The first birth I saw was for nursing school. Day One of maternity clinical, 7:45 a.m., a nurse hustled down the hallway and saw me standing there.
"Hey," she called. "Room 12. She's close if you want to go in."
I had steeled myself in the weeks leading up to maternity clinical: there was no guarantee I'd see a birth; many of my classmates hadn't. Two 12-hour Sunday shifts at a smallish hospital. Odds were slim. Even then, after I heard the nurse, I still wouldn't let myself believe it. See a birth? Lord knows how many YouTube births I've watched, birth stories I've read, always hoping I'd someday soon be able to see one in person. Even one photojournalism project shadowing a homebirth midwife, balancing on a bed and beside the birthing tub in the living room with my camera pointed down — ready — for eleven hours ended up with a transfer to the hospital that I couldn't follow.
See a birth?
I trotted down the hallway next to another nurse wheeling the delivery cart. I could hear the woman several doors down. "She just came in, and she's about to push," the nurse said over her shoulder. "Go ahead."
Me? (Is this really happening?)
I walked in to see a young woman, face crumpled, sweating, clawing at the bed. "I can't I can't I can't I can't I CAN'T," she cried, over and over again. Her partner stood back in the corner, watching, eyes as big as dinner plates. I caught his eye and smiled at him. He stared back.
One nurse was busy charting, adjusting monitors, while the other was setting up the birth equipment. A doctor was getting gowned up. When her contraction finished, I went over to the woman and began to breathe with her, deeper, slower breaths. She reached for her partner's hand, and he came and held hers. I whispered her through the next contraction, her body pushing involuntarily. Eventually, a nurse said, "Grab her leg." I offered to let her partner, and he shook his head and stepped back. So I held one leg back, another nurse held another, and the woman pushed three times in one contraction and oh! look — a quarter-sized circle of head and hair!
That quarter-sized circle grew, and grew, and soon it was a whole head, and the head rotated, and then one shoulder, and then another, and then whoosh out came the baby.
Out came the baby!
I played it on a loop in my head, marveling at it, over and over all morning until another woman came in and my birth count doubled in one day. I left the hospital that night completely exhilarated and grateful.
Just prior to my maternity clinicals, I started an internship to become a doula, an internship that wrapped up in early June — I'm a doula! That, plus what I've learned in nursing school, has buoyed and validated this journey I'm on, a journey towards working in women's health and nursing and catching babies. Each of the births I've attended as a doula since then has only strengthened that charge deep within me. I've no such ideas that it'll always be like this — healthy births, happy births…I know there will be challenges and difficulties and sadnesses beyond what I can imagine now. But I pray every day for strength, resilience, capability, and compassion.
My second and final year of nursing school begins in a handful of weeks. I've got ten doula clients due between now and December. Applications for midwifery school due then as well. Who would have thought I'd be here? All those dreams, all these years, they're happening, now. Better than I ever could've anticipated.