It's safe to assume that every pregnant person hopes for the "dream" delivery experience, but what that means, of course, varies from individual to individual. One soon-to-be mom's mood lighting and soft music is another's quick epidural and large team of doctors and nurses. In the end, though, I think we all want to experience minimal pain and to hold a happy, healthy baby in our arms. Life doesn't always care about our plans, though, so I asked moms to describe their dream delivery versus what really happened.
When I found out I was pregnant I envisioned a calm, beautiful birth experience. I wished for few-to-no interventions, and wanted to labor in whatever position suited me in the moment, be it sitting, walking, standing, or in a tub. More than anything, I wanted to be able to hold my baby right away and breastfeed and bond without interruption.
Sadly, my first delivery happened prematurely and, as a result, I never had the chance to hold my baby while she was alive. As you can imagine, there was a lot of anxiety surrounding my second pregnancy, so I pushed for a home birth once I knew prematurity was no longer an issue. Unfortunately, I got to a point where my baby felt “stuck” and I was rushed to the hospital down the street where I was scolded by the OB-GYN on-call until I finished pushing out my son. The entire experience was terrifying and not at all like I had planned or hoped for.
I’m lucky that I now have my 4-year-old son with me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still mourn the loss of the easy labor and delivery I never had the chance to experience or enjoy. I also know that I’m not alone, which is why I believe it's so important that we listen to the following stories from other moms who endured similar circumstances:
“Both my pregnancies, I wanted to walk around and or labor in the tub. My first my water broke at home, and they never gave me the option to [labor as I wanted].
My second I had pre-eclampsia and was hooked up from every place possible. I had to stay in bed for 24 hours [on a] magnesium drip, and wasn’t allowed to change my pads or stand up. I was robbed of the chance to get up when my daughter cried. I had to have people bring me to her. It was devastating watching others do my job.”
“It might have been unrealistic, but I expected to go into labor naturally, on time, and without any hiccups. Instead, I had to be induced due to my son being in distress. They kept having to stop my labor since his heart rate would drop with contractions. I was in labor for 28 hours (on Mother’s Day), and my epidural wore off. I blacked out, so I don't remember my son coming out, which I was really looking forward to do. It was still special, since he was my first, but definitely not what I had in mind, and definitely why I think I'm stopping at one.”
“I imagined myself having a natural birth and feeling so empowered afterwards. Unfortunately, I had a planned C-section because my baby was going to be ‘too big.’ He was born 8.5 pounds. I really felt like my doctor scared me into it. I told him my grandmother had birthed eight 10-pound babies at home, but he said I was ‘too petite’ and started talking about shoulder dystocia, explaining that my son could have a [physically impaired] arm for the rest of his life.
Later, when I was recovering, I heard the nurse speak about me saying I had been offered the chance to birth naturally right before the operation, but that was not the case. All he asked me was, ‘You sure you want to have the C-section?’ I told him, “No, but you said my son would be hurt, so I rather go through the pain myself.’ It is what it is. I’m glad he just came out healthy, but the recovery was rough. Then again I think all child birth recovery is. I’ve heard horror stories of women having to have their perineums cut and not being able to have pleasurable sex for years. Either way, I feel like we are at the provider’s mercy.”
“I imagined a ‘natural’, med-free birth, but then again I imagined a perfect pregnancy and that wasn’t the case either! Since I was pregnant with twins and one was breech, we opted for a C-section. Plus we had so many issues, it was the safest for both. So once I accepted that as my fate, I was hoping to have a more ‘natural C-section,’ and well, because of the Herrington rods in my back due to a previous scoliosis surgery, I had to be put down completely. I let them poke me a million times to try to get the spinal tap and it was painful but no luck. They finally told me I had to just be completely out. I knew it was a possibility, but was hoping to not have that be the case. I cried, but the anesthesiologist team was so sweet and understanding and made me feel so much better. I woke up in recovery in complete pain, and was wheeled to the NICU to meet my baby girl, then was able to meet my baby boy in my room.”
“My story has many twists and turns when it comes to expectations. I have three kids, one born in Germany and two born in the Netherlands. With my first, I wanted a natural birth at a hospital. It was at a hospital, but I got pitocin and many other unpleasant interventions. I was pretty traumatized to be honest. Add to the fact that my husband wasn't there and my mother-in-law made it into the delivery room without my consent... it's a long story.
When I was pregnant with my second, I decided I would have a home birth and I was in the perfect place for that. In 2011, when I had my second, 30 percent of women in the Netherlands gave birth at home. Yeah, that didn't happen either. I had to go to the hospital where the midwife basically left me alone for long stretches of time. Luckily, my husband was with me this time (and so was out eldest, then 2-years-old because we had no one to leave her with).
And by the time I was expecting my third in 2012/2013, I realized I wasn't into the midwifery/homebirth thing at all. Sadly, I had no choice but to have a midwife because that's how the Dutch system works. In fact, I missed the medicalized German system. I decided to have pain relief this time, which would mean I’d have to go to the hospital. Because the Dutch maternity system is quite naturally-minded (you'll get discouraged to get pain relief, etc.), I got myself a doula who made sure that I could get my shot (that's what I went for, it was too late for an epidural anyway). And then I realized that this was what I wanted: not a natural home birth but at the hospital, with pain relief, a team of doctors and nurses at my disposal, and with my husband at my side.”
“I went into labor with full expectations of getting an epidural and having a 'normal' delivery. I labored for 22 hours. Everything went fine and I pushed for about a half an hour before the doctor asked me how I felt about a cesarean. She said my son was ‘too big’ and wouldn’t be able to come down on his own. I instantly panicked. A cesarean was never something I even considered. It was the worst experience of my life. They pushed my son back up the birth canal (cutting the back of his head) and took me to the OR. I shook uncontrollably through the whole thing. Instead of handing my son to me or my husband, they gave him to my mother, which was very upsetting. The first people to hold him should have been one of us. To top off everything, my son weighed six pounds, six ounces. Perfectly small enough to have been delivered vaginally. I just had a lazy doctor who didn’t feel like waiting around for me to push him out. I was later told I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his birth. I was hellbent on never going through that again.
With my second son, I was determined to have a vaginal birth. I fully anticipated getting an epidural, but had a midwife supporting me. This kiddo had other plans and didn’t feel like waiting around. There was no time for an epidural. I went to the hospital at two centimeters dilated, and within an hour I was at 10 centimeters and pushing. It was horrifically painful and fast, but I got my VBAC which was very healing and I’m thankful for that. It was a military hospital which don’t usually have good track records.”
“Mine is very basic. I wanted to push when I was ready like I did with my first, but because I was induced and the epidural completely numbed me. I couldn't tell when to push. I didn't feel ready to, but the nurses had to tell me when I should push because my son's heartbeat was distressed. It was very stressful and frustrating.”
“I was wanting to do a holistic birth in the hospital in case something went wrong. No epidural, delayed cord clamping, baby to breast as soon as possible. I was thinking of hiring a doula to help with my birth as well. When I was 24 weeks pregnant, I woke up bleeding with what I now know were contractions. Three hospital visits later, I ended up delivering my son at 25 weeks and five days pregnant. I had to have an emergency C-section, which has now resulted in me always and forever having to have a C-section. I can never have contractions, and can’t go past 37 weeks pregnant. I did not and will never get the birth I wanted, but I also wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“With my daughter (since she was my first), I really wanted to just go as easy as possible, did not want pitocin, pain meds, very little intervention, just try to avoid a C-section and do it natural basically, but I did not heed the warning of labor at home for as long as possible. So we went in for her birth around 2:00 a.m. after I'd been having contractions since 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. About an hour or two after I'd been there, they insisted I start pitocin. I wasn't progressing enough. I gave in because, well, I was 19 and my partner didn't know how to advocate. The doctors said it so obviously we should follow it. I started to cry from the new contractions from the pit. Around 5:00 a.m. they started fentanyl since I wanted to hold off on an epidural if possible. I vividly remember this because my dad wakes up every morning at 5:30 a.m., so in my loopy birth-induced state I started texting him... while watching Scooby Doo. I wish I still had those texts: it was a mess and hilarious, but he got the gist that I was in labor.
After that the fentanyl wore off and they upped my pitocin, I still wasn't progressing enough for them. Cue the violent vomiting. I had also been eating strawberries before my contractions started the night before. My vomit was bright red and very very alarming for everyone in the room. Luckily, my husband was able to blurt out it was probably the strawberries and that calmed everyone down. At that point, I begged for an epidural and promptly passed out until about noon. At that point, I was apparently very dilated, but she wouldn't descend so they started talking C-section. Note I hadn't even been there a full 24 hours at that point, hadn't even tried pushing once, and they were talking C-section. I got super lucky that my current nurse, once the doctor walked out, went, 'Oh no, you're young! You don't need a C-section. You're pushing her out yourself.' After telling me what we were doing, she had me start pushing down. Three big pushes later, my doctor just walked in for this attempt, and out she popped. Zero problems, zero tearing, perfectly fine. But they were pushing so close to a C-section. It ended well but it left me a little bitter.
My son’s birth was zero options for me. After my daughter’s birth, I desperately wanted to try again more natural, hopefully less intervention and stress from the doctors this time, only to find out I had a partial placenta previa that would not move an inch from my first ultrasound, making it very dangerous to go into labor. All my options were taken. They kept watching to hope it would move, and everyone online had a positive story of theirs moving. Mine never did. I went in for my 37 week visit and was told, 'You're having a C-section this week.' I had zero idea before that appointment I was gonna have a C-section in literally three days’ time. His birth went perfectly and he was healthy and we both made it, but I wasn’t given any real options. Now we're done with kids, but I still have a pang of desperately wanting a better birth.”
“I wanted to stay at home for as long as possible during my contractions and wait to go to the hospital and not get an epidural. On April Fools' day, my neighbors were blasting music at 6:00 a.m. and I hadn't gone to bed until past midnight. I had to waddle my pregnant butt upstairs to tell them to shut up, and when I got back into bed and had just fallen asleep my water broke. Because I had strep B, we had to go the hospital immediately. I wasn't dilated or effaced at all, so they had to put me on full-blast pitocin to get things moving to prevent infection. After 18 hours of intense contractions, hardly any sleep the night before, and no food, the nurse tells me I'm not even halfway there. (I asked for an epidural.) I got a glorious 10 hours of beauty sleep and woke up on time to deliver my healthy baby girl.”
“I had planned my son’s birth to be at a birth center, but when I came in for my 36 week appointment we discovered I had severe pre-eclampsia and had to be transferred to the hospital immediately. They wanted me to try to keep him in as long as I could while being monitored, but my blood pressure kept spiking. He was also breech, so the OB-GYN attempted an inversion that wasn’t successful so we had to have a cesarean section. After he was delivered, I had some complications so I wasn’t allowed to hold him for four hours after his birth.”
“Had a surprise (third) pregnancy at 43. I’ve had two previous vaginal births years earlier. We decided to have some fun and make it sort of an ‘open’ experience where friends and family could come and go. We even made badges for people to wear. Went in late the night before to be induced (you can’t go full-term at my age) and all was going well. Around 7:30 the next morning, I was getting an epidural. My husband was chatting with the anesthesiologist and everything was just fine. My water broke as they were starting to do the epidural and all hell broke loose in a matter of seconds. I guess my babies had dropped and compressed a cord. All I remember is that suddenly there were a bunch of people in the room and they rushed me out and covered my face and knocked me out. Five hours later I woke up to a baby who apparently barely made it in time. He had a little cut across his forehead from the scalpel. That’s how fast they had to get him out. My open, easy birthing experience was pretty much the complete opposite. But I’m glad he got here safe.”