Like many new moms, when I found out I was pregnant I was both excited and terrified. I was thrilled to start a family—but getting there meant I would have to go through the utterly horrific process of birth, and nothing about that was appealing to me.
I am the type of person who obsessively researches things when they are scared of them. I became fixated on reading up on birthing techniques: what were the pros and cons, for instance, of water birth? Home birth? What happens, exactly, when you get a c-section?
It was my partner who suggested we take a Lamaze class. “It’ll be fun,” he said. “It’ll be something for us to do together. And it might make you less anxious.”
While I refused to admit to myself that the daily-approaching threat of birth had me running scared, in the interest of learning more about what was happening to me and my body, I agreed to go.
It was an odd experience, full of worksheets and ice breakers and mandated back rubs set to Enya-ish soundtracks and dim lighting. But there was a lot of good information shared. I learned about fetal development. I connected with some folks who were going to the same hospital I was planning to go to and managed to schedule a tour of the maternity ward. Mostly, the Lamaze classes served as a starting place for me to branch out and find additional resources on things like lactation, doulas, and where the good consignment shops were for baby stuff.
But when it came to the actual process of giving birth, the Lamaze classes turned out to be totally useless.
Named for the French obstetrician Ferdinand Lamaze, Lamaze classes have been taught for dozens of years. Essentially, they're a way to make new moms feel like they have agency and power over the birthing process by teaching those who are giving birth breathing techniques to help minimize pain during labor. While Lamaze classes emphasize the beauty of so-called "natural" childbirth, it also aims to teach those giving birth that if they want pain relief medication, they should be able to have all the information they need about that as well, so they can give informed consent during actual childbirth.
I've never been a huge fan of medical intervention. I have the kind of horrible anxiety that gifts me with hypochondria, but also leaves me with debilitating panic whenever I have to interact with medical professionals, in part because I am gender-queer and being in medical spaces can trigger feelings of gender dysphoria. So I have an inherent mistrust of doctors, a feeling that was multiplied tenfold while I was pregnant and while I was taking Lamaze classes.
The more time I spent in Lamaze classes learning about the cascade of medical interventions that are common during childbirth, and how often that chain can lead to emergency c-sections, the more determined I was to minimize any medical interventions at all. I decided that I wanted to give birth at a hospital—in case something went wrong—but that I wanted as "natural" a birth as possible.
I was about halfway through a draft of my birth plan when my water broke.
My water breaking was completely unexpected. I had been to my OB-GYN earlier that day, and she’d told me that I was nowhere near ready to give birth— I wasn’t dilated, nor was I having any contractions. And then, out of nowhere, boom: I woke up in a pool of mysterious fluid.
We went to the hospital, where I was admitted to Labor and Delivery (once your water breaks, there’s basically no way you're going back home without a baby). But I wasn’t actually in active labor. The nurses let me try to get my labor kickstarted naturally. I tried walking around the floor. I tried nipple stimulation. I tried bouncing on a yoga ball my partner brought from home. After twelve hours of this, they called my bluff and brought in a nice doctor to talk to me about Pitocin to speed things up.
Everything in my birth plan was about natural pain management. Yet in a matter of seconds, it had flown completely out the window.
There it was: the cascade of medical interventions. Everything I had learned in Lamaze classes had taught me to politely decline the Pitocin, but I was exhausted, not to mention kind of a wuss. I agreed to the Pitocin. “But first,” I said, “I want an epidural. Don’t give me the Pitocin until I have the epidural.” It took nearly another ten hours for them to give me both the Pitocin and the epidural.
Everything in my birth plan was about natural pain management. Yet in a matter of seconds, it had flown completely out the window. I went into the hospital thinking I would do one thing, but the needs of the moment chipped away at me, and I ended up making an entirely different set of decisions. I was stuck to a bed, with tubes coming out of me and sensors stuck to my limbs, machines beeping. I was in exactly the position the Lamaze instructors had maligned, but in the moment, it didn’t actually feel that bad. I took a lot of comfort knowing that my pain was already being managed and that active labor was finally imminent, after nearly 24 hours.
The birth itself was fine. Like most births, it was weird and dramatic, but ultimately everything turned out OK. The epidural in particular was fascinating—it made my legs feel numb and tingly, like when you have stayed out in the snow for too long in pants that are too thin. Ultimately, I think having the epidural was the right call for my birth plan, which did not unfold as I had expected.
Given how utterly unpredictable birth is, I can’t say I regret taking the Lamaze classes. But I will say that they fostered in me the idea that pregnant women should prepare for the most controlled birth scenario, even though that is so rarely the case in late-stage pregnancy. I was left wondering how helpful having a birth plan actually is, but even though mine didn't come to fruition, I wouldn't have traded it for the world.