“I didn’t want to feel disappointed if I wasn’t able to have the ‘dream’ childbirth experience we talked about.”
“If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.”
Though this sentiment was shared with me in regards to something completely unrelated, it stuck in my brain throughout the end of our pregnancy—especially when we were told to create a birth plan for our optimal birth experience.
But I found myself asking: Is a birth plan just a way for us to maintain the illusion that we have some say in how this goes?
My ‘plan’ was to have a natural childbirth.
I loved the idea and wanted to be able to feel my legs, know when contractions were happening, and really get the pure experience of what childbirth was going to be like for me throughout all three stages of labor.
My husband and I took a 12-week childbirth course that loosely followed The Bradley Method, which claims to help prepare for the best, safest, and “most rewarding” natural birth experience possible.
The instructor strongly suggested that we make a birth plan to advocate our desire to have a natural childbirth—to lay out all of our highest priorities—and to discuss it with our midwife.
But even the best birth plan examples stated that a plan is for “normal” and “uncomplicated” labor.
What happens if it’s not normal?
What does normal even mean?
I had to decide, would it be the birth plan that helped me stay calm during the unexpected?
Or would it be the trust I needed to have in husband to be there to ask important questions and the faith I needed to have in my healthcare team to provide me the best care in the situation at hand (whatever that situation turned out to be)?
I made the choice to forego the plan.
I didn’t want to feel disappointed if I wasn’t able to have the “dream” childbirth experience we talked about in class or guilty about not being strong enough to take on the intensity of contractions.
I didn’t want to risk putting the plan before the health of my unborn baby. I’m glad I made this choice for the following reasons:
1. You can’t plan for an old placenta.
We made our way to the hospital when contractions were about four and a half minutes apart.
We sat down on the triage table, and the contractions stopped. But we were there, so they checked me anyway.
After about four hours of early labor, I was only at three centimeters.
The nurse was encouraging and wanted us to stick around until the shift changed and the next midwife on call was able to check us again.
So we walked.
Contractions started right back up and, about 30 minutes later, we had already progressed to five centimeters.
“Normally, I would send you home and tell you to come back when things are a bit more consistent,” said our midwife.
“But something’s just not right here. The color of the blood present is darker than I’d like to see.”
She said it was most likely from a detaching old placenta.
And because the placenta is was life support system to my baby, the transfer of oxygen and nutrients could be interrupted by the detachment and cause fetal distress.
Not something I wanted to mess around with.
The staff hooked me up to a continuous electronic fetal monitor, and all of my hopes of laboring in the whirlpool hospital tub went down the drain.
2. You can’t plan for inconsistent contractions or how fast you’ll dilate.
Because I was one of the first patients admitted that morning—we arrived at the hospital around 4 a.m.—I was able to snag one of the mobile continuous fetal monitors and walk around in hopes that the contractions would continue to progress.
Unfortunately, the monitors were only picking up Baby’s heart rate and not my contractions.
I began to feel anxious; that the midwife would think I was lying about my contractions or that my husband would have to get out the Full Term app and start tracking them again.
After about two hours, we were checked again.
Still at five. Ugh.
And the biggest blow: The midwife said that Baby’s heart rate was a little off, and without reading the contractions, it was harder for her to tell what was causing Baby to react that way.
Onto the internal monitors we went.
With an internal monitor, the transducer is put on Baby’s scalp.
The wire runs from there through the cervix and is connected to the monitor, meaning the amniotic sac has to be broken and you are bedridden for the rest of labor.
I was now on the “your water broke and you have 24 hours to have this baby” timeline and, when they found meconium, I felt like I really had to get things moving.
Usually when your water breaks, things speed up.
That was not the case for me.
After a few more hours, I was at six centimeters and contractions were still every four minutes apart.
Goodbye, “natural, drugless” childbirth.
My nurse said that the Pitocin would help get my contractions to a level 60 every 60 seconds–right where we needed them to get pushing.
My contractions, however, were going steady at a level 85-90% (ouch!) every two minutes.
After an hour, I was still at six centimeters.
I tried Fentanyl, a narcotic pain reliever, but with such strong contractions and because I was not dilating quickly, I knew I had to have an epidural to be able to stay relaxed enough to keep going and, eventually, to have enough energy left to push.
The epidural came, and Baby’s heart rate dropped to a dangerously low level.
They rolled me to my side and the heart rate slowly came back up to a stable level. The midwife quickly checked me, and I was still at six centimeters.
Though both the midwife and her partner physician came to talk to us about our options separately, they both said the same thing: Because Baby was back at a stable level, we could continue to try for a vaginal delivery—but the risks of another heart-rate drop with my contractions were high, and that would mean an emergency c-section.
Or we could do a c-section then and there and know that Baby was safe.
Meet my baby in 20 minutes or wait for who knows how many more painful hours? Bring on the c-section!
3. You can’t plan for how amazing you feel when you hear your baby cry for the first time
And find out you’ve brought a little girl into the world.
After 18 hours of labor, the feelings of intense pain, and the uncertainty and anxiety of not knowing if our baby was going to be healthy—even after the healthiest of pregnancies—I was so relieved when I heard that first cry.
We chose not to find out the gender of our baby, but we had strong feelings throughout the entire pregnancy that we were having a boy.
Each member of our healthcare team thought it was a boy, too.
So you can imagine the look on my husband’s face as he peeked over the sheet to “call it.”
It’s one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Or how those three little words made me feel: “It’s a girl.”
There are so many aspects of life that we feel we have within our hands, under our control.
I found that pregnancy is not one—which is why it’s such a beautiful and faith-filled experience.
It’s why every mother is so eager to share her birth story.
Not having a plan but knowing all of my options allowed me to feel positive about our birth experience, appreciate all of the great things that happened that day, and gave me the confidence that I was making the best choices for me and my baby girl.
Sara Engelhart is a Midwestern momma who currently works full time in corporate communications, but spent most of her writing career on staff at Diabetic Living magazine, Heart Healthy Living magazine and Better Homes and Gardens special interest publications. Sara likes to spend her free time with her newborn daughter, writing about food and wellness, or in the yoga studio.