When I got pregnant with my first child, I did what I do with just about everything in my life. Research. Every aspect of pregnancy, labor, and delivery that I could get my hands on, I researched it. I interviewed midwives and explored different styles of birth classes. I dove into natural pain relief techniques and the benefits of water birth. If there was a subject related to pregnancy or childbirth, I dug deep and educated myself about it. Including making a detailed, rock-solid, bullet-proof birth plan.
As I got closer to my due date, my midwife asked to see my birth plan. After reading through it, she said she thought I should add some clauses about what I wanted to happen in case things didn’t go according to my plan. Excuse me?! I thought. Things will go smoothly! I naively insisted. Nevertheless, I added a few thoughts on what I wanted if things didn’t go the way I imagined. Little did I know how important those “what if” clauses would be.
The Best Laid Plans
Despite my well-laid-out birth plan, things did, in fact, go sideways during my labor and delivery. After laboring for close to 40 hours unmedicated, my cervix stopped opening when I hit 7 centimeters. We tried moving the baby back (the midwife suspected she was coming down with her head slightly tilted, which is why she was stuck). We tried doing walking squats out in the parking lot. My husband took me on a bumpy car ride. I even let the midwife rupture my membranes (something I initially refused to do). Anything to help move the process along.
But none of it worked, and after 40 hours, my body was exhausted, and my mind was beaten. I no longer had the strength and confidence that I could have my baby the way I planned. Feeling broken and defeated and guilty, I told my husband it was time to transfer to the hospital. The relief I saw flash over his face told me he had been waiting for me to make this choice. While he felt relief, all I could feel was sadness. I felt like I was failing myself and my baby.
The Plan Goes Out the Window
At the hospital, I was terrified. I did not feel that I had any control of the situation anymore and that the doctors and nurses would do things that I disagreed with. I begged my husband to make sure they followed my birth plan unless it meant life or death. We gave a copy of the plan to each nurse and doctor that walked into our room, and my midwife was by my side the whole time. She knew how scared I was. And she was going to advocate for me the best she could.
Eventually, after an ineffective epidural and a doctor who threatened to section me so he could make his marathon race (he quickly changed his mind when I threatened his life if he came at me with a scalpel!), I finally gave birth to my nearly ten-pound daughter. She was born completely healthy. I had a third-degree tear, but otherwise, I was fine. In the end, everything turned out okay. But I was deeply mourning the loss of my birth plan.
It’s Okay to Mourn Your Birth Plan
As we have all experienced in some way or another, it is rare for things to go as we plan them. And giving birth is one of the number one events in life that rarely go according to plan. Some births are easier than we expect, some are much harder, and some can be traumatic. While creating a rock-solid birth plan is always a good idea, sometimes things just don’t work out. And we moms tend to feel a lot of emotions when that happens. One of those emotions is grief.
I grieved hard for the way my daughter was brought into the world. In fact, I was so distraught about it that I had panic attacks regularly as I got closer to the birth of my son only a few years later. It’s okay to mourn your birth plan. But here are some ways to let yourself mourn but also stay rooted in what’s important: that you did what you needed to do for your baby.
Allow yourself to grieve.
It may seem silly to someone who’s never experienced it, but mourning your birth plan is normal. If you spent months preparing to give birth to your sweet child in a very specific way and all of that went up in smoke, you have the right to be sad about it. Perhaps you had to choose interventions or medications you said you never wanted. Maybe you had to give up certain choices you wanted to be able to make. Giving birth is already an incredibly emotional event. It can be frightening when you feel out of control of what’s happening. Give yourself space to grieve the loss of your birth plan.
Do not believe the lie that you failed.
The biggest thing I struggled with after the birth of my daughter was feeling like I failed. I failed my daughter, and I failed myself. My birth plan had been carefully crafted based on my beliefs about what would be the best birth for myself and my child. And many of those heavily researched decisions got thrown to the wind when I found myself in a hospital. And while I am grateful for modern medicine and its many benefits, a hospital birth was not what I wanted for my child. I struggled with feeling that I had not been strong enough, prepared enough, brave enough.
But all of these things are lies. In the moment I had to make a hard choice, I made the best one I knew how. I had to protect my tired and uncooperative body and my child’s health, so I had to make a difficult choice. It has taken me years to recognize the lies and believe what was true: I made the best choice for myself and my baby. There’s nothing braver than that.
No matter how supportive our husbands are (and I had a pretty spectacular one), they simply can’t understand the mental and emotional toll a thwarted birth plan can have on a woman. They may reassure us that they think we are amazing and brave and did everything we could do. But they have a limited understanding of what we’ve been through. And that’s okay.
If you’re struggling with the loss of your birth plan, I encourage you to seek out someone you can talk to who is trained to help you through your emotions. There is nothing to be ashamed of in speaking to a counselor. Licensed counselors are specially trained to help people work through grief and loss and come out the other side stronger and more at peace with their experience. Do not hesitate to reach out to one if you are mourning your birth plan.
Don’t let fear control your subsequent birth(s).
A few years after the birth of my daughter, I was back at a birthing center in labor with my son. Despite trying not to think about it, I was terrified that I would end up laboring for two days and ending up in the hospital just like the first time. At one point, I whispered to my husband, “I don’t think I can go through that again.” And he smiled and gently brushed the hair off my forehead and replied, “You won’t have to. This is a very different birth, and your body knows what to do. And so do we.” And he was right. After I let go of the fear and worry and focused on my body, things progressed nicely. And I finally got the birth experience I had hoped for. And it was beautiful.
Birth is an experience that no woman truly has control over. Whether you create a simple, basic birth plan or a heavily researched, ridiculously detailed birth plan (like mine), at the end of the day, your baby and your body are going to do things you never anticipated. You may have to amend or adjust your plan accordingly. Or you may have to throw it out the window entirely. It’s okay to mourn your birth plan if that happens. But remember to give yourself the time, space, and freedom to grieve, seek counseling if necessary, and don’t let the fear and the lies keep you from enjoying your sweet new baby or any birth experience you may have later.