My Doula Was Four Years Old

Two years ago I am 39 1/2 weeks pregnant and my daughter becomes a four-year-old doula by mistake.

On this date in 2019, I wake up around 3:00 in the morning on a Friday. I use the bathroom. No one else is supposed to be awake at this point in the morning, but my daughter is going through a phase where she isn’t into sleeping. This turns out to work in my favor, because when she comes in to our room to find us, she becomes delightfully helpful when she finds that my water has broken and I am not exactly able to move. I am not in pain, so I am just kind of waiting for someone to find me, and look at that, my little girl shows up. I tell her what is happening, and she pats my belly and talks to the baby. She is excited, I can tell; she is freaking out, I know; but she is somehow able to read the room — she is calm and happy instead of jumping around and screaming.

Like I say, I’m not in pain yet.

She stays with me and talks to me for another twenty minutes or so before I tell her to go get Daddy. At this point, she is screaming. “Daddy!” It is early — around 4:00 or 4:15. She retrieves my husband, but because I am quiet and my daughter-doula reclaims her calm, he somehow goes back to sleep.

I am finally able to remove myself from the bathroom. I turn on the lights and my husband decides the time has come to make banana bread.

I know. But in his defense, he did the same thing for our other two babies. However, I was in labor with my first baby for something like 37 hours (for real) and I labored with my daughter for 12 or so. He is certain he has time.

So he’s down there pre-heating the oven and mixing batter and I call the midwife. She’s like, “Yeah, it could go one of two ways. Your third baby could take a few days or be very fast. Have you started contractions?” Just as I am speaking with her, my first contraction begins.

I get off the bed and hang up the phone. Hm. I wonder how this will go — oh. Here’s another contraction. Yep. Hm. I’d really like to put my pants on. Nope. Not going to move. Not for a minute.

Soon I’m nervous, and my to-do-before-we-leave-the-house list unfolds from my mental bulletin board like one of those accordion files you see on old-ass websites. Oh yes, I have several tasks to accomplish before I can leave this house and have a baby. The first task is to put on my pants.

Nevermind. Can’t move again.

Well. This is escalating quickly. This is business.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the oven is successfully preheated.

My son, a kindergartner, by now is awake and shuffling around. My daughter continues to check in on me. I continue to wish I could bend over to put on my pants. At one point between contractions I pull on one leg and drag the other pant leg loose around on the floor as I haphazardly throw items into bags for the hospital stay. You know, those tasks that should have been done a couple weeks ago.

Somehow, I manage to get downstairs. I whisper to no one, “We need to go to the hospital.” My husband is measuring ingredients and digging around inside the cupboards for bread pans. My son wants breakfast. My daughter is not in earshot.

OK, another contraction is over. I have time to cut the tags off of my son’s new shoes that he wants to wear to school today. I can pull the rest of my pants on and bend over to the shoes. I have 60 seconds.

Task complete. New shoes situated next to his backpack by the door.

At the kitchen table, I buckle.

“We need to go to the hospital.” My husband mixes more quickly; maybe I’m serious.

“We need to go to the hospital. Call your mother.” I am concentrating very hard. I need to make it to the mudroom to put on shoes.

My husband gets on the phone with his mother, who lives blocks away and who is primed to handle the kids when we need to go to the hospital.

My kindergartner eats granola and yogurt. My daughter is excited and is starting to worry because I’m starting to turn into a person who is not a person but an animal and who doesn’t sound like Mama.

My husband pours the batter into a pan. “She says she’ll be here in a few minutes.” To which I respond with a contraction.

My husband starts to wonder if perhaps I’m going to have a baby.

His mother arrives around 5:30. I am gripping the kitchen table and trying not to vomit. She says to me, “Well, let me know if I can do anything,” and goes to the couch.

“We need to go to the hospital. Hospital. Hospital.” I have the guttural animal voice now.

My husband puts the bread in the oven and starts to get coats for him and me. I shuffle into the mudroom. That’s it. That’s as far as I can go. It’s over. Lay me down; I am having a baby right here. “Hospital! Hospital!” I have my socks in my hand but I am not putting them on. I can’t imagine putting on a coat. Somehow, my husband put my shoes on.

“Nope, we’re going to the hospital,” he declares.

Probably, my daughter gives up her job as doula at this point. Probably.

OK. I think I have 30 seconds. Let’s get this belly into the van.

My husband sort of ushers me down the steps from the house to the driveway. He opens the van door and somehow the van is already on — it is November; maybe he pre-heated the van for me just like he pre-heated the oven. I see the clock. It is just after 6:00. I heave a leg into the van and decide no, we are not going to the hospital. In fact, we are having the baby right now. In the doorway of the van.

“No, we’re going to the hospital,” says my husband, who is still a human.

A few minutes later we get me in the van and I recline the fuck out of that seat.

The hospital is 10 minutes away.

My husband blows through some stop lights and at one point he takes a parking lot instead of a street. We park in the Emergency Room parking lot and at this point I’m swear-screaming. My husband runs inside and comes back with an EMT or someone similar who parks a wheelchair next to the van. “I’m having the baby I’m having the baby I’m having the baby” I sort of spit at him. “In the van.” I tell my husband to roll the seat all the way down and the dude with the wheelchair is a different species than me and is very calm and authoritative and he simply tells me to get in the wheelchair. He and my husband assist as I roll out. My god. The pain.

The ceiling is flying and is bright and I am not sure how I’ll survive this. Elevator doors crack open and I hear all sorts of beeping and people and then my husband is told that we have to stop for a picture. He bickers. He swears. They insist; it’s for security.


He’s running down the hall and I hear some nurses directing us into the triage room. Let’s just check and see if she’s really in labor, OK? Now can you tell me your last name and date of birth…

A midwife runs down the hall. She hears me. “No no no, she needs to come over to a delivery room. Right across the hall.”

The rest is lots of nothing I can remember. Baby babe is born about six minutes later.

Everybody at home loves the banana bread.

The Never Enough

My at-home indoor workout the other day was interrupted after 20 minutes when my toddler woke from his 25-minute-long nap (if you can call it that), and I dragged him out of his crib, careful to engage my pelvic floor that has been destroyed thanks to my getting the “You should do pelvic floor physical therapy as soon as you have a baby” message only after having my second child. I tucked my third baby into my side on top of my bed so that maybe, just maybe, I could get him back to sleep quickly enough to get back to that workout that I budgeted exactly 30 minutes in my day to do. As I tried to nurse him (yes, I still nurse him, partly out of he’s-so-cute-and-he’s-my-last-baby and partly out of how-the-hell-else-will-I-get-him-to-relax but also partly I-give-him-vaccine-antibodies) I had the thought, “Why is this not enough? Why do I feel like everything I do is not enough?”

I was sweating and nursing and budgeting and re-budgeting time and determining what, if any, housework will get done, and what, if any, Other Work — like writing, or engaging with clients, or sending out invoices — will get done before I had to go get the big kids from school and embark on the evening to-dos. All while trying to relax so the toddler would relax so I could stop relaxing and finish my workout.

So why is everything I do not enough?

Maybe it’s because I bury myself in impossibilities and ambitions.

Impossibilities include:

    Clean the house every day.
    I mean, clean one room every day.
    Don’t scream.
    Go to the bathroom alone.
    Exercise every single day so that I don’t scream every single day.
    Write every single day.
    Practice/make music every single day.
    Sleep some.
    Build the business.
    Be better at everything I do.
    Do more of everything I do.

Ambitions are:

    All of the above, plus grace.

Or maybe it’s because I’m a lady who has lady problems and who has been to lady doctors who simply tell me they don’t know why I’m having lady problems and that I should just attribute it to stress and to take some Excedrin. If I weren’t a lady, these problems wouldn’t be a mystery; dudes would be all over them and have done multitudes of research on this and I wouldn’t be left alone out here to struggle along all by my-lady-self.

Or maybe it’s all not enough because I’m under the impression that I’m supposed to be doing all of this and be happy at the same time. What does “enough” even mean? If I do enough of this or enough of that I’ll have arrived? At what? What is the goal here?

I think the best approach is to understand that this is simply how it is. This is how things are. These are the conditions in which I’m living at this moment. How I feel about these conditions — the qualities I attribute to them — are completely separate from the fact that the conditions exist.

I will continue to do all the things I do because it is what I’m supposed to do. I have an almost-two-year-old who will follow me into every bathroom I enter. How I feel about this is irrelevant and will not change the fact that he will do this. We are entering into the cold, dark six months of winter here in Minneapolis. How I feel about this is irrelevant. We are approaching the holidays that are forever altered for my family and this is simply how it is for us.

So why is it that I feel like what I do, and don’t do, for that matter, is not enough? Because it isn’t enough. It will never be enough because I don’t know what enough even is.

Parenting As Ambition

I have a second grader, a kindergartner and a maniac who is about to turn two. My daughter asked me a couple of days ago if I always wanted to have three kids. I told her I did. She said, “Well congratulations. You got three kids.”

I’ve been thinking about this. I heard a woman introduce herself by listing her ambitions. She included “motherhood” as one of them.

I never, ever considered motherhood this way. And yet my daughter is wrong. I didn’t get three kids. I did not struggle very much with fertility issues or pregnancy complications, though I did have a miscarriage. However, my husband and I did plan to have a child. And then another, and then even following the lost pregnancy, we planned to have yet another. We made three people. People!

So why did I not think of having children as ambitious?

In the lead up to Halloween, I saw a lot of memes depicting moms yelling after their costumed kids. Say thank you! Did you say thank you? Wear a monster costume, don’t be a monster in costume.

Why is it, in these eight years I’ve experienced parenthood, that I have not thought about how daunting this task is? Did I minimize its enormity because there are so many women out there in the world who do it? Because people can be totally unprepared and unwilling, and turn into parents anyway?

Why is parenting not the most highly regarded occupation there is? It is most definitely an occupation. But not only do you not get paid to be a parent, it takes more money and much more energy than you actually have, and it re-arranges and discombobulates any future you had in mind, because every day is mysterious. You are tasked to engender kindness and compassion in your humans. You are to teach them to stabilize their emotions when your own are completely out of whack since you haven’t slept in eight years. “You can always be kind,” I can say as much as I want to them, but then you have to deconstruct what kindness is.

We haven’t started potty training the maniac, but we’re already getting questions from the second grader about puberty.

And these are the little, little kid years. These are the physical years. These are the years when we’re all learning how to sleep. All of us.

I know adolescence is its own animal, and I’ll know it when it bites me like one.

But no one ever talks about parenting adults. No one ever talks about what it’s like to have spent the years forming and developing and enjoying and not enjoying your child when they turn into their own person, after they’ve absorbed from you what you’ve tried hard to give to and keep from them.

That’s the bravest, hardest part, I think. To feel them when they’re not there, because they used to be there, and now they’re not.

There is so much heartbreak and devastation. There is enormous love and so much else.

There is simply too much to even consider. There is too much.

Now, off we go to get my kindergartner and my second grader their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. My maniac will wait, with me, in my lap, for as long as I can keep him there.