My Unexpected Doula

I felt the pressure of his 9-year-old hands on my lower back as I tried to surrender to the power of my birthing body. I had applied the “sacrum press” thousands of times myself in my career as a birth doula. Thanks to Pax, the surge immediately felt easier. 

“Just relax, Mama,” he said as he continued to hold space for me in the most loving, patient, and devoted way. 

My firstborn child: Pax, my 9-year-old son. My unexpected doula. 

After my two children were born, I left my career as a high school English teacher to become a birth worker. With the foundation of HypnoBirhting, an approach to childbirth that involves the mind-body connection and using deep relaxation techniques, both Pax’s and Laura’s births were transformative, empowering, and ultimately transcendent experiences (albeit very different- Pax’s was a hospital birth with a variety of interventions, including Pitocin; Laura’s was a natural water birth at home with the support of amazing midwives). My birthing experiences sparked a passion in me to help others experience better birthing. Within a year of Laura’s birth, I became a certified HypnoBirthing Practitioner and a Birth Doula, and was quickly busy supporting doula clients and teaching childbirth education classes. 

I have since helped usher in over 100 babies. Supporting women through the journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenthood has become my passion, my gift, my dharma. 

For years my husband Justin and I had been resolute on not having any more children. We had two, beautiful, healthy children, Pax and Laura just over two years apart. Parenthood was the hardest thing we had ever done and at times nearly pushed our marriage to the breaking point. Our children were energetic, spirited, and demanding. Why add more to our plate? We had two healthy, thriving children- why tempt fate? 

So for many years I thought I would never give birth again, that I was now to be the educator, the advocate, witness, the support system, the birth doula. Little did I know that it was also my work as a birth worker that would ultimately lead me to have a third child, almost ten years after giving birth to my first.

Again and again, witnessing the power of birth, the sweetness of newborns, the tenderness of partners lovingly supporting the process, eventually led to the desire and calling to have a third child. During a meditation prior to attending a birth in October 2020, I sensed the words, “I am waiting; I am ready.” I thought they were the words of the baby we were all waiting on that day but I soon realized this was the essence of my own little one who was patiently waiting to be called forth. 

On a chilly fall evening in 2020 after putting Pax and Laura to sleep, I mustered up the courage to tell Justin of this calling, “I think we need to have another baby.” 

He initially dismissed me, thinking it was just one of those things I said from time to time without really meaning it. “No we do not,” he chuckled, not taking me seriously.

The days went by and the calling persisted and grew. It was the strongest physical yearning I have ever experienced. It was as though my body wanted to be pregnant, to give birth, to feel the roundness of the baby’s head at my perineum, to feel the warmth of slippery newborn skin against mine, and the gentle tug of a baby’s mouth at my nipple. There were a million reasons to dismiss the inklings of my body. 

I explained these stirrings to a dear friend from high school, who has always been so wise. She survived a horrible cancer a few years back, a sarcoma that could have easily killed her. She said with such conviction, “Listen to what your body is telling you. Your body knows best.” If anyone knew the lessons of the body, it was her! 

Two months later I was pregnant. 

I always tell my clients that the dominant emotion they should feel when they think about where they will deliver their baby is safety, “If you don’t feel safe, the birthing process won’t progress as nature intended.” We are no different than our mammalian counterparts in the wild. If a deer is in the midst of the birthing process and hears a rustling in the bushes that causes her to perceive danger, her body will instinctively go into the fight, flight, or freeze response, her body will prioritize her defense system, and her birthing will be suspended until she finds herself in an environment that is private, comfortable, and above all else safe. There is no way her body will allow her to birth her vulnerable young into an environment she perceives to be dangerous. If it did, this would be nature’s greatest flaw, as her newborn would most likely be eaten by predators within minutes of its birth. 

We fancy humans are no different. And this is why choosing a birthing location and medical provider that makes you feel safe is paramount to a smooth birthing. 

As a 39-year-old woman, the plan was to deliver my baby at a Birth Center across the street from a major hospital. This felt like the safest choice for me and my baby. But after a short hospital stay at 38 weeks due to false labor (the Birthing Center was closed because of staffing shortages over Labor Day Weekend), I very quickly realized that this was not where I wanted to bring my baby into the world. It just felt wrong. Every part of my being wanted out and could not envision birthing there. 

The next day while in the shower, I received a major “download.” This is what my father, a spiritual shaman of sorts, calls a divine knowing. The message: I wanted to deliver this baby in the comfort and privacy of my home. With my children coming in and out. With my cozy bed, my curtains, my clothes, with no need for a birth bag because everything I needed was right there. 

I quickly called a team of homebirth midwives I had been familiar with through friends and previous clients and they happened to have last-minute availability to take me on. I had no choice but to follow the advice I had given to all of my clients over the years: Trust your intuition on where you feel the safest to birth your baby. It was an easy choice. So easy that the midwife was surprised I didn’t have more questions for her when we spoke. 

The greatest gift of birthing Lucy at home was to have my son by my side throughout the entire birth (due to covid restrictions, had I stuck with my original birth plan, he would not have been allowed to attend the birth at the birth center or hospital). 

Surges began around 1 AM, the morning of September 14th, 2021. I relaxed in bed, dozing here and there as the waves came and went and gently built in intensity. I allowed Justin to sleep, quietly informing him at the sound of his daily 5:45 AM alarm, “It’s happening!”. I got out of bed and ready for the day ahead, knowing today would be the day I would meet my sweet baby on the outside. I hung the earrings I wore as a talisman for all the births I had supported- the one ritual I had developed as a doula. It felt only fitting to slide them into place this morning. 

I got situated on my birth ball in my bedroom as the sun began to come through the curtains, a gentle late summer breeze blowing them ever so gently. Pax and Laura came quietly into the room to bid me good morning, astonished that I was actually and finally “in labor”. Laura, 7 years old, was anxious to get to school to announce the exciting news to her classmates and teachers. 

Pax asked ever so simply, “Can I miss school and stay with you?” We had discussed the possibility of him seeing the birth throughout the pregnancy as covid restrictions ebbed and flowed but hadn’t made a firm plan. 

He’s always been a learner, a lover of the natural world, animals, and natural processes; always inquisitive, curious, and eager “to know.” Throughout the pregnancy, I had envisioned him with me at the birth and never doubted that he would be able to handle the intensity of the experience. It was an easy choice.  

At 7:30 AM he settled in with me for the day. He fetched me water, snacks, hair ties, and went back and forth to and from the microwave for the rice pack that eased the cramping in my lower back; he learned how to read the fetal monitor, how to understand the doppler, about dilation and the purpose of contractions; he held my hand, he rubbed my back, he spoke to me softly, he held the space, he was tender, he was gentle; he was everything I needed him to be. 

One surge followed the next and I went within, closing my eyes and becoming silent, allowing my body and baby to do what they needed to do without getting in the way. I knew my only job was to trust, surrender, and relax into my birthing. I remained in the bedroom all day, moving between my bed, my ball, my bathroom, and the lovely tub of warm water. My midwives came and went. My mother and Justin quietly and lovingly supported me- they came and went, too. The minutes turned into hours and Pax remained by my side for every second (at one point my little shadow even followed me into the bathroom; “buddy, it’s ok,” I said, “I just need to pee!”).

My devoted, unexpected doula. 

He was completely and utterly dedicated to holding space for me in the most quiet, nurturing, supportive and respectful way. 

By mid-afternoon, my surges were powerful and intense. I knew my baby was close as I could feel the pressure building and the slight urge to bear down. I was 9 cm with my waters still intact. We knew the sack was acting as a buffer between my baby and cervix; we tried releasing it by sitting on the toilet and utilizing several different positions. The intensity increased. The pressure built. Pax’s quiet voice. His little hands. His concerned, empathetic face.  

Finally, the waters released in a hot gush as I sat on the birth ball. I slid back into the pool the midwives had set up in the middle of the bedroom. The intensity was at its height now but I knew I must surrender, trust, and allow it to happen. 

Pax stayed with me right at the edge of the tub, making eye contact with me whenever I had a break and the energy to open my eyes. 

Cat Stevens’s song, “Don’t Be Shy”, came on: 

Don’t be shy, just let your feelings roll on by

Don’t wear fear or nobody will know you’re there

Just lift your head, and let your feelings out instead

You know love is better than a song

Love is where all of us belong

I was quickly moved to tears by Pax’s unwavering support throughout all the hours of the day. The tears gently rolled down my cheeks in honor of the most touching experience of my entire life: a birth doula supported in the most beautiful, heartfelt way by her very own child- just a boy.  

Lucy was very close now. I could feel the pressure building. Pax got me to 10 centimeters, ready to move into the final stage of the birth process. But I knew if I were to be able to fully surrender to the power and intensity of the final stage, I needed to do it without Pax, for I could not play both roles as mother to Pax and birthing mother to Lucy.  

The timing worked out perfectly, as Pax had a very special event at his karate studio, The Dojo, that he had hoped to attend, a master martial artist was leading a class. Sensing the privacy I needed now, he kissed me goodbye. As soon as he left, I began to gently bear down, nudging Lucy along her path. 

I was in no rush. I wanted this part to be as slow and gentle as I could make it. My intention for this birth was to feel in control of the second stage, to avoid the frantic, panicky pushing mode that overtook me for my first two births. 

As a HynoBirthing instructor, I knew that a gentle, calm second stage was possible. This time, I wanted more control over the process. I wanted to preserve my perineum and avoid tearing like I had for Pax’s and Laura’s birth. I focused my breath and began giving gentle nudges. I instinctively knew I’d feel more control out of the water so I moved to my bed and placed a washcloth over my eyes to afford me the privacy I needed to bring my baby down. It was intense to move her through but I felt a sense of calm control over the process. 

At 5:32 PM Luciana Eleanor Lindenmayer was born. Her name means “graceful light.” Utter relief and joy flooded my body and soul. In an instant, my family was complete. 

To simultaneously experience the great, unconditional love for my newest child Lucy and receive the full extent of my first child’s love for me was an intersection that I will always consider to be one of life’s greatest gifts. 


About Author : Ellie Lindenmayer

Ellie Lindenmayer is the founder of Joyful Birthing & Beyond. She is a childbirth educator, HypnoBirthing Practitioner, birth doula, lactation counselor and sleep consultant. She is a mother of three and passionate about all things birth & baby!