"Help me birth my own baby!"

She is a tiny lady with a big, basketball-sized belly. Mary Lou, who works at the bakery, and her husband, Joe, our local mechanic, had found their way to our county's childbirth education class. Mary Lou and Joe had grown up in a small Eastern North Carolina town. They had married right out of high school and now, living in Raleigh, were preparing for the birth of their first baby.

Mary Lou was quiet and soft spoken. She rarely raised a question but often jotted down notes as the class went along. When asked, "Why did you decide to come to this class?" Mary Lou had said, "'cause I want to birth my own baby. I want to push him out into this big, wonderful world!"

Mary Lou had heard stories about birth from other ladies at the bakery. Benita had been told that her "baby seemed too big," so she was induced -- only to deliver a 6 pound, 3 ounce baby boy. Jackie's doctor had thought that her pelvis might be too small, so a c-section was done and she delivered a 7 pound, "late premie."

Mary Lou's doctor had already discussed with her "getting an epidural"; he also mentioned that a c-section before the holidays might be "more convenient" for her. But Mary Lou stayed determined. "I bake great sourdough bread," she exclaimed. "It's supposed to stay in the oven for 60 minutes. If I take it out at 50 minutes, it's soft in the middle!"

Mary Lou asked for a volunteer doula to be present at her birth. The three of them made a formidable team, and Justin was born a healthy 8 pounds, 3 ounces, two days after her "due date."

It's such a big job being a parent. There are challenges such as solving early breastfeeding problems, teaching a two-year-old not to bite his best friend, advocating for a kindergarten child with learning issues, helping a school-aged boy deal with a bully in class or a teen whose friends use drugs. I often wonder what impact we have on the confidence and fortitude of parents from the get-go when such a large percent of women are told they can't even birth their own baby. What does the medical world take from women when we deny them what may be the most empowering experience of their lives?

May Lou had it right: "I want to push my baby out into this big, wonderful world." We are lucky when our job is to help her do just that!
[See www.dona.org/ for information on doulas]