was expecting her first baby, and she and Chris weren’t sure yet what planet
they have landed on. Baby showers, advice from aunts and uncles they haven’t
spoken to in years, doctor appointments, urine samples, GBS testing, no more
smoking, low-sugar diets, ultrasounds, no more Coca Cola, and definitely no
joints, alcohol, or all-night parties. And when did Chris’ mom start hanging
out at Baby Gap stores, bringing home all sorts of miniature sports gear? They
are left wondering when they stopped being kids fooling around with a little of
everything that kids fool around with, at least all the ones they’ve ever
known, to becoming Parents-To-Be. This is scary. This is very different. There
are a whole lot of “you shoulds” and “you shouldn’ts” that go along with all
this. And what is a doula anyway?
the middle of all this confusion they get a call from me. “Hi. I am your
DOO-la.” I should have said, “Your fairy godmother,” or “The tooth fairy” and
they would have understood a bit more, perhaps.
would like to make an appointment to get together and explain a bit about what
‘bout next Thursday afternoon after your regular clinic appointment?”
get a grunt that I take for a “Yes.”
See you then.”
waiting room looks and sounds more like the waiting room at the tuberculosis sanatorium
I once visited in the 1960s. I guess that the same germs are present here, too,
as prolifically as well. People hacking, sneezing, and spewing in all
directions; babies screaming, teenagers smoking in huddles by the entrance, a
smattering of obviously homeless people lining up at the free coffee pot, and
an argument between a clearly drunk client and the receptionist.
referral I received didn’t tell me too much except that Renya is Native
American, has had a healthy pregnancy, and plans to breastfeed. So far so good.
There are a few women in the waiting room that could be pregnant. No one is
waving me over or anything so I finally asked a nurse if she could check if my
client was already in an exam room and it turned out that that is exactly where
Renya. All I saw was this gigantic African American man. Almost seven feet tall
(6’ 8” to be exact) at 425 pounds, dread locks, cargo shorts and team jersey
t-shirt, with ear plugs connected to something in his pocket. When I ask he
tells me his shoes are 18EEEE. The only time I ever saw bigger shoes was when I
recently toured the Red Wing Shoe Factory Museum in Red Wing, Minnesota with my
grandson. They had the original pair of shoes they had made for the biggest man
in the U.S., Igor Vovkovinskiy, who wore a size 23EEEEE when he was
16 years old. All I could think of was: “Wow! The BFG!” Chris turned out to be the BFG of Minneapolis. Our
kids had loved Roald Dahl’s BFG: The Big Friendly Giant book, and I was meeting the man
room. Half his height or girth, she was very pregnant which was accentuated by
a bright striped sundress. She wasn’t due for another month but looked quite
ready to me. I was glad I’d have time to get to know them. We started out with
my Doula movie, a short documentary made here in Minnesota. Afterwards I asked
if they had any questions. Chris actually had a whole list he had been saving
up. They were all very insightful, too. I was amazed at how much he already
knew about birth and babies. Definitely more than most first-time dads. He was
no slouch; he was determined to be a great dad.
covered the childbirth ed breastfeeding class. They weren’t able to make it for
the one at their hospital, so we piggy-backed onto her regular clinic
appointment once again and used the clinic’s room and DVD player. Half way
through the two Why-To and How-To Breastfeeding videos Chris’s phone rang. He
answered it as I put the film on pause. Before I knew what was happening, he
yelled into the phone one giant: “DAMN!” and ran out of the room ducking
through the doorway to finish the call. He returned a few minutes later to tell
us that his brother had just been shot in the hip at close range in Chicago and
was being wheeled into surgery at that moment. I was stunned. Then they
speculated about what kind of gun it could have been. I gathered that they were
hoping it wasn’t a .22 rifle which they explained to me could have shot him in
the hip, with the bullet ricocheting upward, further damaging other areas and
organs, with the possibility of being fatal. I didn’t know what to think. This
was so awful. I began to pack up the video then, but Chris said we should
finish it up. I told him we could do it next time but he insisted, so we
watched the rest of the video, while they continued to wonder what their
brother’s chances of survival could be. I marveled that they acted like this
happened every day. Were their lives so precarious? Did they live with this
kind of violent drama on a daily basis? I hugged them both goodbye when their
taxi came, though I had to go up on tippy-toe and Chris had to bend way down to
reach my 5’ 4” height for my hug, assuring Chris I would be praying for his
from Renya inviting me to her baby shower the following Sunday. I have grappled
with this over time. Should I attend my clients’ baby parties or should I
maintain a strictly professional relationship with them? I decided to simply see,
case by case, what felt right to do, and Renya and Chris both added that they
really hoped I could make it, so I seriously considered going to this one.
Afterwards, I realized that I had just been to a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Whatever told me I should go was right, this time at least.
any other baby shower I have been to with silly games and fruit punch, the
house draped in pink crepe paper streamers and It’s A Girl! balloons. Renya was
wearing a sash over one shoulder and draped over her beautiful belly that said,
“Mother-to-Be.” A tiny flannel diaper with a miniature clothes pin attached to
it was pinned to each guest as we came in with instructions not to open either
up until told to do so.
sat down with the other ladies and then did a double-take. There was a tiny
plastic pink baby frozen into an ice cube bobbing around in my cup. Now this
was a new one for me. The MC of the afternoon announced the rules of the first
game: The lady with the first baby to come out of the ice cube all on its own
without any help has to stand up and shout, “My water broke!” and will get a
prize. Groan. What am I in for? I
next. You will be told when all the guests have arrived what to do with it. As
far as the tiny clothes pin, if you see anyone crossing their legs throughout
the party, you can take their clothes pin and add it to yours on your little
diaper and the lady with the most clothes pins at the end of the afternoon will
win a prize.
house, refilling my punch, mingling with all the other ladies, meeting Chris’s
mom and Renya’s Dad and uncles who were busy grilling an amazing lunch out in
the garage. The only clue I had so far that Renya’s family were interested in
their roots and Native tradition was that she had mentioned some of the names
they were considering for their baby girl and the Indian meanings for them. And
it seemed to me that a lot of the guests had elaborate medallion and intricate,
beautiful feather tattoos with symbols I didn’t recognize.
me periodically, asking if I had enough to eat and drink and was I having a
good time. The food was spectacular: spicy steak tortillas, red rice, refry
beans, and other very amazing dishes. I was too full in the end to eat the
cake. Everything was so good.
asked everyone to look inside the little diaper that they had received at the
beginning of the party. The one with poop (mustard, actually) would win the
grand prize. No one in the room had one that had mustard poop in it. The MC
finally announced that it must have been with the friend who came earlier to
drop off a gift but wasn’t able to stay the whole time and had left already.
to us: The MC would walk around the circle with a roll of toilet paper from
which you had to unwind as much as you thought would be the equivalent of
Renya’s bump or waist line. The MC already knew the correct measurement. We all
did it and then our MC measured each one until someone had the exact length.
Renya’s grandmother got the prize for this one. I wasn’t anywhere close.
the gifts. People had been very generous here, too. Renya and Chris’s baby
could not possibly wear all the beautiful things she got. Her grandma, this
baby’s great-grandma (bisabuela in
Aztec) figured out that this
baby would have to wear most items only once to make the rounds of all the
stuff within the first year, by which time she would have outgrown every single
one of them. Little did we know she would actually be too big at birth and only
be able to wear the clothes that were intended for ten-pound, six-month-old
babies and bigger.
At the party Chris sat down next to me at one point to fill me in on
how his brother in Chicago was doing. It was a sawed-off .22 rifle as they had
feared, but because it was discharged at close range it went straight through
his hip and out the other side, sparing any further damage. He was quite
relieved that his brother would be OK. This time.
and we were all ushered out to the expansive back yard. About eight Native
dancers, all decked out in exquisite regalia formed two lines and Renya was
escorted and deposited into a central lawn chair. These dancers were not
dressed in “costumes” as some of us less informed gringos might imagine. Native or First Nation people’s original
dress is called “regalia” and expresses their deepest connections to the past
to society.” ~ Karl Menninger
A drummer was stationed to Renaya’s left, along with the drummer’s
little son who could not have been more than three years old, who had an exact
replica of his daddy’s large drum. With a nod from his dad, the drumming began.
The dancers, too, were accompanied by two child dancers who followed the
intricate steps of their parents as best they could and didn’t seem to be
embarrassed when they couldn’t keep up but just forged ahead. Incense was lit
and joined the dance until it was presented to Renya where she sat and left on
the ground before her. At intervals the drumming changed to a different rhythm
and a new dance began. It was stunning. Feathered headdresses waving with the
dancers, rattles tied on the dancers’ ankles shaking with the beating of the
drums, twirling, stamping, and leaping. I had never seen anything like it. Why can’t all babies be welcomed like this? I
thought to myself.
Chris called to tell me they are on their way to the hospital. It was a false
alarm. We had two others that week, which is fine with me. I would rather be
there to tell them not to be discouraged, that this is perfectly normal, especially
with a first baby, and assured them that they can call me again any time. The
next day I received a cryptic text: “We r guna go 2 hosp.” That turned out to
be another false alarm. Finally, when they called the third time we realized it
was the real thing. The contractions were pretty intense and building. The
nurse announced that Renya was three centimeters and already 100% effaced, so
we weren’t going anywhere this time. High fives all around. YES! Let’s do this!
had changed her mind and asked if we couldn’t postpone this for another date. I
said, “No, that isn’t happening. Your baby had gotten the official eviction
notice. The more you walk and stay up on the birth ball, the sooner you will be
holding her in your arms. You can do this, sweetheart.” I told her that this
labor reminded me of the dancing at her baby shower. If she could imagine the
drumming, that labor is actually very similar: the intense beat rising and
falling, growing stronger and receding. The dancers coming closer with each new
dance until she is presented with the incense and their prayers for this next
journey we are now on.
urge to push. After an hour of pushing, the midwives become concerned. Baby has
not moved down at all. She should be at least halfway down the birth canal by
now. The waters break and they are clear; the monitors tell them that their
baby is still doing OK, too, all good signs, but this labor is going on so long
now that they are concerned that her uterus might tucker out and cause too much
bleeding eventually. Another hour goes by and the midwives consult with the OB
doctor on that night who comes to talk to Chris and Renya about her concerns
and they agree to a C-section. I know they are relieved and I don’t want to
second guess their birth team. This baby really might be too big for her to
birth vaginally. I am not the midwife this time, and I haven’t felt in there. I
assure Renya that she has done everything possible and could not have worked
harder, and my guess is that we will probably know what all was really going on
inside once we see her baby. Which is exactly what happens. Though the ultra
sounds told us it was a big baby, probably around nine pounds, she turns out to
be closer to 11—Yes, as in pounds. And she even looks like her daddy who is on
cloud nine by now as he literally dances her from the warmer back to her mommy
at the head of the OR table.
and find a ravenous baby girl nursing non-stop during my whole visit. Her sugars
are normal so Renya can stop worrying about that and just enjoy their beautiful
baby girl. They have already fallen in love with her. So have I. Her name is Xochaitl,
a Native name pronounced, SO-chee. Again I think, Why can’t all babies be welcomed like this one?