The birth plan: everyone tells you to have one, and there are so many questions to address! Are you planning for a natural childbirth? Skin-to-skin contact upon delivering your baby? Are you keeping your placenta to encapsulate and eat later? (Hey, to each her own!) Are you planning to breastfeed exclusively? Do you want your in-laws in the room with you during labor or would you sooner eat a live cockroach? All these questions assume you want a birth plan... which some women don't.
The questionnaires you get from hospitals ahead of delivery are enough to make an expectant mom’s head spin. But you want to get it right; it’s your birth plan!! Everything has to be just so. The perfect playlist will be the soundtrack to your labor, your partner will lovingly massage your back and neck, your epidural will make you blissfully unaware of the pain, and you’ll lie around contentedly reading magazines until it’s time to push. Your baby will enter the world and immediately lie on your chest for hours of skin-to-skin contact that will result in effortless breastfeeding (so no formula, please). Also, no vacuum, forceps or C-section if possible, thanks. And definitely no episiotomy.
Or perhaps you’ll have a glorious home birth with a midwife and a birthing pool, your husband and other kids present to witness the miracle that is childbirth. No drugs, no intervention, just you doing your primal thang.
I’m here to tell you it’s all bullshit.
You can write up a birth plan, just be ready to crumple it up and throw it in the garbage when things get real.
I had a birth plan the first time around, and it was pointless, which is why I had no birth plan for my second. When the nurses asked if I had one, I told them, “I’d love to do skin-to-skin when my son comes out, if possible.” They said that was fine, and that was it. You know that saying, “Man plans, and God laughs”? I’m pretty sure it’s not specifically about birth plans, but it might as well be. By all means, make a birth plan if it makes you feel good; just don’t be shocked when your baby has other ideas like my first did.
The birth plan for my first baby looked a lot like the first one I laid out above: relaxing playlist, supportive husband with me at all times, perfect epidural, me napping away blissfully until it was time to push. Instead, what I got was horrific nausea and cramping at 2:30 in the morning on my due date, which caused me to jolt out of bed and race to the bathroom to throw up. And then throw up again. And again. My husband was concerned. “We need to call the doctor,” he told me. “You can,” I said. “But I think this is just how being in labor feels.” My husband called anyway, and the concerned doctor told us to come to the hospital. Turns out excessive vomiting at 40 weeks pregnant isn’t a sign of labor.
The doctor sent me to a delivery room for an induction, while warning us that a c-section might be in our future. (Definitely not in my birth plan.)
When we got to the hospital, we learned the cause of my pain and vomiting was, in fact, pre-eclampsia. (Umm, excuse me, but pre-eclampsia was not in my birth plan.) My blood pressure was skyrocketing. I felt worse than I’ve ever felt in my life. I promptly threw up into a waste basket.
The only cure for pre-eclampsia is to get the baby out, so the doctor sent me to a delivery room for an induction, while warning us that a c-section might be in our future. (Definitely not in my birth plan.) I was only one centimeter dilated so they hooked me up to the Pitocin drip and put in a Foley balloon to make me dilate further. Mercifully, it worked, and by midday, my water had broken and I was 4 centimeters dilated. They’d already set me up with an epidural, but it seemed to be only partially working. I felt lots of contractions, mostly on my right side. Was it possible for an epidural to work on only half your body? (Because a non-functioning epidural was soooo not part of my birth plan.)
The contractions were fast and furious, as they often are when you’re being induced, so a half-functioning epidural was seriously no bueno. I tried to yoga-breathe through it, but I remember lying there thinking how much it all sucked and was nothing like my friends had told me. This went on for hours. I did get to listen to my iPad playlist but I think that’s the only element of my birth plan that stayed in place.
I had what felt like dozens of tubes running in and out of my body: a catheter, an IV, a magnesium drip to prevent seizures, a line in to my lady parts that attached to the baby’s head to monitor her heart rate. And I couldn’t eat anything but ice chips in case I wound up having to have a c-section. I had so been looking forward to that “I’m blissed out on my epidural and now I can sleep or read a magazine” part of my birth plan, but nope.
After more than an hour of pushing with no baby to show for it, the doctor told me they were going to have to use the vacuum to get the baby out. (Not in my birth plan!)
Once I got to 10 centimeters dilated late that night, I was able to push. This felt like a major victory since it looked like I wouldn’t have to have a c-section, but was also hideously painful due to the epidural that couldn’t get its act together. Hats off to you ladies who do natural childbirth; I’m in awe of you. After more than an hour of pushing with no baby to show for it, the doctor told me they were going to have to use the vacuum to get the baby out. (Not in my birth plan!) By then though, I was completely over it. Birth plan, shmirth plan, just please get the baby out.
Getting the vacuum in and attached to the baby’s head was unspeakably painful, and it popped out a couple of times as they attempted to tug my daughter out of me. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter’s heart rate was plummeting and doctors were rushing in and out of the room. All I could think about was the pain. I distinctly remember thinking, I will never have another baby. The doctor was pulling on the vacuum so hard that I was convinced my baby’s head would pop off. Finally, the doctors seemed to be getting excited, and I gave my final push. I felt something rip and then, boom – we had a baby girl. We didn’t hear a cry for a good 20 seconds or so, which feels like an eternity when you’re waiting to find out if your baby is actually alive. But then we heard her, and my husband went over to see her and she was pink and lovely.
My birth plan was already trashed beyond recognition, but just for fun, the hits kept on coming: no skin-to-skin because things had been so nuts and the nurses had to monitor our newborn’s health. She had to be given formula due to low blood sugar. And I basically didn’t get to see her for the first day of her life since I was in the recovery room on a magnesium drip for the next 24 hours, which couldn’t be administered on the postpartum floor. I was so tired from barely sleeping for two days, and getting my blood pressure monitored every two hours meant barely any sleep for a third day. Oh, and I still couldn’t eat anything. I knew the care I was getting was good, and I was grateful, but all I wanted to do was sleep.
Once I got into a regular room, things improved and I had a new perspective. Nothing had gone down the way I planned, but I had a healthy baby and that’s what mattered. And as awful as having pre-eclampsia was, I felt incredibly lucky to get it when I was already full term. Many women get it in the second trimester, when delivering a baby is obviously much riskier.
Bottom line: go into your delivery with zero expectations, because you have no clue what’s actually going to go down.
The good news? My second delivery, another induction, took forever to get going but was otherwise smooth sailing. Having no expectations and no birth plan was the way to go. And I got to do skin-to-skin with my baby boy for 90 minutes right after he was born. Bliss.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.