To my doula,

My first birth was far from what I had imagined, but I didn't know until much later how deeply it scarred me. It was the only birth I'd ever been through, and after all, labor is always arduous and painful.

When it came time to think about childbirth with my second baby, I felt myself coiling in fear. People say that once labor is over, you forget about the pain.

But I didn't forget.

In an instant, I could re-enter that hospital room where I writhed in pain for hours. I could re-experience the terror and powerlessness that usurped my body. I could remember how certain I was that I would die before labor ended.

You arrived at my home for our first meeting when I was about halfway through my second pregnancy. I told you I didn't have a detailed plan for how I wanted birth to go—I just knew I didn't want to feel powerless and afraid again.

I meant what I said, but deep inside, in a place I could not acknowledge, there lived an ideal version of birth that I was too afraid to name. I hired you because, on some level, I hoped you would be able to give me that experience—a second labor entirely different from my first.

I knew you couldn't guarantee that, of course. But I felt you could get me as close as possible.

I had blamed all my postpartum struggles the first time around—the pain, the long recovery, the postpartum anxiety and depression—on my childbirth experience. And I thought the only way to avoid all that the second time was to have a picture-perfect birth. I would go into labor on my own, practice mindfulness and hypnobirthing, push for just a few contractions and then have a baby placed on my chest. Neat and tidy.

But it turned out my second labor was remarkably similar to my first.

I was induced, again. But you kept me patient through the long process, reassuring me at every step that labor was progressing normally, even if slowly.

Labor was grueling and painful, again. But because of your cues to drop my shoulders and release the tension, I felt connected to my body rather than terrified by it.

And the pushing phase—the part I feared most, the part I desperately hoped would be shorter and less traumatic—was longer and more strenuous than I ever could have imagined. Half an hour went by with no progress. A full hour, and then two. I was depleted and still so far from the end, with no reserves of energy and a flagging sense of hope. When the nurse placed an oxygen mask on my face, you saw panic flare in my eyes.

"You're okay, Brittany," you said, placing a hand on my head. "And your sweet baby is okay. We're just giving him a little extra help so he stays that way. Keep breathing. Pull that oxygen deep into your lungs and into your baby's body."

I took a deep breath and pushed again.

"That's it," you told me. "Good job, mama. But you need to get him out faster. You can do it. I know you can. Drop your shoulders and push again."

Another breath, another push, and seemingly no progress. I fell back onto the bed, defeated and exhausted and ready to break.

"I know you wanted this to be different," you whispered between contractions. "I know you wanted to breathe him out gently. But your baby is telling us what he needs. He's stuck, and he needs you to push really hard."

I nodded through my tears. Another breath, another push.

You locked your eyes on mine. "I know you're scared. I know you're tired. I know you thought this would be over by now. But you're doing it, mama, even though you can't see it. You're moving him down inch by inch."

With each whispered word, I felt my strength and courage return.

I pushed again and again and again, and finally we saw his head, then his shoulders, then his whole body—slippery and warm and perfect.

The doctor placed him on my chest and suddenly it was just him and me in the room. I found out later that you took pictures on my phone, helped my husband cut the cord and assisted me with breastfeeding. I don't remember any of it. But I know that your presence made it all possible.

All along, I had thought I needed an entirely different, by-the-book "perfect" childbirth in order to experience healing. Instead, I labored through an almost identical experience to my first, except for one key difference—you.

Because of you, my son's birth was marked not by fear and trauma but by confidence and empowerment, even in the most difficult moments.

Because of you, I was present in each moment and connected to my body.

Because of you, my doula and friend, I experienced redemption.

Thank you.