How To Cope When Your Birth Plan Goes To Shit.
Updated: Jun 4, 2019
I’ve been told my entire life that I am “sooo type A.” If by some chance you haven’t read up on your psychology lately, “type A” is basically used synonymously with “high-strung”. I prefer descriptors like impatient, rigidly organized, anxious, and sensitive, which even though they also have negative connotations, they feel a bit more descriptive. Either way, I’ve come to accept that despite all of my mindfulness practice, at my core, I’m definitely a type A personality. So it is no surprise that when I became pregnant with my first, I set out to meticulously plan it all. Of course I researched baby names, nursery themes, cloth diapering methods, vaccination schedules, etc. But of all the things that I desired to research, plan, and organize, nothing took up more of my mental space than my birth plan. And why shouldn’t it? While women have experienced birth since the beginning of time, it was certainly my first time facing anything as transformative and strenuous as labor and delivery. As far as I knew, it might be my only time to ever experience this rite of passage. So naturally, I wanted to plan for the kind of birth that would make me feel safe and empowered. I felt that by planning ahead, I could set up an experience devoid of unnecessary stress and miscommunication. Well as they say, the universe has a way of humbling you. If I learned anything from my first birth experience, it was a lesson in accepting the things that I cannot control.
In addition to being type A, I’m also often described as a tad “crunchy”. You know, the babywearing, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, baby food making, essential oils using type. So at the intersection of type A and crunchy, lay my birth plan: An intervention free and unmedicated homebirth surrounded by friends and family. There would be sage, a curated playlist, and pre-written affirmation statements. We found a wonderful lay midwife whom we trusted. We made trips to the hardware store to buy the tools needed to fill and drain the little pool in which I planned to labor and possibly deliver. We took a 12-week course in the Bradley Method of Husband-Coached Natural Childbirth(I know, it’s 2019 and they still haven’t changed their name to something more inclusive). By the time I hit my final trimester, I had never felt more prepared for anything in my life. I distinctly recall people asking me, “Well what if you have to transfer to the hospital? Well what if something goes wrong?” I brushed these comments off, feeling confident in my low risk pregnancy, my competent midwife, and my supportive husband. Privately, we did discuss the potential and plan for a hospital transfer. I even took the maternity ward tour. But these conversations were always prefaced with “in the rare event of…” and I never really thought too much about this alternative scenario. After all, I was young, active, low risk, following a strict diet, and doing all the pregnancy stretches and exercises. What could go wrong?
Around 35 weeks along (It was October 27th, 2012. For no real practical reason, I maintain a daily memory book and log all details of my life), we had what I didn’t know would be our final homevisit with our midwife. She did her usual checkup: measuring, listening to the heartbeat, but when it came time to feel the baby, she did an interesting “hmmm”. After more touching and feeling, she informed us that the baby was transverse. She admitted it was difficult to tell exactly what was the head and what was the tail, but our baby was definitively sideways. Needless to say, babies can’t exit naturally in that position. Within a week, we had an ultrasound to confirm position, and I began doing exercises and inversions to try to turn that baby. I tried everything- cold packs, massages, even doing handstands. I researched external cephalic versions (ECV) and met with a doctor who was willing to try one. I ultimately decided against the ECV after further research, since there are risks associated with manually turning a baby, it required the administration of drugs, and the success rate isn’t that great. I went to a chiropractor, something I had never done before, and she tried over two sessions to encourage a better position. Finally, I decided it was time to establish myself with an OBGYN. My midwife recommended one who was friendly to homebirthing families- I should mention now that at the time, I was living in rural Georgia and the medical establishment was very much opposed to lay midwives and homebirth was frowned upon. There had been cases of families transferring to the hospital during a difficult attempted homebirth and being met with suspicion, hostility, and sometimes the police were even called. So two weeks after we got the transverse news, we traveled almost two hours away to meet with this homebirth-friendly obstetrician. While there, we received both good and bad news. The good: the baby was no longer transverse. The bad: The baby was now frank breech. Disheartened doesn’t encompass all of what I felt, but I guess it’s the closest word I can use. I’d spent so much time, money, energy, and focus trying to turn this baby a mere 90 degrees and we went 90 degrees the wrong way. Along with this news came yet more decision-making: the doctor was somewhat experienced in vaginal breech deliveries, which are increasingly rare these days as breech presentation only occurs in <5% of pregnancies and nearly all end in c-section. He offered me the opportunity to try a vaginal delivery at his hospital. Now faced with this news and new option, I was suddenly unsure of what to do. Do I attempt a breech homebirth with my midwife? She’d done some breech deliveries, but admitted they were few and far between. Do I attempt a vaginal delivery with this new obstetrician at his hospital, which is over 2 hours from my home? Do I just opt for the caesarean at my local hospital? It appeared that I, Mrs. Meticulous, was 37 weeks along and suddenly without a birth plan.
Overwhelmed, I gave myself one week to make a decision. I knew I was nearly out of time. I thought I had three more weeks. As it turns out, I only had three days. On November 14th, I found myself having severe back pain. It was so severe that I couldn’t walk or talk at times. My Bradley classes had prepared me for what contractions might be like. I understood that they should come and go. But this pain was constant. So we went to the local hospital just to check it out. Within minutes of meeting the on-call OB, he announced, “Well, the baby is breech. It’s gonna be a caesarean anyway. We might as well go ahead and get it out.” Perhaps I was naïve, but I hadn’t planned on having a caesarean that day! I was just coming in to see what the pain was about! I was 37.5 weeks and dammit I needed more time to figure things out! But the pain was intolerable. I’d begun vomiting (from the pain? from my nerves? who knows). So reluctantly, I surrendered to what felt like the inevitable. I delivered my firstborn via caesarean a little after midnight. I was in a strange place, attended to by strangers, cut open by a doc I’d just met, and because it all happened so quickly, my other support people hadn’t even arrived. But I had a healthy baby girl. She looked a little funny with her legs stretched up by her ears, but she was here. She was healthy. And that’s all that matters right?
After getting home, it occurred to me that we still had all of this now useless stuff from our homebirthing kit. I packed up the pool, the net, the liners, and even the little “born at home” onesie I’d found on etsy. Our midwife came to check on us and took it all to another nearby expectant mom. I took some comfort in hoping that even though I didn’t get my homebirth, the supplies would be used by some other lucky mom. I found myself happy to have my baby in my arms, but a little disappointed that we had worked so hard and planned so hard for one experience, only to end up with something that was incredibly stressful in the end. Our Bradley class cohort met up after all of our babies had been born and I listened to the other moms tell their stories of how they were able to labor naturally and use what they had learned during class to have these peaceful, intervention free births (though one mom did admit that she had opted for the epidural after all). I felt like I had nothing to share. “We had a surprise c-section without me really getting to experience labor” didn’t make for a great story in my opinion. I didn’t talk to anyone about how I felt because to be honest, I felt kind of silly for even feeling it. I knew coworkers and friends who had experienced miscarriages and stillbirths, and I just kept beating myself up about feeling even the slightest bit of sadness because my birth experience was so distant from what I’d planned. But looking back on it, I think it is a valid feeling to celebrate the birth of your baby while simultaneously mourning the loss of the birth experience you’d hoped for. If a bride planned for a beautiful outdoor wedding on the beach, but ended up having to move indoors to a shabby banquet hall due to a thunderstorm, should we judge her for feeling a little sad about the sudden change of plans? I mean, she still got married right?
It took time, months if I’m honest, to accept my feelings of disappointment and accept that there was actually very little I could have done differently. Surrendering control is not my strong suit, but I’ve accepted that it was the best thing to do that day. I finally stopped toying with the “well what if I had gone home and just pushed through the severe pain? Maybe I could/should have done the “risky” breech delivery at home? And why couldn’t my body just do what it was supposed to? Had I “failed” at childbirth?” I had to let it all go. Hypotheticals weren’t helping me, only causing me more stress. When people asked me about my birth experience, I stopped responding with a disappointed, “Well, we didn’t get our homebirth…” Instead, I gave some variation of, “Girl, let me tell you all about it.”
It’s true that childbirth changes people. But mine changed me in a way I didn’t expect. I now recognize the futility of our human plans. I expect the unexpected. I try to appreciate all experiences, whether they are ones I wanted or not. And most importantly, I allow myself to feel what I feel, with no apologies. The fact is, disappointment is a part of life. Maybe you wanted to breastfeed for a year, but despite your best efforts, you dried up after only 6 months. Maybe you dreamed of staying home with your baby for 12 weeks, but financially, you just couldn’t manage to. As parents, we’ve got to learn to give ourselves some grace and try to focus on the successes. Believe me, there are many. Embracing this more Zen version of me took serious time, but felt pretty good. So 9 months after delivering my first, when I found out we were unexpectedly expecting again, I wrote out a birth plan. But this time, it had a plan A and a plan B.
PS. Sharing my experience really helped me come to terms with it all. If you haven’t already, consider sharing your birthstory at a local birthstory circle!