I learned how strong I really am when my birth plan went out the window—twice

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of planning, it was the age of spontaneity, it was the season of control, it was the season of chaos, it was the epoch of predictability, it was the epoch of fluctuation.


We had everything before us, and even though nothing went according to plan, it was, undeniably, a time of miracles.

“Well, I’m so glad we did this ultrasound. He’s breech,” the midwife informed me nonchalantly as if confirming that my baby did indeed have two feet. I was 36 weeks pregnant with my first baby, and I had no clue what that even meant.

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“You’ll need a C-section,” she continued, before giving me the brief rundown of risks and statistics.

Tears streamed down my face as I quickly grieved the birth plan I was giving up. The birth plan—that, up until that point—had been incredibly flexible. It was so flexible, in fact, I hadn’t even bothered to write it down.

My birth plan was simple: Go as long as possible without drugs. Attempt a water birth. If I start saying bad words, bring me the drugs ASAP.

See? Simple. There was no five-page plan, no birth playlist, no list of demands. And yet, upon hearing that my easy-breezy birth plan was not going to be the plan, I was nothing short of devastated.

I took home a pamphlet titled, “How To Flip Your Baby” or something of that nature. It was a tri-fold full of safe home remedies a pregnant woman could attempt in hopes of turning her baby around. I hoisted myself into the car, big pregnant belly pushed up against the steering wheel, and let warm tears fall all over the brochure while I called my husband and told him the news.

The next 24 hours looked like something out of a sitcom. Picture me lying upside down on an ironing board propped up against the couch with a bag of frozen fried rice on the top of my belly, a heating pad on my pubic bone, and a pair of headphones streaming loud music tucked into my underwear.

My husband shined a flashlight at my belly button and held an empty paper towel roll between his mouth and my lower stomach. His voice boomed into the paper towel megaphone, “Baby, it’s your father. Come down here. Step into the liiiiiight!!”

The whole scene was equal parts hilarious and pathetic.

When I wasn’t lying upside down on the ironing board, I was doing cat-cow exercises and various yoga poses. I cried on and off all night, desperately trying to keep my hormones in check and my optimism high.

“Do you want to take a bath? It might help you relax,” my husband suggested.

I followed his advice and immediately burst out laughing when I stepped into the tub. He had taped a picture above the faucet, an illustrated baby in the head down position with the caption, “C’mon baby! You can do it!”

The next day we returned to the birth center to see if our home tricks had worked. They hadn’t. We met the doctor for an external cephalic version treatment, which is a fancy way of saying she tried to turn the baby manually with her hands.

It was just as painful as it sounds.

The doctor, God bless her, pushed as hard as she could. I closed my eyes and breathed through the pain, saying turn baby turn in my head with each exhale. I watched the doctor’s face and could tell it wasn’t working. I cried, again.

The doctor measured the baby’s head size and quickly ruled out the option of a vaginal delivery. She recommended a scheduled c-section at 39 weeks, and that was that.

On May 7th, my son was born, cut straight from my body and immediately placed on my chest. I have never cried so hard in all my life.

It was a miracle.

When I got pregnant with my second baby, I opted for a repeat C-section. Nobody was more surprised about this decision than I was. Me, the girl who spent an entire night lying upside on an ironing board with headphones in her pants, all to avoid a C-section, was willingly asking for another one.

I did heaps and heaps of research about VBACs vs. repeat C-sections, and I spoke to friends who had done both. I talked to the doctors and midwives about all of my concerns, the biggest of which is my first child’s head size, which was 98th percentile at 39 weeks.

Could I even do a VBAC? What if my second baby went to 41 weeks and had an off-the-charts head size? What if I labored all day and ended up in a C-section anyways?

Lots of people had lots of opinions, but after reading my fair share of statistics and speaking with the midwives, I had to combine the research with what was in my heart.

And in my heart, the shocking truth was: I had no desire to try a VBAC.

As strange as it sounds, I longed for the same birth experience I had already endured: the oasis of that familiar operating room, a numb body that felt no pain, the magic moment of having a baby placed on my chest within a blue curtain cocoon. I wanted the method that felt comfortable, safe, recognizable. I desperately wanted a repeat of the only birth experience I had ever known. Another C-section didn’t scare me at all, but the thought of doing a VBAC was terrifying—just thinking about it gave me anxiety.

So, we unabashedly decided on a C-section and announced the date to all our friends. Our second baby would be born on October 27th. I circled the date in my day planner and drew little hearts in the box.

I arranged for the house to be professionally cleaned on the 26th, and we lined up childcare for our 2-year-old. I scheduled one last hair appointment, and we made a plan to go to Costco the weekend prior to stock up on things like toilet paper and laundry detergent. Check, check, check; all my ducks were in a row.

I felt confident, peaceful, totally in control of my own life.

Which is why, three weeks before my scheduled C-section, when I started feeling Braxton Hicks on an otherwise normal Friday night, the possibility that I was going into labor hadn’t even occurred to me.

(Insert pity laughter here.)

As it turned out, those Braxton Hicks were real contractions, and pure chaos ensued. The birth center instructed us to come in, my friend scrambled over in her pajamas to watch our 2-year-old; I took a shower, and we were out the door. My husband didn’t bring so much as a change of clothes.

We arrived at the birth center at 1:00 am looking like a couple of lost teenagers. A nurse named Antoinette took pity on our panicked faces, and, after checking me, gently informed us of the unthinkable: “You’re a three. This baby is coming tonight.”

What followed might as well have been a scene from that TV show I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant. We had signed up for birth classes with the first pregnancy, but only attended one class before receiving the breech diagnosis. We decided it would be a waste of time to go to the rest.

Birth class dropouts, my husband and I had never skimmed a single birthing book. The closest thing I had seen to a live birth was a couple of YouTube videos, and that Katherine Heigl scene from Knocked Up.

My husband kept asking if I wanted music, which only made me angry. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know what I was doing. So I walked around the room groaning and almost hyperventilated a few times because I wasn’t breathing properly, as Antoinette kindly informed me.

Again, it was all so hilarious and pathetic.

A couple of hours later, the nurse checked me again and told me it was time to push.

“WHAT?” I yelled. “Can I still get drugs?”

She assured me that I could, but they never came. Within the hour, my body writhed with unspeakable pain and did the thing I guess it was capable of doing all along. On October 4th, one whole month before his due date, my second baby came out the old-fashioned way and was immediately placed on my chest. I have never screamed so loud in all my life.

It was a miracle.

I’m far enough removed from both experiences now to simply laugh at the irony: my planned water birth turned into a C-section, and my planned C-section turned into an all-natural VBAC.

Essentially, neither of my births went according to plan.

And you’re supposed to have a plan, right? You can hop on Pinterest and find everything from "What To Pack In Your Hospital Bag" to charts debating the Bradley Method vs. Hypnobirthing. With the help of the Internet, you can easily learn how to write the perfect birth plan, how to create the perfect birth environment, and how to train the perfect birth coach.

And while I do believe in planning (Monica Geller is my spirit animal), sometimes I wonder: Are we placing too much focus on planning the “perfect” birth? Is the pressure of birth empowerment consuming more of our time and energy than the actual transition of becoming a mother for the first or second or even fifth time?

I think planning a birth is kind of like planning a wedding. Hop on Pinterest, and it’s over. You could spend 400 hours searching for the perfect invitations, the homegrown bouquets, the DIY table numbers made out of distressed barn wood. You could drive all over town trying on dress after dress, shoe after shoe, lipstick shade after lipstick shade. You could easily spend an entire year of your life planning the perfect wedding, and of course, there is nothing (inherently) wrong with that. But is it possible, that sometimes, amid the mason jar candles and DIY dreamcatchers, that the whole point of the wedding, the actual marriage itself, gets a tiny bit…..lost in translation?

Just like a birth plan gone amiss, our perfect wedding plans often go off course. Maybe it rains, or maybe the food order gets mixed up, or maybe Uncle Bobby gets drunk and hits on all the bridesmaids.

But when all is said and done, no matter what happened, no matter what the weather looked like or who got the wrong meal or who had to deal with Uncle Bobby barfing in the potted plant, the endgame is the same: You married your best friend. The wedding is only the first day of a life-long commitment to one another.

And giving birth? It’s kind of like that. It’s the very first day of a life-long commitment to raising and loving a child. It is an important day, it is a special day, it is absolutely a day worthy of your best plans.

But if your plans go awry….if all the water tubs are full, if your baby is breech, if your baby is early, if your baby is late, if you need the drugs after you swore you wouldn’t, I want you to know this: motherhood is so much more than the day your baby is born. Motherhood is…..forever.

In some ways, your birth experience is the perfect prelude to a lifetime of learning this lesson over and over again: Some things are simply not in your control.

So make your plans, pack your bag, and get that playlist ready. It’s okay to dream and strategize, to prepare and make lists. We can celebrate a birth gone according to plan, just like we can grieve a birth plan gone wrong. But let’s give our birth experience the weight it deserves: our birth story is always significant; it is rarely definitive.

Let's not let the pressure of one day overshadow the miracle of an entire lifetime.

This is only the beginning.

This story was originally published on Coffee + Crumbs. Check out their book, The Magic of Motherhood, for more heartwarming essays about motherhood, love, and the good kind of heartache.

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Jessica Simpson's life seems perfect. She has three beautiful kids, a wildly successful career, a seemingly solid marriage...she has it all, at least as far as we can see. But recent revelations prove that no one really knows what anyone else is secretly dealing with—and Jessica, by her own admission, has been struggling with alcohol issues.

The singer-turned-business-woman recently sat down with TODAY's Hoda Kotb, and it will air on NBC's TODAY Wednesday morning.

"I had started a spiral and I couldn't catch up with myself…and that was with alcohol," Jessica explained. "I would say it openly to everyone. 'I know. I know, I'll stop soon. I'll cut back'," Jessica continued when asked if she realized things were getting out of control. "For me to cut back, like I'm an all or nothing girl, and so I didn't know it was a problem until it was...I completely didn't recognize myself…I always had a glitter cup. It was always filled to the rim with alcohol."

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She's hardly alone. The rise of #winemom phenomenon is well documented and many parents struggle with substance abuse problems. But Simpson's story proves there is a way to get your life back.

Simpson quit drinking in 2017 after she found herself unable to get her kids ready for a Halloween party. She says she'd started drinking before 7:30 in the morning, before accompanying her husband, Eric Johnson, to a school assembly for their oldest daughter. Later that night she was unable to get her kids dressed in their Halloween costumes. The next morning she was so ashamed. Feeling like she had failed her kids she slept until they left the house, then got up and drank some more.

That episode was her tipping point. She quit drinking (as did her husband, Eric Johnson, who supports her in her sobriety.)



As parents, we know how overwhelming the demands can be...and how easy it is to sink into habits that don't ultimately serve us well. For Jessica, the way to heal was to sever her relationship with alcohol.

"I had to give [drinking] up," Jessica said. "I'm not going to miss another day. I'm not going to miss another Halloween. I'm not going to miss another Christmas. I'm going to be present."

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Babies come with a lot of stuff. And when you're out and about, a roomy, comfy diaper bag is the place for everything you need to be prepared for whatever the day throws your way. But is a cute, trendy diaper bag that doesn't scream, well... DIAPER BAG, too much to ask? It's not, mamas.

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Frustrations and emotions were at an all time high for both us. I was worried that my lack of patience would get the best of me, leaving her feeling let down and frustrated with me on her new journey of becoming a “big girl." And selfishly, I was tired of washing wet underwear. For her part, my daughter was tired of being asked for the hundredth time if she needed to use the potty.

We both were feeling a little defeated in this new adventure.

I have found too often as a mother that I expect my child to respond new things, like to potty training, as fast and as close to the last blog post, book or opinion I heard or read. What I have learned is that no two children are alike and the moment I release my expectations for where mine should or should not be, we are both brought back to peace and patience.

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So maybe a break was all we needed to start fresh the next day. We headed to our favorite spot by the lake and had a picnic. My daughter munched on popcorn and chatted away about the weather and pinecones, and listened for the sounds of helicopters—which you hear quite often living on an aviation military base.

Sometimes in the daily struggles of motherhood I have noticed that I can forget who I am and the strength we possess as mothers. It may not come easily at first, but I grow with each new day. Even potty training—this mundane human activity that is emotional and (quite literally) messy, teaches me much about the meaning and purpose of motherhood.

Potty training has taught me a huge lesson on patience. Patience to be present, to pay attention to what is right in front of me. To be encouraging, to not rush the process, to not place expectations on timing or play the comparison game we often play as mothers.

Patience is needed in every area of parenting and potty training is just one way where we can see as parents where our patience is wearing thin.

I have found that it's when I come from a place of patience and presence that I can then glean wisdom from those messy, mundane, time-consuming tasks of potty training, and find that the waiting, sitting and hours of time spent in the bathroom gives me an opportunity to be present in my child's world.

Whether it be the grocery line, a traffic jam, or cleaning up wet bedding, I learn the art and joy in the small and big moments in motherhood. Giving our children space to fail and try it again as many times as it takes encourages them that they too can cultivate the gift of patience in there own tiny lives.

My daughter speaks to me everyday, inviting growth that sometimes feels really hard and frustrating, she provokes patience to be felt and sensed through every minute of the day. And for this I am grateful. Because to truly live and be present in my child's world means “I learn from her, and she learns from me." Even in potty training.

Our children have so much to offer to who we are as individuals and they have so much to teach us. In fact, I have come to live for these exhausting, beautiful, and downright messy moments in time. When I push myself to embrace them, rather than just find them frustrating, I stretch and grow and evolve. I become the mother I hope to be.

And to you mama, whether in the midst of sleepless newborn nights or toddler tornados or the midst of potty training, may you find strength as a mother, as a wife, and as a person to let go of any expectations or judgements you place upon yourself.

May love and gratitude fill our hearts and peace be with all of us on the journey that motherhood is.

Life
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