I started to take notes during each birth after November 1, 1993. I know that because Kieran was born on that day. Kieran was a warrior baby. In fact, he was born face first. He never gave up with that chin-up attitude (and probably still hasn't to this day!)
The midwife did one final vaginal exam just before he was born. "Is that a bum?" she asked, just a little confused for a moment. "No, it couldn't be...you're hearing the heartbeat in the right place. It must be a mouth," I said. "It's the baby's lips!" she called out. So, Kieran was born, after a crazy challenging labour, with his mum on her high bed, holding up her silk dress (dad had grabbed a dress for her to wear, and I think it was one that she'd recently worn to a wedding).
Days later, when we tried to have "tea and debrief", Keiran's mum, my doula partner and friend, cried, as she tried to piece together our collective memories of what happened at the birth. Her first labour had been so smooth that we had expected a quick second labour. This days-long hard labour had been so relentless, with intense back pain, that we had all lost track of time.
She told me that she had keenly felt the loss when I had left her head and gone to help the midwife during those critical moments when we didn't know whether the baby was head down or breech. A woman needs another woman at her ear, whispering, "You are safe." I wasn't there for her as a doula in the end. I had become the second attendant.
We had no birth notes from those days of long hard labour - no framework from which to hang the memory. She was lost.
She asked me if I could write notes for all the women who would come in the future, so that no woman would ever have to wonder "What happened?"
So, now, I write as honest and true a story as I can write. I can only write what I observe, being on the outside of each woman's experience. I try to make sure that my handwriting is slow and calm. I watch my writing become larger and messier as the baby's birth moment approaches. Water drops on the page. This is the external story of a birth.
I ask that each woman and her partner take some time to record their own experience, before I give them my birth notes as a gift. Each written account is part of the memory of the birth day. But, it's the woman's internal story which is paramount. Who cares that my notes say that she was in the bath for 5 hours. She believes that she laboured in the water through the night. She believes she was surrounded by candles (when candles are not allowed in the hospital) and peacock fans (when it was really a cardboard tray). She believes that she was rowing for a gold medal, not panting for hours. Her reality is the truth of the birth.
But my notes do provide something that she may never remember - her first words as her baby emerges. And now, most women don't cry because of a lost story, they cry with joy, when they read the words that they said to their newborn:
"I'm so glad to meet you!"
"That might have been the best thing I've done in my life!"
"You are so beautiful!"
"She sounds like a sheep!"
"Holy cow! It's a baby! Look! It's a baby!"
"You're sure a lot louder than I thought you'd be!"
Kieran's mum is moving back to the west coast very soon, so we'll have another "tea and debrief" very soon. And she'll probably tell me that my memory is faulty after all these years, that she actually wore her silk dress when her third baby was born. And I'll tell her that, at the very least, my memory is clear about her strength in labour. The sound memories are clear, too. The garbage truck, the children outside. And I'll say I'm sorry that I left her head during Kieran's birth, and that I think of her every time I whisper, "You are safe," to each woman as she gives birth...
And then, we'll tell more slow stories of our lives...