I honestly don’t know why they call them that. The fact is, you can’t PLAN your birth process. Even if you have a wonderful labour, you didn’t plan it. It was just a wonderful surprise to know that you were able to have a relatively good experience! To suggest that we can plan childbirth just seems like bollocks to me. Big sweaty ones. It says we’re in control of the process. I’m sorry, but while that thought is nice and sometimes keeps us sane, it just isn’t true.
My advice to first time pregnant mums is to throw out any notion that you are in charge and that everything will happen the way you want it to, because you’ve thought positively, avoided all negative horror stories and you’ve got a birth plan. Hasn’t anyone heard?? You have a birth plan! You did research! People who do research are better at this, right? Everything’s going to go just as you want it to! The truth is, positive thinking and making smart choices are never a bad thing – in fact, I recommend them. However, they don’t make a ‘good’ labour (ie the one you hope for) a sure thing. I feel like society keeps telling us we’re in control of everything. It feels like a comforting thought, but when despite all of your best efforts, something goes wrong…you feel like a failure. You’ve been fooled and pressured into thinking that you’re in charge of such a crazy biological process.
It’s actually liberating to realise you can’t be in charge of all of it. When my pregnancy started to get a little bit nuts, I blamed myself. I was ashamed that all these weird things were happening to me. I thought that those around me (the lucky ducks who have pregnancies that make them feel great) would think that I must be doing something wrong. That I must be thinking negatively, making some erroneous choice with my lifestyle or my diet etc. I knew it wasn’t my fault on an intellectual level (and was told so by more than one doctor/medical professional), but the fear of judgement was probably my biggest mistake of all! It’s just that we have all been brainwashed. It’s misguidedly comforting to tell ourselves that the other person over there with the pregnancy problems or the terrible labour must have done something wrong, because then we can just do it all ‘right’ and we’ll be fine. In a sick way, it reassures us.
In some ways, my crazy pregnancy was the greatest gift. It taught me that I’m not the one driving this bus (at times I looked like one haha). That you can do all of the ‘right’ things, think all of the most positive thoughts, and nature will still take its course. By the time I got closer to my due date, I threw all ideas of a birth ‘plan’ out of the window.
I had birth ‘preferences’. Birth ‘hopes’. Birth ‘wishes’.
I wrote a list of what I hoped for. I wrote a list of things I was willing to do to save myself or the baby (I kind of knew it wouldn’t be straight forward – intuition perhaps). I wrote a list of guidelines for my husband and my family – who I wanted there and when. It wasn’t fancy. It was pen scrawled all over an A4 piece of scrap paper, written off the top of my head. Maybe a list of only about 15 items. Some being very significant, like what I hoped would happen if something should happen to me (incapacitating me in some way), to the not so earth shattering, “Here’s my iPod, if my labour gets long just play it on shuffle – the songs on it keep me calm and inspire me.”
I was obviously hoping for a natural, vaginal birth, but I knew that drugs might help (I was quite unashamedly open to the idea) and that a C-section might be an emergency necessity. I knew from the start of the whole process that I would just be happy to have a healthy baby. I would not spend time mourning the death of a ‘plan’. I had already mourned the smooth, normal pregnancy I hoped I would have. I wasn’t going to do that to myself again.
My new attitude paid off. Because, as you may know, sh*t got crazy. I was in hospital for a mere 3 hours before I was in surgery. I only knew I was in labour about 2 hours before that. My labour was brought on by an infection. I got to 9cm dilated before they had to get me in for an emergency C-section. The epidural was administered in full dosage ahead of time (which made it a bit weird when I tried to push in a last ditch effort – can’t feel ANYTHING down there). I had no choice. I was then tethered (by catheter) to my hospital bed for two days (rather than the customary one day), while my firstborn spent the first 3 days of his life in another hospital without me because he was sick too.
If I had been all about a ‘plan’, I would have been exponentially more devastated and traumatised. Instead I was just shocked and dazed (perhaps it was the pethidine too) and later realised the enormity of what had happened to my baby and I. It took weeks to come to terms with what had happened. It was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me, my baby, or my body and of course it was going to take some getting used to! I am just glad that I didn’t also have the added sadness about things not going to ‘plan’ during the birth. I’d made my wishes known and they’d been respected, but I hadn’t outlined my preferred labour process without having an open mind. I knew anything could happen.
The important things happened. My parents were there to share in the experience (they stayed at the ‘right’ end of me haha) for the first time (I am adopted so it was hugely meaningful for the three of us as my mum has never experienced a pregnancy and I wanted to share this with her – I was so moved by my parents’ gratitude at being invited into such a special and private ‘event’). My husband got to the hospital quickly and was there for just about the whole time – by my side, encouraging me and saying all the right things (seriously!). I was kept safe, as was the Little Mister. No-one tweeted or Facebooked my labour process to the world in real time. I was given gas right when I needed it, surgery before things got horrible, and my baby was alive and likely to stay that way.
What didn’t I expect? What didn’t go to plan?
By complete chance, a top obstetrician just happened to be present when I came into the hospital. He was amazing and kept everyone calm in a tricky situation. Including me. I got optimum attention and care because while the time of my labour was unexpected (I was due to be induced almost a week later), I was the only person giving birth in the ward that night. The ONLY one! If I had been induced when I was expecting to be, the ward would have been FLOODED with people hoping to have their babies on the 11/11/2011 (as I found out later that week after a 6 day stay in the ward). Resources and manpower would have been stretched. The paediatrician who was present was also very good at her job (and to my mum’s delight – the wife of her favourite former professional AFL footballer)!
While not much went remotely as predicted, a lot of things went really right. I am so grateful. I am so glad I can see those blessings. Blessings I could never have planned for.
I’m calling on everyone to stop telling each other that we can plan our destinies. We can’t. We can’t be in control of everything. We can put our ducks in a row. We can be educated. We can make the best choices possible to encourage a great outcome. We can be positive and keep a great mindset. We can work hard. All of this might put us in the right places at the right times, but ultimately not all of it will always work out how we expected. Childbirth is no exception.
For many, it’s about control. One of the most confronting things about pregnancy and birth is the unpredictability of it and women often believe they can regain control by planning. Babies, however, like to raise their middle finger at your plans. They come early, they come late, they get stuck, they get suddenly distressed or tired or tangled…
After my personal experience, all I think we should care about is what’s best for the baby in that moment. I’m not going to compromise my child’s safety, by refusing treatment (or at least prolonging the inevitable) because I want to stick to a plan. Birth plans? Total first world problem/privilege. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly. My baby was in real trouble (as was I) if I did not have the first class care that I received. Who cares what that care involved as long as everything turned out for the best? A child who was/is alive (even if he didn’t breathe for four agonising minutes). Healthy after a little special attention.
Childbirth might not feel like the magical miracle everyone dreams of (at least it isn’t for everyone), but the result is what matters. It’s really important to go in knowing what is the most important.
If you got out of it healthy (if not worn out and needing some stitches somewhere) and you got to hold your healthy baby, take him/her back to your hospital room for cuddles and bonding for the first few days of his/her life… YOU ARE LUCKY. Your birth went well.
The birth of the Little Mister was shocking, surprising, a blur and hard to wrap my head around later, but I do not regret it at all. It went the way it needed to go. I wouldn’t and couldn’t change it. It brought me the most amazing gift and we all survived! I feel like a much stronger, more resilient person for it. I am proud of the fact that I was able to accept what happened (it took some time but had more to do with the trauma of being separated from my baby – as an adoptee since birth this was difficult to accept – my little man had to experience an immediate separation from me – something I’d dreamed he’d be spared of ever experiencing) and I feel like anything that brings you your gorgeous baby alive and well (even days later) is a success. I refuse to think of it as anything else.
My advice to mums to be is to accept that life brings no guarantees. Know stuff. Do the stuff you can do. Then let the universe (and your beautiful baby you are so excited to meet) take its course. Some things are just bigger than us. Our self esteem and our pride should have nothing to do with something we can’t really control. We should not feel ashamed if something turns out differently to how we hoped. We did our best and life had other plans. That’s OK.
Sometimes life might put us on a path that will teach us the most, if we’re willing to learn.
Did your birth/s go to plan? Did you have a plan?
For some women, a traumatic birth or a birth that did not go to plan can be a trigger for post natal depression. If you are struggling, please click here for some resources.