Two weeks ago, my oldest friend had a baby. She is brave and powerful and amazing, just like my patients are, but I am not her midwife and so I was a wreck. I was a wreck because I love her so much and I loved her baby even before she was born and I didn't know how different it was to be with someone, really with someone in that space, someone that you love.
I drove the six hours to be with her because I couldn't imagine missing it. I met her boyfriend for the first time when I got there, and gladly accepted hugs from her mother, who I've called "Mom" for as long as I can remember.
I made her walk the halls with me for four hours and we caught up on life as it is now, and reminisced about our high school antics until she couldn't talk during her contractions and we were running out of ice chips. I tried very hard not to hover over her when the midwife would check her cervix, and I tried to be helpful to her nurses who were, every one of them, so kind. I listened carefully to everything every doctor and midwife said and then explained it all again to her family, drawing little diagrams in the air when the baby turned out to be OP, and explaining what the fetal monitor meant with all its squiggly lines.
I held her hand and dozed in between her contractions, because her epidural only took the edge off and she woke up with every one. Twice, through a haze of Nubain and Benadryl, she woke up and looked at me and told me, "I'm so glad you're here. I couldn't do this without you," and I smiled and told her there was nowhere I'd rather be. She closed her eyes again and I felt like breaking open as a tear leaked down my nose because I wanted to take all her pain and hold it inside me and bury it deep but I couldn't.
I changed the pad under her every time she felt wet, and I made her open her eyes and look at me when she couldn't stop saying, I can't, I can't, I can't, and I told her that yes she could, she already was, and to squeeze my hand as hard as it hurt and to push through the pain even though it felt impossible.
And in the end, after the consent had been signed and her epidural was bolused, I pulled the curtain around us and sat on her bed and told her that it wasn't her fault, that the baby wasn't moving down because of how her head was positioned and that she did such a good job, the best job ever, and that everything was going to be okay. I told her how brave she was, and how strong she had been, and how after 48 hours of labor, the doctors were right, it was time for a Cesarean.
They wheeled her away and I fell apart. I felt like I'd failed her, like I'd let down my oldest and dearest friend by not being able to doula her out of an OP, asynclitic and unflexed baby's head. I am blessed to have midwifery friends who very gently and matter-of-factly pointed out how ridiculous that was.
So I waited till she was out of surgery, and helped her get the baby latched on, and stayed just a tiny bit longer and then drove all the way back to Connecticut in the wee hours of the night, already missing her sweet face and the baby's soft downy hair.
I couldn't be her midwife, but that was okay. Because I am so lucky to be her friend.