Long before I ever conceived my daughter, I knew I wanted an unmedicated, natural birth. I knew I wanted as little interventions as possible. So when my husband and I finally became pregnant after years of trying, we immediately joined a birthing class to prepare ourselves for the best possible experience. We made it to almost all of the meetings and diligently did our homework, practicing relaxation techniques and exercises. And then the day finally came. Everything went perfectly . . . until it didn’t.
We arrived at the hospital about an hour after my water broke, and I was already in active labor. By the time I was in a gown and sitting on a birthing ball, my contractions were one and a half minutes apart. I knew I was progressing quickly, and it was both scary and exciting.
Doing my best to remember my relaxation techniques, I tried to implement them. My labor was progressing so quickly that I knew I’d have my baby in my arms in no time at all. Four hours after my labor started, I was lying on my side, suddenly incapacitated by pain in my back. I vocalized (not screaming, not moaning, but something in between) almost constantly and couldn’t catch my breath between contractions.
I was in transition, and when I involuntarily pushed, unbearable pain shot through my back and pelvis. It wasn’t the way people described it to me. “You’ll feel better when you push,” they said. “It’s like taking a big poop. It feels productive.”
Well, I don’t know what kind of poop they were describing, but it didn’t feel relieving for me at all. I knew there was no way I could continue pushing through that sort of pain. At 9.5 centimeters, I asked for an epidural. And boy, am I glad I did.
My daughter, all 8lb, 9oz of her, was born on her side rather than facedown, which is the optimal birthing position. It’s no wonder I had back labor! Her shoulder was digging into my spine! I’ll save you the gory details, but she came out like a wrecking ball.
I had a long, long recovery. (Am I done recovering? It’s been 6 months . . . yikes).
I grieved the failure of my birth plan for months. I beat myself up, constantly wondering if I could have just endured if I had tried switching positions, or found some kind of way to cope. When friends talked about their natural births, I felt jealousy squeeze my heart.
For me, having a natural birth was never about trying to be some kind of crazy superwoman. I wasn’t trying to be a hero. I just wanted to experience it. I wanted the euphoric surge of relief women talk about feeling after giving birth naturally. I wanted to ride that high, and I wanted all the proven benefits of an unmedicated birth. It was important to me. And since I don’t know if I’ll ever have another baby, I don’t know if I’ll have another chance.
I also felt guilty for even feeling sad about it. I didn’t have to have a cesarean. My baby was never in distress. All in all, the only thing that went “wrong” was that I had to be medicated. I know some might feel like I shouldn’t complain at all. But I reiterate: this was important to me.
But I’m happy to say I’ve come to terms with it, and I learned a few key things from my experience. I’m sharing them for women who also grieved their birthing process:
- I learned motherhood is full of compromises. Sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, and being a mother means many, many plans will have to change. Sometimes you have to decide what is better for you and your baby, even if it doesn’t fall within the guidelines of your original plan.
- I learned I am much stronger than I thought. For months, I felt weak because of my experience. But choosing an epidural when I knew it would make me sad took strength! It took guts! For some, an epidural is a no brainer. But I knew choosing it to spare myself incomprehensible pain and also to allow myself to actually enjoy the birth of my daughter was exactly the right choice for me.
- I learned that in every circumstance, I can choose peace over panic. Uh, I don’t know about you, but I think labor is terrifying. Even after all the training I went through beforehand to prepare me, I still felt like I was plunging into the unknown. Would my baby be okay? Would I be okay? “Oh my gosh, this tiny (ha!) human is about to come through my pelvis and out of my body. I’m going to die from this.” I was able to choose peace. And if I could choose peace in that circumstance, I can choose it when I am having the hardest of hard days as a mother.
- I learned that I can let go of things that didn’t happen the way I wanted. My baby was extremely healthy, in spite of the fact that she had passed meconium in my womb, and in spite of the fact that I was Group B Strep positive and didn’t have time to receive adequate antibiotics. She could have been very sick, but she wasn’t. She was healthy as could be! So who cares how she was born? No matter what, her health and happiness is worth more to me than anything else. When you become a mother, you learn that you have new dreams, like seeing your child grow up knowing they are loved and cared for, and watching them chase their own dreams.
Birth, in any shape or form, is powerful. No matter how it went for you, you are powerful!
Did your birth plan “fail?” What did you learn about yourself in the process?