I have to admit, I had some pre-conceived ideas about Kaiser Permanente Hospitals. After all, in the enlightened Westside community of Los Angeles, I though Kaiser was probably the most de-humanizing facility available. The image I, and many of my alternative friends had of the hospital, and the entire Kaiser structure, was that of a futuristic conveyer belt where patients (so many of them), where lined up, quickly checked, never listen to, processed, and finally spat out by the burocratic system. NOT SO! I am so happy to report.
I am a Doula (birthing coach), and when my 18 years old, low-income client told me she was a Kaiser patient, I confess, I cringed. I had just had a negative experience at the West Hills Hospital, (which had seemed such a progressive hospital during the pre-natal tour), and I was concerned for this young woman who wanted a natural, drug- and medical-intervention free birthing experience.
I work with women from all walks of life and ages, and at times I offer my services to teenagers on a volunteer basis. My life mission is to bring back the miracle of birthing as a rite of passage. I believe that, trusting the body to birth naturally is a long step towards a safe and rewarding life for both the mother, and child. Birthing is an instinctive and natural process, not a medical event.
V. (my client), had requested to do most of her labor at home, in a relaxed and familiar atmosphere, and to go to the hospital only for the delivery. My concern was bringing a woman in active labor, in an environment where she might be convinced, or even pushed to get an unnecessary epidural, while she was in a critical and emotionally delicate state.
On a Saturday in early May, at 10:00 am, V. (an 18 years old, vibrant, intelligent, spiritual and spunky young woman), called to keep me informed of her labor progress. A mild pre-labor had started on Friday morning, and I had coached her throughout the day, helping her cope and prepare for the ensuing miraculous event. We had devised an ‘early labor’ do to list that would keep her mind and body occupied until the labor got more active. We had discussed the beauty of Mother Nature, and Her ways to slowly prepare a young mother, for the life time commitment ahead. I explained how at times, labor contractions come slowly so that our body, mind, and spirit can get used to them, and we can learn how to manage, not only the labor process, but our future life as a mother. The perfection of the natural system of things never ceases to amaze me.
V. was a trooper, one of the most dedicated clients I have ever had. When I got to her house on Saturday morning, a friend and I took her for a long walk. We walked, laughed and told each other stories, all the while stopping every seven to ten minutes to physically, and emotionally support her during her contractions.
By 12:30 her water had broken and her contraction where stronger, coming at 5 minutes apart. I pulled out of my Doula suitcase all the trick of the trade, and we began focusing on the rhythm, the relaxation and the ritual we would perform at each contraction. Around 1:30 I hypnotized her to get her to rest a bit, and then suggested a bath for relaxation. She continued riding with anticipation each and every contracting wave.
By 2:10 pm it was time to drive to the hospital. At this point V., who had been very strong thus far, told me that if the intensity escalated she might consider an epidural. I told her I would support her decision either way, but suggested we find out first how dilated she was, and at which station the baby’s head was.
As I reassured her that I would support her decision, I was concerned that an overly pushy nurse would swing her towards medication. We rode the whole way to the hospital, while every three minutes or so, I would split my attention between the road and her labor: “5 second, just the beginning. Hang in there.” I would encourage her, “good, you are at 15 seconds now, that’s it focus!” She’d take deep breaths and hang on the door handle. “30 seconds, you are half the way there, that’s it, 45 seconds, you are almost done…”
At 2:30, we pulled to the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Culver City, and I parked my car right next to the maternity entrance. No one in her family could join us quite yet, and I was determined to stay with her, whether they towed my car or not. I found a wheelchair immediately, and we rolled to the fourth floor to Labor and Delivery. We were given immediate attention. A lovely smile greeted us; it was nurse Teresa, who, as soon as she found out who I was, smiled even a broader smile, shook my hand and said “I've never worked with a Doula at this hospital before, welcome!” I was so shocked I just smiled back speechless, and immediately went into the preadmission room where V. was waiting for me.
V. was breathing heavily yet, managing her contraction impeccably. She really depended on my counting the seconds for her; we were a team and everyone at the hospital not only recognized it, but respected it, and encouraged it. Within minutes, she was checked in and an angel walked into the room. Her name is Jacqueline Rice, Certified Nurse Midwife. Jacqueline was a warm and welcoming mother-like figure. She checked V. between the labor waves, and declared she was 7 cm dilated, and that the baby head was at station +1.
Yes! I thought, we had done most of the work at home, and this was a confirmation that my experience was paying off. The assisting nurse Hennia Peng, did ask V. about her pain, and her preferences about drugs, but never once insisted or came in between V. and I , as other nurses have done at other hospitals.
V. and I had established a strong rapport in the past three months, and she was looking at me to be the one who would remind her of her ultimate wishes, even in a time when her will power might falter.
Finally V.’s boyfriend came in, and told me not to worry about my car, the guard had moved it, and parked it for me. Was I in Los Angeles, or had I died and gone to heaven?
V. was quickly transferred to the labor room, and as soon as I walked in my heart leaped. A flyer had been posted on a cupboard door: We encourage breastfeeding within the first hour following the birth. An infant crib with all the gadgets, was ready to receive the newborn baby, and we were reassured the baby would never leave the mother’s sight. At this point, I knew we were going to be able to fulfill V.’s wishes for a natural birth.
Next to the bed there was a CD player, where Jacqueline played lovely lullabies creating a peaceful and magical environment. I was almost in tears. God had answered V’s and my prayers.
Lulled by the music and accompanied by her sweet mate (the father’s child), V. took more contraction like a superb goddess. I stepped back and let him be the coach, whispering suggestions into his hears from time to time. By 4:30 she was ready to push. The M.D. in charge was a lovely Indian woman, who was so curious and so happy to see me working with V., she seemed unreal, and the experience put me in a dream state. V. prepared to push and Jacqueline, Hennia, V.’s boyfriend and I worked in unison: “PUSH! That’s it, you can do it! You are the goddess; you have all that you need to bring Lila into this world!” Jacqueline even produced a lovely Chinese fan to cool V. between pushes. Lila was born at 5:05 pm, Saturday May 17 naturally, drug free, and surrounded by angels. Jacqueline placed Lila on her mother’s chest immediately, and tucked her in the elastic waist band they use to keep the fetal monitor on the mother during labor. Lila was kept kangaroo style, skin to skin with her mom right away, and she breastfed within the hour! Thank you Jacqueline, and Hennia and thank you Kaiser Permanente… Your are awesome!
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