Hi! My name is Kathryn Elizabeth Gardner, but that makes me sound like a character in a Jane Austen novel so please, call me Kayte. I was born in Salt Lake but spent most of my life in Oklahoma City. This means that I grew up in a place that was busy enough and big enough to have traffic and crime but never get mentioned on television. It also means that I grew up saying “y’all” and have a slight accent every now and then BUT I have no idea how to ride a horse.
I went to college in Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University (GO POKES!!) and studied sociology. I planned on getting my masters in forensic psychology. The plan was to teach and write and consult and profile. Glorified desk work basically, but life got in the way when I met Mark. Mark has more in common with the movie TRON than he does with any Austen novels. Still, he totally and completely surprised me and literally swept me off my feet. He saved me from a tornado and 9 months later we were married. He is the best and most impulsive choice I ever made.
We moved to Utah shortly after we were married because my husband is a tech wizard and “Silicon Slopes” had jobs that wanted his skills. At first I was at a loss of what to do with myself. I had planned on being a perpetual student and desk jockey but my life had changed in so many big ways over such a short time. The life I planned didn’t really seem to fit the person I was becoming anymore. I decided to find work in the mental health field. The people and the lessons I learned during this time changed my life. I learned how to hold space and hold boundaries. I learned how to listen, connect, and empathize with people. I learned how to empower someone instead of just enabling them. I use all of these lessons today in every part of my life, as a mother, a wife, and a doula. They became the foundation to what I like to call “my mental and emotional doula bag”.
our Impossible girl
About 2 years after we moved to Utah I got pregnant with our first child, Clara Renae Gardner, our very own “Impossible Girl”. I am a type 1 diabetic, so I always knew my pregnancy and birth would not be the ideal natural birth I had always wanted, but I was determined to get as close as possible. I was healthy, I was an active participant in all my doctors appointments, my husband and I took classes, I asked relevant questions. I felt like I was prepared. I went into labor spontaneously at 39 weeks. We drove to the hospital. I labored for close to 17 hours surrounded by the love and support of my husband and my mom. Labor was honestly wonderful. I loved feeling my body working, I loved feeling that powerful, and then everything went horribly wrong.
I don’t want to get into the details here. Part of the reason is that it’s still hard to think of that moment when everything got turned on its head. The other part, an even bigger part is I know pregnant women are going to read this. The last thing I want is for you to read the details here and have them color your own birth and pregnancy. What I will say is that what happened to me and Clara was statistically unlikely if you look at my medical records. It surprised everyone, me, my husband, both our families, the doctor, the nurses, and it broke all our hearts. Four days after her birth Clara died. To feel that door between life and death swing open and close so many times in such a short amount of time was another experience that changed me. I learned that joy and despair and pain and relief are all sides of the same dice. I learned that connection is the most important part of serving someone. I learned that you really can do anything for one minute, and sometimes all you can focus on is one minute at a time. These lessons also went into my mental/emotional doula bag and I have used these lessons more times than I can count.
Our surprising boy
After Clara’s funeral I was determined to handle grief and loss well, and in many ways I did. I was open and authentic with my grief, My husband and I went to therapy, I wrote about my thoughts and feelings in a very raw and personal way. In many other ways, however, I did not handle it particularly well. I isolated myself from others. I impulsively quit jobs. I ate my feelings. Even with all these thoughts, feelings, and actions making the air thick and the days hard, life still carried on. We moved. My mom came to live with us. I got a different job and so did Mark. We celebrated Mother’s day, then Clara’s birthday, and then Father’s day. Then one day close to Christmas I got pregnant with baby number two.
When I got pregnant with my son, Fox, I wanted a baby so so bad, but I didn’t want to be pregnant. I didn’t want to think about birth or what could happen. I didn’t want to connect with this being inside me that I might never get the chance to properly meet or know. I went to my doctors appointments and asked no real questions. I made an active choice not to learn anything about birth or development. At 34 weeks I scheduled a c-section and at 34 weeks and 6 days I went into labor. I couldn’t make myself believe I was in labor though. Maybe it was gas, or the flu, or food poisoning. I walked around my house trying to get comfortable. Maybe I should try sitting on the toilet for a bit, I thought. This was followed by more pacing and swaying. Maybe I should just go lay down, was my next bright idea. My husband came home from work and asked if there was anything he could do to help me feel better, maybe go get me some food? After eating a cheeseburger and fries we both decided to call it an early night and go to bed. I was up four hours later. My “food poisoning” was getting worse. I tried to go to the bathroom again but nothing happened. Then I remembered the sounds I made during labor and how making those sounds made me feel better. Sure I wasn’t “in labor” but sounding my pain out couldn’t hurt right? My moaning woke Mark up who decided it was time to start timing my “stomach bug”. About 20 minutes later my moaning woke my mom up who decided we were passed the point of timing contractions or humoring me. She got us in the car and told Mark to step on it. We pulled up to American Fork hospital and about 40 minutes later Fox was born. A complete stubborn surprise, just like his daddy. He was early, he had a bit of a NICU visit, but he was alive, here, and safe. My body didn’t fail me or my baby. I did it. Fox’s birth changed me and brought me back to life. I learned to get out of my head and listen to my body. I learned that I am capable of hard and wonderful things. I learned to trust those around me because they might be seeing something I’m not. All of these lessons also got packed into my mental doula bag.
After Fox’s birth I wanted to learn everything about the birth of my children. Then I wanted to learn everything about women who give birth with pre-existing conditions. Then I wanted to learn about how to lower a woman’s chance for a c-section. Then I wanted to learn about when a c-sections are necessary. Then I wanted to learn about recovery and VBAC’s. On and on it went. Eventually I got to a spot where I had to ask myself “why”. Why was I spending so much time learning so much about birth? Yes, I wanted to know these things for myself but that didn’t feel like the only reason. I wanted to help others. I wanted to give comfort and support and service to the men, women, and families of my community. I wanted to share this feeling of strength with others. So I became a doula and a childbirth educator.
This is truly the best job. You get to be there at the beginning, at the start of everything. You get to stand there and watch how 1+1 magically becomes 3. You hold people's space and help them protect their boundaries. I am honored that I get to be there and witness the moments when people find their power. I love that I get to connect with the families I serve as they navigate the complicated emotions that accompany birth. I hope that I help make their path a little more clear. I love it when people learn that they are capable of doing things they never thought they could do and I am humbled that I am part of the team of people that couples choose to put their trust in. Being a doula means you’re constantly learning, constantly serving, constantly growing and I love every minute of it.
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