Birth Doula Blog
When Plans Go Wrong
The Five Mistakes I Made Giving Birth
Almost fourteen years ago, my husband and I carefully crafted the birth plan for our first child. We attended the 12 week Bradley Method course, read What to Expect When You're Expecting and Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth. In my last trimester, I began attending La Leche League meetings and my baby's nursery was stocked and ready for her. On paper, we were prepared, informed, and diligent. We deserved a good birth experience. We were sorely mistaken and looking back at the plan I had saved on my Google Drive only reminds me of how poorly prepared we were. Sure, my plan detailed what I wanted to avoid, how I would labor, and the newborn procedures we preferred. It all checked out...it was easy to read and even buttered up the hospital staff. The goal: healthy mom and baby. Who doesn't want that?
Me. I wanted more.
MISTAKE #1: LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS
It all began to fall apart from the moment I stepped into the hospital early in the morning. I had been getting pretty steady contractions for the past few hours but could easily recover from them and occasionally talk during a few. They met the 4-1-1 requirements so we were ready to go. Boy, what a terrible choice I made to believe labor is a number. My body was ready but my mind wasn't. I hadn't yet fully surrendered to labor.
Numbers also failed me when I agreed to a cervical check and was told I was only one centimeter dilated. The news devastated me since I had truly thought I had made progress at home. I didn't even think to ask about station or effacement. Still, I was so excited to finally be in labor that I eagerly let them admit me. The cervical checks just kept coming all morning. Each one telling me I wasn't "progressing" and causing fear in me every time the nurse would slip her gloves on. I would beg for them not to come into the room. I hated those checks, they only made me feel like a failure.
MISTAKE #2: FORGETTING ABOUT GRAVITY
I had typed up the positions I wanted to labor in and I knew movement and gravity were key to good fetal position, but the comfort of laying in a bed was all that mattered. This of course led to a very long labor in which my daughter wasn't making her way down as quickly as the staff wanted. Then the dreaded Pitocin was mentioned because I had been laboring too long with spontaneous ruptured membranes. I was scared to harm her so I agreed to "speed things up." This concoction made my contractions so unbearable that it led to my next mistake.
MISTAKE #3: NOT HAVING A PLAN FOR THE PAIN
It seems the only thing we had learned for managing contractions was to breathe and visualize my way through them. If you know me, you know I'm not great at slowing down or centering, but this is all we knew so it must work for me too, right? I wish I had known that staying true to my specific needs would have been much more helpful than writhing and moaning in bed. I would have swayed, listened to music, and taught my husband how to touch me. I would have used a TENS machine, heat pads, a birth comb, and a rebozo.
The pain was so much that it began to distract me from my purpose. I was not in control. I did not want to do this and my body listened, so it shut down. The fear and exhaustion held me back so I agreed to an epidural in order to disconnect my body from my mind.
MISTAKE #4: NOT HAVING A DOULA
My under-slept husband did what he could but he was tired, concerned, and overwhelmed. And my sister had no birth experience or knowledge. Love could only carry me so far. I wish I had had a doula to provide my husband with some respite and to rein us in when we were straying from the plan. I wish she would've given me a good metaphorical shake when the staff said Pitocin would make things better. Heck, my doula would have told me to stay home if my mind was still semi-sane. And she definitely would have told me to go right back home after finding out I was only one centimeter dilated. She might not have given me every single thing on that birth plan, but she would have made sure I was fully aware and consented so that I'd be left with no regrets.
After nearly 24 hours, I gave birth to my long-legged daughter who was sunny side up. We were generally healthy but she wasn't too alert (hello, Pitocin and epidural) so she was quickly taken from me. No chest-to-chest for us, no immediate nursing, no gazing at my little baby, but I didn't care. I was so incredibly exhausted that I slept for the five hours we were apart. I regret that to this day. We missed the critical golden hour. Unsurprisingly, breastfeeding was a huge struggle and I never felt that connection to her like I did with my second child who never left my side.
MISTAKE #5: NOT COMING TO TERMS
A few days after her birth, I shared the story in an email to all of the couples who had attended the Bradley course with us. Reading this now fills me with sadness and regret. I truly believed everything was ok. I typed "I don't feel like a failure." No one was asking or accusing but I felt I had to say it. Truth is, I did feel like I failed. I said the goal of healthy mom and baby was achieved. But if I'm being selfishly honest, that wasn't the only goal. I had wanted a beautiful experience I could look back at with admiration and love. I wanted the magic of new motherhood and the pride of doing it without medication. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't hate the experience. It's just that it took me years to accept that I never got what I wanted and that I could have done better, but hindsight is always 20/20.
I wish I had the courage to be honest and say I wasn't happy with the experience. All that mattered was that we were ok, right? Who would want to be unhappy when baby is healthy and mom needed no stitches? I didn't feel like I had the right to complain. It seemed like the outcome of birth was more important than the actual labor.
My doula would have let me know that my feelings were valid and she would've encouraged me to be open and come to terms with my experience without feeling so much guilt.
Fortunately, my second go was a much better experience thanks to my doula. Did it hurt? You bet! Did I get an epidural? Sure did! Is that what I had planned? Absolutely not! But having her around, plus the lessons my husband and I learned from the past, gave us the clarity to make informed decisions. Even straying from the plan gave me no regrets.
So it's not always about making ALL your wishes come true. It's about being present, having facts, and making the best choice.
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