It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of planning, it was the age of spontaneity, it was the season of control, it was the season of chaos, it was the epoch of predictability, it was the epoch of fluctuation. We had everything before us, and even though nothing went according to plan, it was, undeniably, a time of miracles.
“Well, I’m so glad we did this ultrasound. He’s breech,” the midwife informed me nonchalantly, as if confirming that my baby did indeed have two feet.
I was 36 weeks pregnant with my first baby, and I had no clue what that even meant.
“You’ll need a c-section,” she continued, before giving me the brief rundown of risks and statistics.
Tears streamed down my face as I quickly grieved the birth plan I was giving up. The birth plan—that, up until that point—had been incredibly flexible. It was so flexible, in fact, I hadn’t even bothered to write it down. My birth plan was simple:
Go as long as possible without drugs. Attempt a water birth. If I start saying bad words, bring me the drugs ASAP.
See? Simple. There was no five-page plan, no birth playlist, no list of demands. And yet, upon hearing that my easy-breezy birth plan was not going to be the plan, I was nothing short of devastated.
I took home a pamphlet titled, “How To Flip Your Baby” or something of that nature. It was a tri-fold full of safe home remedies a pregnant woman could attempt in hopes of turning her baby around. I hoisted myself into the car, big pregnant belly pushed up against the steering wheel, and let warm tears fall all over the brochure while I called my husband and told him the news.
The next 24 hours looked like something out of a sitcom. Picture me lying upside down on an ironing board propped up against the couch with a bag of frozen fried rice on the top of my belly, a heating pad on my pubic bone, and a pair of headphones streaming loud music tucked into my underwear. My husband shined a flashlight at my belly button and held an empty paper towel roll between his mouth and my lower stomach. His voice boomed into the paper towel megaphone, “Baby, it’s your father. Come down here. Step into the liiiiiight!!”
The whole scene was equal parts hilarious and pathetic.
When I wasn’t lying upside down on the ironing board, I was doing cat-cow exercises and various yoga poses. I cried on and off all night, desperately trying to keep my hormones in check and my optimism high.
“Do you want to take a bath? It might help you relax,” my husband suggested.
I followed his advice, and immediately burst out laughing when I stepped into the tub. He had taped a picture above the faucet, an illustrated baby in the head down position with the caption, “C’mon baby! You can do it!”
The next day we returned to the birth center to see if our home tricks had worked. They hadn’t. We met the doctor for an external cephalic version treatment, which is a fancy way of saying she tried to turn the baby manually with her hands.
It was just as painful as it sounds.
The doctor, God bless her, pushed as hard as she could. I closed my eyes and breathed through the pain, saying turn baby turn in my head with each exhale. I watched the doctor’s face and could tell it wasn’t working. I cried, again.
The doctor measured the baby’s head size and quickly ruled out the option of a vaginal delivery. She recommended a scheduled c-section at 39 weeks, and that was that.
On May 7th, my son was born, cut straight from my body and immediately placed on my chest. I have never cried so hard in all my life.
It was a miracle.
When I got pregnant with my second baby, I opted for a repeat c-section. Nobody was more surprised about this decision than I was. Me, the girl who spent an entire night lying upside on an ironing board with headphones in her pants, all to avoid a c-section, was willingly asking for another one.
I did heaps and heaps of research about VBACs vs. repeat c-sections, and I spoke to friends who had done both. I talked to the doctors and midwives about all of my concerns, the biggest of which being my first child’s head size, which was 98th percentile at 39 weeks. Could I even do a VBAC? What if my second baby went to 41 weeks and had an off-the-charts head size? What if I labored all day and ended up in a c-section anyways?
Lots of people had lots of opinions, but after reading my fair share of statistics and speaking with the midwives, I had to combine the research with what was in my heart.
And in my heart, the shocking truth was: I had no desire to try a VBAC.
As strange as it sounds, I longed for the same birth experience I had already endured: the oasis of that familiar operating room, a numb body that felt no pain, the magic moment of having a baby placed on my chest within a blue curtain cocoon. I wanted the method that felt comfortable, safe, recognizable. I desperately wanted a repeat of the only birth experience I had ever known. Another c-section didn’t scare me at all, but the thought of doing a VBAC was terrifying—just thinking about it gave me anxiety.
So, we unabashedly decided on a c-section and announced the date to all our friends. Our second baby would be born on October 27th. I circled the date in my day planner and drew little hearts in the box. I arranged for the house to be professionally cleaned on the 26th, and we lined up childcare for our two year-old. I scheduled one last hair appointment, and we made a plan to go to Costco the weekend prior to stock up on things like toilet paper and laundry detergent. Check, check, check; all my ducks were in a row.
I felt confident, peaceful, totally in control of my own life.
Which is why, three weeks before my scheduled c-section, when I started feeling braxton hicks on an otherwise normal Friday night, the possibility that I was going into labor hadn’t even occurred to me.
(Insert pity laughter here.)
As it turned out, those braxton hicks were real contractions, and pure chaos ensued. The birth center instructed us to come in, my friend scrambled over in her pajamas to watch our two year-old; I took a shower, and we were out the door. My husband didn’t bring so much as a change of clothes.
We arrived at the birth center at 1:00am looking like a couple of lost teenagers. A nurse named Antoinette took pity on our panicked faces, and, after checking me, gently informed us of the unthinkable: “You’re a three. This baby is coming tonight.”
What followed might as well have been a scene from that TV show I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant. We had signed up for birth classes with the first pregnancy, but only attended one class before receiving the breech diagnosis. We decided it would be a waste of time to go to the rest.
Birth class dropouts, my husband and I had never skimmed a single birthing book. The closest thing I had seen to a live birth was a couple of YouTube videos, and that Katherine Heigl scene from Knocked Up.
My husband kept asking if I wanted music, which only made me angry. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know what I was doing. So I walked around the room groaning and almost hyperventilated a few times because I wasn’t breathing properly, as Antoinette kindly informed me.
Again, it was all so hilarious and pathetic.
A couple of hours later, the nurse checked me again and told me it was time to push.
“WHAT?” I yelled. “Can I still get drugs?”
She assured me that I could, but they never came. Within the hour, my body writhed in unspeakable pain and did the thing I guess it was capable of doing all along. On October 4th, one whole month before his due date, my second baby came out the old fashioned way, and was immediately placed on my chest. I have never screamed so loud in all my life.
It was a miracle.
I’m far enough removed from both experiences now to simply laugh at the irony: my planned water birth turned into a c-section, and my planned c-section turned into an all-natural VBAC.
Essentially, neither of my births went according to plan.
And you’re supposed to have a plan, right? You can hop on Pinterest and find everything from "What To Pack In Your Hospital Bag" to charts debating the Bradley Method vs. Hypnobirthing. With the help of the Internet, you can easily learn how to write the perfect birth plan, how to create the perfect birth environment, and how to train the perfect birth coach.
And while I do believe in planning (Monica Geller is my spirit animal), sometimes I wonder: are we placing too much focus on planning the “perfect” birth? Is the pressure of birth empowerment consuming more of our time and energy than the actual transition of becoming a mother for the first or second or even fifth time?
I think planning a birth is kind of like planning a wedding. Hop on Pinterest, and it’s over. You could spend 400 hours searching for the perfect invitations, the homegrown bouquets, the DIY table numbers made out of distressed barn wood. You could drive all over town trying on dress after dress, shoe after shoe, lipstick shade after lipstick shade. You could easily spend an entire year of your life planning the perfect wedding, and of course there is nothing (inherently) wrong with that. But is it possible, that sometimes, amid the mason jar candles and DIY dreamcatchers, that the whole point of the wedding, the actual marriage itself, gets a tiny bit…..lost in translation?
Just like a birth plan gone amiss, our perfect wedding plans often go off course. Maybe it rains, or maybe the food order gets mixed up, or maybe Uncle Bobby gets drunk and hits on all the bridesmaids.
But when all is said and done, no matter what happened, no matter what the weather looked like or who got the wrong meal or who had to deal with Uncle Bobby barfing in the potted plant, the endgame is the same: you married your best friend. The wedding is only the first day of a life-long commitment to one another.
And giving birth? It’s kind of like that. It’s the very first day of a life-long commitment to raising and loving a child. It is an important day, it is a special day, it is absolutely a day worthy of your best plans.
But if your plans go awry….if all the water tubs are full, if your baby is breech, if your baby is early, if your baby is late, if you need the drugs after you swore you wouldn’t, I want you to know this: motherhood is so much more than the day your baby is born. Motherhood is…..forever.
In some ways, your birth experience is the perfect prelude to a lifetime of learning this lesson over and over again: some things are simply not in your control.
So make your plans, pack your bag, and get that playlist ready. It’s okay to dream and strategize, to prepare and make lists. We can celebrate a birth gone according to plan, just like we can grieve a birth plan gone wrong. But let’s give our birth experience the weight it deserves: our birth story is always significant; it is rarely definitive.
Let's not let the pressure of one day overshadow the miracle of an entire lifetime.
This is only the beginning.