I now know the REAL benefit of having doula support.
After walking in heels and other poor fitting shoes during a conference weekend and then dancing barefoot that Saturday night, I pulled my Achilles tendon and found myself suddenly in serious pain in the middle of the night. Like the worst pain of my life, just under childbirth and dry socket.
Normally I am a pretty healthy person: I don’t have aches and pains, I don’t have migraines, I don’t break bones, I don’t fall and hurt myself (much). I rarely see the doctor, and almost never take medications. I’m just a regular doula who doesn’t have much need for western medicine.
So waking up at 3 am with what felt like a knife stabbing into my ankle was a new experience for me. I writhed, I breathed, I tried to relax. I cried into my pillow (I had a roommate who really needed to rest). I texted my husband across the country to help me cope. (He was asleep and didn’t answer.) I googled (yes, I know, I broke the NO GOOGLING AT 3 AM rule). And I cried a bit more.
Somehow I hobbled downstairs to our common space and got some ice (the Google said so) and finally got a hold of my husband who convinced me via text to keep icing it despite the intensity of the pain. It didn’t help. Several more bouts of tears later, I finally decided to ask my roommates for help.
I went to them because I knew they could help me--because I was staying with DOULAS! Yes, those masters of coping with pain. I just happened to be at the CAPPA conference, staying with the directors of the program which meant I wasn’t just with averagely awesome doulas, I was with MASTER doulas. And what a difference a doula makes.
I texted each of them, begging for ibuprofen. One emerged from her room within a minute, bearing massage oil, homeopathic arnica, and the blessed ibuprofen I requested. But it wasn’t what she brought; it was WHO SHE WAS that made the difference. She came right out to me, propped my painful foot, changed the ice and made me more comfortable. She applied the arnica, used the oil to massage my calves that were cramped from holding the reverberating pain, and probably did some pressure points on my feet (I wasn’t sure, I just knew it really helped!).
While she was there, the pain was bearable. It still hurt, but her soothing words and her firm but sensitive pressure to help relax my muscles made me think I could even go back to sleep so we could deal with things in the morning. She spent almost an hour with me at 4 am, and I wanted to try to salvage some sleep for both of us once the IBU kicked in. So I hopped (one-footed) upstairs to my bed and tucked back in.
Within 5 minutes it became clear that there would be no sleeping. (Right about now you are thinking about that moment in your labor when you realized that there would be no sleeping until your baby emerged—and it was a scary realization, right? Yep, that is how I felt, except I wasn’t getting a baby out of this deal.)
I did everything I knew to do--everything I remembered from childbirth class--to cope with the pain. Nothing seemed to work (which reminded ME of childbirth all over again). I was crying and writhing and really suffering. All quietly into my pillow so my roommate wouldn’t be woken up, as she had a big day of running a conference ahead of her.
So I finally woke up the others and these awesome labor and postpartum doulas came to my side. Whoa…those doulas really know their stuff! They spoke gently to me, brought me pain creams and salves and bolstered my suffering spirit. They stayed by me as I winced and moved and helped me get more comfortable. They rubbed my back, my arms, and my shoulders to help defer the stabbing I was experiencing in my ankle.
While they were there they let me whine and feel better. I could groan and they would be compassionate. They didn’t try to quiet me down. They didn’t pressure me to stop being such a baby. They were just there with me in the pain.
And right there in a twin bed with doulas all around me I was reminded of the magic that doulas possess. Not to fix things but to bear it with you. To offer compassion, touch, massage, soothing words and tones, and practical support when the going gets tough. And to let me complain, describe, and fuss about it. Because for me that really helps! (Verbal processing for the win!)
I forgot they also help you navigate the medical world while you are suffering and vulnerable…
My middle of the night doula drove me to urgent care, helping me hobble to the office and into a wheelchair. By then my body was getting shaky, sweaty, and nauseous from the pain and medication I had taken (I had tried something else when the IBU didn't work) and I feared I might have to vomit. Not to be daunted by a little puke, my magical doula wheeled me into the bathroom to puke in private as a room full of urgent care patients tried not to notice. Magically cold cloths appeared on my neck, my arms, my back. Sweating and shaking, it is amazing how great a cold cloth feels when you are retching. Doulas know these things.
At one point she stood next to my wheelchair, put a pillow into my neck and leaned up against me as I drifted out of consciousness, waiting to go see the doctor. I will never forget that feeling of falling asleep with someone standing there beside me, cushioned by the pillow and by her presence.
My doula asked if I wanted her present in the visit. I definitely wanted her second pair of ears as mine were a bit green and shaky. She stayed within her role as a non-judgmental care provider and only answered questions with me instead of addressing the doctor, just as doulas are trained to do. She helped me with my crutches, drove me to fill a prescription for anti-inflammatory meds, and drove me back to put me straight into her bed downstairs instead of having to climb the stairs on my hands and knees.
I slept, I healed, and I felt a lot better. A couple days on crutches and I could walk again without pain. I went home and sought follow up treatment, and am managing pain free for the most part.
But I will never forget the weekend I spent with doulas.
Because when you are in pain, they are the best people to have around you. EVER.
And if you have to go through the hardest pain of your life (potentially in childbirth, although it is certainly not that way for everyone) then I would say: DON’T DO IT WITHOUT A DOULA. Because no one helps you through the pain better. NO. ONE.
I will forever be grateful for my Achilles doulas: Laurel, Ana, Laura, and Jill. #doulasbenefiteveryone