It’s more than just “pulling a baby out.” Emery had been working as a doula for three solid years and while she didn’t mind explaining her career to random people at a party, it got a little irritating to repeat herself constantly to family members.
Maybe you really can’t understand unless you’ve had a baby, she wondered to herself while sipping Country Time lemonade at one of her 37 first cousins’ birthday get-togethers. But, that didn’t excuse Grandma Bertie because she’d had six kids. Whatever. She checked her phone. She had one client who wasn’t technically due for another nine days but she just, well, had a feeling. That ‘feeling’ didn’t replace school, studying, or hands-on experience, all of which Emery took very seriously. But that ‘feeling’ did help her out a lot more than she would like to admit. And, there it was.
A text bubble appeared right as she was about to switch off the screen. Her client was having contractions ten minutes apart. Emery’s fingers flew across her keyboard.
“Be right there.”
She would have thought that after committing to this profession for her entire post-college life that her family would understand her sudden departures from these kinds of events.
“A birth!” Emery repeated over and over and over to the cousins and aunts and somebody’s new boyfriend on her way through the backyard, basically clawing her way to her green Subaru.
“Like, a baby is coming.”
“But you’re going to miss the cake. And Grandma baked it.”
Emery didn’t have time to explain that babies entering the birth canal didn’t care about her Grandmother’s culinary skills. “Save me a piece,” she yelled over her shoulder as she snapped on her seatbelt and floored it out of the cul-de-sac in Virginia, driving over to the outskirts of DC where her client lived.
Emery didn’t really have to get used to this life mainly because she loved it. And that was why she didn’t mind justifying her life choices to the people who knew her as a child. See, Emery had been a boxer. Yeah, a female boxer, and the people who knew her best associated her with bulging biceps and, well, quite a lot of aggression. She’d spent her youth hanging out with the boys. She had one or more black eyes for seven years of school pictures and didn’t have her first professional manicure until she became a bridesmaid at her favorite cousin’s wedding. No one thought of her as a person devoted to essential oils and prenatal care. The truth was, that her past and avid devotion to boxing was what gave her the core skills to be the best at her job. Endurance, patience, strength, and focus were the exact qualities she was able to transfer over from her more… well… combative days.
“You used to be so tough,” her childhood friend, Shawn, would tease as they went for their morning jog together. “Now it's all like, lavender and babies. Pssht.” Shawn shook his head and shrugged in his black hoodie. He couldn’t give her any more grief because Shawn was out of breath. This still stung. Emery wished it didn’t, but she liked her tough reputation. It was fun to be respected in that way.. Although, she wasn’t happy that her new career put her in a position where she had to prove that to her loved ones, she knew her clients were well aware that her brawn mixed with her intuition were what made her an exceptional teammate in the birthing room.
Birth was tough. She had seen it all, the power of women’s bodies being able to sustain the pain and physical strain that forcing an actual human out of their bodies required. Not to mention, the insanity that was nursing that immediately followed. Yes, pregnant women were some of the most tenacious people Emery had ever met. They just didn’t get to throw punches in a ring to prove it. It was too bad. Emery would bet her money on an angry mama over a champion feather weight any day.
She pulled up to the hospital and waited for her client. It was her second baby and the first had been a rough experience. Emery vowed to do whatever she could to make this one better. And she did.
The birth went extremely well. Emery felt like she had been a strong and reliable advocate for the mother who was adamant about not wanting a C-section. She’d helped the mama stretch and breath and relax her body so she could push with the contractions. And, she’d stopped the woman’s husband from chiming in with “help.” She’d stayed calm when the woman thought she didn’t have any more pushing left in her and whispered some really inspiring words of encouragement in her ear. In her own head, Emery heard the Rocky theme song, like she always did. And, it worked. A healthy, screaming baby was in her arms in under three hours and the OB asked Emery for her business card.
“A lot of my patients could benefit from your skill.”
Emery beamed as she replayed this compliment on a loop in her head as she chose her vegetables from the hospital cafeteria’s salad bar. She was starving. It was funny how her mind and body went into pure focus mode as soon as the newborn decided to make its way Earth-side. She could ignore hunger, the need to pee, stress, anything really. Hours would fly by, she was just totally in the zone and even she was impressed by her own focus. This is how she knew that doula work was her calling.
This was the life of Emery Haven. She had four or five clients a month. She spent her days attending prenatal appointments, visiting clients at their homes, consulting on the phone, and, holidays or not, was always on call. That year, she felt quite lucky that no one had a due date within the ten days of Thanksgiving. So, the Wednesday before, Emery notified her clients that she would be three hours away, spending the dinner at her boyfriend’s parent’s house in Virginia. No one seemed upset. And Emery wasn’t worried. She didn’t think, based on their pregnancies thus far, that anyone would be going into labor particularly early. Of course, and y’all know this, she was wrong.
That Thanksgiving felt especially festive. It was Emery’s first real holiday with Chase’s family and it was going really well. His mom had placed little votive candles all over the living room and the flickering flames along with (yes, a little early) Christmas music and all the food put Emery deep into the holiday spirit. The house was filled with all the smells that make a person feel both hungry and cozy at the same time. She’d worn heels and a silk skirt for the occasion. Since she rarely dressed up in her regular life, she felt fancy and fun. She took a sip of champagne, letting the bubbles bounce down her throat. And then she put the glass down. Her intuition knocked. No, better not, she told herself, just in case…
Good thinking, Emery. Because, of course, that was the exact moment that her phone buzzed and her most pregnant mama was having contractions. Emery looked around at Chase’s family, sad that this night was ending so soon. But his mother and aunts and cousins had a bit more insight than her relatives.
“Good luck!” They called as Emery put on her wool coat and quickly hugged her boyfriend goodbye. He’d be stuck taking the train on his own the next day.
Rolling through the Beltway in her trusty Subaru, with the heat blasting and Erykah Badu soothing her ears over the radio, Emery, for the first time, felt a little sad to have to go to work. There was something pretty awesome about what she did. The fact that her work, the job that put food on her table, and fabulous furniture in her apartment, also came with a surge of adrenaline never ceased to amaze her. And getting to be part of the most important moment in someone’s life? That wasn’t lost on her either. But the truth was, she’d spent so much of the past few years focusing on other people’s lives, that maybe she hadn’t spent enough time focusing on her own. But Emery pushed that particular thought out of her head and promised herself that she’d reexamine it another day. Her phone rang. It was Jada, her client.
“I think I’m having contractions every two minutes.” Wait - what? Emery looked at her car’s digital clock. That couldn’t be right.
“You need to get to the hospital now,” Emery replied in a voice that exuded a practiced calm, “I thought you were closer to ten minutes apart.”
“I was walking from room to room.” Jada explained breathlessly, “and the clock on the stove is four minutes fast. Jason does that so he won’t be late. It’s idiotic. He’s still late. But it screwed up my math. Is that bad? Am I ok?”
Emery felt her pulse quicken and a lump form in her throat. She glanced at her GPS and pressed her foot down on the gas.
“Get your bag, tell Jason not to run any red lights but to get you there NOW. And I will be there in-” Emery watched her GPS cut two minutes off of her ETA as her speedometer noted that she was now fifteen miles an hour over the speed limit.
“I’ll meet you in the lobby. Call me as much as you want.”
She arrived at Liberty Maternal Hospital twenty-seven minutes later without getting pulled over. She screeched into employee parking, crossing her fingers that no one was patrolling the spaces that night, and rushed to the main entrance to wait for Jada who arrived seconds later. Sometimes, time was on her side.
Jada and Emery had bonded immediately from their first meeting. Mostly over sports. Jada had been a college basketball player and had even played in Europe for a bit. She worked for a startup now and this was her first child. She was still extremely athletic and took her health seriously. Emery would meet her at the local gym where she would try to keep up with her client even as the pregnancy progressed. Emery would spot Jada on the bench press, amazed at this woman’s capabilities. She drew smiles and headshakes from the other people working out. There was a Serena Williams vibe happening at that specific 24-Hour Fitness and Emery was there for it. She didn’t doubt Jada’s body’s ability to make it through the next hours, though, she did have some doubts about the other team member, her husband, and his ability to provide a calm coolness to the atmosphere. She willed the time by.
Jada wasn’t lying. Those contractions were serious and close together. She was having a hard time getting out of the back seat of their SUV. Jada had spent more hours in a gym than the majority of people on this planet. Despite her physical attributes, she could not get her feet out from under her. This baby was going to make its mama work for it. Emery hopped into the front seat in her silk skirt and kitten heels, climbing over the console into the back to help stabilize her client. Jada was able to get herself out of the car with Emery pushing and holding her shoulders and back. And that’s when it happened.
Maybe the frosty air had left an invisible slick spot on the sidewalk. Maybe adrenaline had taken over both of the women. Maybe it was just one of those perfect storm moments. Whatever it was, a major contraction threw Jada into a full-body convulsion which made her doula lose her balance and Emery fell off the curb and onto the asphalt.
“Oh, shit, Emery. Are you ok?” Jason yelled while holding his wife with one arm and helping Emery up with the other. Well..well, Emery thought, maybe Jason had more in him than she thought.
“Everything is fine, don’t worry about me. Jada, I need you to count your exhales with me.” Emery was all-business, in the zone, and laser-focused.
She got up and negotiated Jada into a wheelchair. They rushed through the lobby, down the corridor, and into the labor and delivery unit. Emery used her strength to help get Jada onto a bed and helped her breathe and focus through each contraction. She massaged her shoulders and talked to her in a voice that even the nurses would remember as devastatingly soothing. When her clients needed to move, Emery insisted that the nurses let her walk. She knew that what this particular woman needed was to move.
She walked with Jada down the hospital hallways, pausing each time the soon-to-be mama needed to crouch down and talk her down from the pain. Emery ran up the stairs to get cups of ice for her to chew on. She ran down to the lobby to alert the doctor that the baby was on its way. Then, when it was go-time, she ran across the room to catch Jada’s husband when he slow-motion fainted after seeing the baby crown. She chuckled to herself, called it.
It was only when that chubby, screaming, and absolutely beautiful baby boy made his way into this world, that Emery noticed a pain in her foot. As soon as Jada was comfortable, her husband was conscious and sitting in an armchair, and her baby was swaddled, sleeping peacefully in her arms, Emery looked down and was in shock. Her ankle was a shiny purple color and a good three sizes larger than the other one. Only after she noticed her foot did the rushing pain start to filter through her body. It was as if her brain needed her eyes to see it before it sent the pain signals through her nerves. Oh, and then it hurt. Like, it really, really freaking hurt. And there was a white bump surrounded by blood which was, uh oh, Emery felt herself about to faint.
She grabbed for something to stabilize herself with, which ended up being the same wheelchair she was running next to just a few minutes earlier, and rolled… herself… to the ER wing of the hospital. One of the nurses noticed her from the labor room and said, “WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?”
Her foot had gotten so swollen so quickly that the doctors had to cut the sides of her Thanksgiving heel to pry it off.
The Labor nurse was so impressed the word started to spread around the floor. Doctors and nurses alike poked their heads in to get a glimpse of the superwoman who had assisted, ran around, and delivered a baby in heels might I add, with a severely broken ankle. They were kind enough to pump her with some strong painkillers, fast-track the x-rays, and fit her with a fluorescent pink cast.
Emery, buzzing a bit from the adrenaline and a bit from the painkillers, finally took a deep breath. How did that happen? Her eyes widened when the memory of rolling her ankle off the curb flooded back into her brain. Is that possible? Yeah, it hurt for a second, but she was so focused on Jada that she pushed it away and concentrated on the job at hand. A few minutes later a doctor came in and sat down and said, “Well, I’ve never seen anything like that before, you're tough as nails. But, you need to stay off your feet because while you were being superhuman, you didn’t do any favors to your ankle.”
The next few weeks were a literal pain. Emery hated being immobile. She was cranky about not being able to go for a jog and really did not like asking Chase to get her bags of ice, or, well, anything. It was irritatingly humbling. There were, however, two upsides.
One was the tough-ass reputation that spread around Liberty Maternity Hospital faster than Mono at a high school dance. Her phone rang daily with new mothers who had been referred by both the nurses and doctors from that specific night. So, business was booming.
And, her family heard about it because good news travels fast. Now, at the BBQs and birthday parties, and first communions, all of her many nieces and nephews gather around to hear the family tell the story of their strongest superhuman relative, Emery, “ With one hand she was delivering a baby, with the other she was holding up the soon to be dad, then she fought off a fire-breathing dragon, all while balancing on a painful broken foot… then… she wheeled HERSELF to the ER uphill…
Yeah, the story got more exaggerated as time went on, as stories do. But Emery didn’t mind. She never had to answer again to her nagging family about her life choices, and she secured her place with the title, ‘toughest in the family,’ without ever having to put back on a boxing glove.