together.

Everything was "normal" and she was sent home, grateful that it was all over. But it wasn't over. She would have this experience again and again with a growth of frequency directly paralleling the growth of her belly. For the first time in her pregnancy she began to feel alone.

She felt separate from her husband, separate from her baby, and sometimes even separate from herself. She stood alone, a stranger to herself in a wholly new experience that was completely different from what she had ever imagined it to be.

She thought she'd feel different. She thought she'd feel a connection to her baby, a kinship with her foremothers. She thought she'd feel their strength as she moved forward on this journey. But instead she felt frightened, then lonely, then nothing.

Speaking with other mothers did not lend her the confidence she'd hoped. Only the promise that "in the end, it will be worth it." And the assurance that what she was experiencing was "normal" and that she was just being "hormonal". The end seemed so far away. But she never dared question whether it will all have been worth it. She had tried so hard, and come so far, to get to this place in her life that it had to be. Still...she wanted more from the experience NOW not later!

So she began reading, and connecting with other mothers who felt the same. She began to arm herself with knowledge and began to realize that, for the educated mother, every doctor's visit would be a battle of wills. Some days she would come out feeling triumphant, but more often she would come out feeling utterly broken down.

Her husband loved her, and tried to help, but he lacked the depth of understanding that only experience could give. Why should she have to battle with men over the designs of her woman's body?
 And for another thing, why was she expected to do this alone?

It was then she realized the calling that had always eluded her. No woman should feel this way about pregnancy. No woman should fear her body is incapable of carrying out the task that nature had bestowed upon it. No woman should have the truth about her strength hidden from her. Someone has to be there, someone has to show them.

And that someone is me.

Katherine Henderson: wife, mother, and friend, answering the call to serve as a doula to any and all that asks it of her. Doula is Greek for "woman's servant" and serve I shall.


  1. Beautiful Kate, great job! You are an inspiration!

  2. Glad I found your blog. I live in OK as well, and I find it encouraging to find like minded people. As you know, the medical professionals in this region do not support natural birth. I could relate to your story on many levels.