Given Pause – An Appendicitis Story

I’ll never get to support my partner through labor and birth, simply because he’s a cis man, and well, it’s biologically impossible.

Of course, as a doula, I’ve supported and backed up birth partners again and again. I have a pretty good sense of how difficult it is to see one’s loved ones in pain. So why would I ever need the experience of supporting my partner myself?

After all, I know how to stand with clients – those in labor as well as their partners. I know how to help them through the uncertainties; how to facilitate communication with medical staff; and help clients build the confidence to cope with the intensity of transition or unexpected events. And, as a mother I have supported my children though pain and medical and emergency room visits time and time again.

I know how to “doula” my family as well as how to help others “doula” theirs. Or I did anyway, until it was about MY. PARTNER. And therefore, all about me.

Until the morning when I found myself packing all three wide-eyed, worried children into the car and driving their incredibly pale and, clearly suffering, dad to the ER, ushering them into a tiny triage space, and looking over to see a monitor showing his blood pressure was 60/20….wait, What?

Despite years of experience looking at and interpreting meaning from other people’s monitors, I could barely take the numbers in: “That’s not a blood pressure…that’s…woah, that is way too low.” I suddenly had no more doula skills at that moment, or in many of the moments that followed.

I struggled to call them back of course, and for most of the experience that followed, I did manage it. I was able to do what needed to be done: get the kids to a friend; get back to support Mr. K; stay by his side as he struggled through coping with the unknown, and pain, and waiting. There was so much waiting – first for a diagnosis: appendicitis, then for surgery, and eventually, through recovery.

Woven in between those moments of handling everything though, I lost it. I completely lost it. The fear and the uncertainty, relatively small in hindsight, became oh-so-large to me when I could not tell what was happening as the pain and intensity increased for him.

We had been told it would be hours before surgery and moved to a room to wait. In those moments as he lay there on his back with the pressure building and the feeling of being about to explode breaking through the morphine, he was convinced, and being pretty convincing, that his insides were going to burst any minute.

Granted, I know appendicitis is minor in comparison to so many other things. I feel certain now that we had the benefit of care we could fully trust and which was among the best in the world. Other loved ones have experienced and pulled through much worse. But until that day I had never truly looked at the possibility of the complete and utter end of my own reality with my partner. I had never considered myself possibly about to lose him, or ever been so unable to help anyone cope, most especially him.

Was his appendix truly about to burst as he feared? Did the doctors really know? Could things have changed that rapidly for him? He was in mental agony, the surgeon was busy, the nurses simply couldn’t respond fast enough, and I had no way to stop it or to “shut him off” as he was pleading.

Finally, he vomited and then came relief. We sheepishly understood that this was what had been causing the unbearable increase in pressure. Puke.

Man could I have used a doula right then. And for a brief period after he was finally able to sleep, I sat there and lost it. I sobbed and shook – at the fear and the uncertainty and just the sheer need to shake out the adrenaline.

So what happens for me as a doula now that I’ve gotten to experience losing my shit in a hospital setting over my partner’s appendicitis? Am I some sort of super doula, impervious to the unknown and never to lose it again? Better than ever at supporting both mamas and their loved ones? Nope. And maybe a little, yes.

Perhaps I have a few more drops of compassion to offer clients, gained through finding compassion for myself in that moment and in the days that followed. Through looking back and seeing how neither Mr. K. nor I could have done anything differently given what we knew, and that even if I would have myself behave differently now, I was doing only the best I could in the moment, as was he.

And with that new knowledge, and that new understanding, I hope I am just a wee bit better at being a doula – for myself and for others.

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