I had a specific birth plan in mind for welcoming my little human.
I knew I wanted to give birth as natural as possible, just as my mother did with her three children and my partner’s mother with her six bubs. They told me that giving birth wasn’t easy, but that women’s bodies were made for it anyway, so there’s no need to panic.
I imagined I would bask in the pain and glory of childbirth, with ocean waves playing in the background and my partner massaging my back and neck. Then, have my little human lie on my chest for hours of skin-to-skin contact, making breastfeeding effortless. No drugs, no interventions, just my body owning the tough stuff it’s built for.
Well...you know that old Yiddish adage, “Man Plans, God Laughs”? I’m pretty sure they were not talking about birth plans, but they sure might as well be.
My labor and delivery experience didn’t go exactly as I hoped and planned for. The contractions were fast and furious, definitely nothing like my friends had told me. I got to 10 centimeters dilated in 8 hours, and then I was told to push. But after more than an hour of pushing with no baby to show for it, the doctors told me we would have to consider a c-section.
By then, though, I was completely over it. I signed the consent form willingly and with relief thinking, “I have nothing left. Just please get the baby out… I swear I’m never having another baby!”
There are no words to describe that moment when you meet your baby for the first time. ‘Magical’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. Despite stumbling through the first few weeks of motherhood in a sleep-deprived haze, I was elated to embrace my new role and was head over heels in love my sweet little boy. And yet, deep down I struggled to shrug off feelings that my birth experience was ‘less than.’
I should have pushed harder.
I shouldn’t have stopped practicing yoga.
At 7.8lbs, I guess the baby was too big. But others have given birth naturally to bigger kids.
The doctors shouldn’t have given up on me.
I shouldn’t have given up on myself.
I blamed myself and others and thought about what went wrong, what could and what should have been. I had a vision of the birth that I built up for the last nine months, and I backed out at the last hour.
Perhaps sensing that I was beating myself up for throwing my birth plan out the window, my friend and OB/GYN shared some wise words with me. She said that natural childbirth is a lot like running a marathon. You can run and train for weeks and go on a strict diet. But at the end of the day, you still have to hope that the weather would be kind so you can go ahead and finish.
Similarly, would-be mothers need to prepare for the unexpected. Every delivery is different, and some women may need extra help—which is why some providers usually intervene for health and safety reasons. But while labor interventions are common and useful in some instances, it’s also important for moms to be aware of the kind of ‘help’ they can ask for. And that if they should ever decide to use birth interventions, they should strive to do so judiciously.
Making peace with my birth experience helped me appreciate my body more and allowed me to discover strengths I didn’t know I had—specifically, the ability to let go of my expectations and choose what’s best for my child even though it meant enduring real wounds and scars in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
But letting go of my what ifs and if onlys doesn’t mean I no longer believe in having a natural birth. On the contrary, I continue to be in awe of moms who went the natural route as it is no easy feat. (Okay let’s be real: all kinds of labor is hard AF!)
And if you are hoping to have a natural birth experience, I believe I can share some important advice.
What? You didn’t even make it! Exactly.
I used to think that joy can be reaped from carefully executed plans, but now I know it can also be discovered through the lessons you learn when things don’t go according to plan. And I sure did learn a lot about natural birth from my c-section experience.
(Please know that my intention in this post isn’t to judge, criticize, or make moms feel bad about having interventions. I had interventions, too, and there’s no shame! What I wanted to convey is that moms have the power of choice when it comes to having the kind of maternity care and birth they desire.
Luck (or even childbearing hips) has nothing to do with success in natural childbirth. As my friend and OB/GYN said, you can’t just register for a marathon and expect to finish it sans training and preparation. You also need determination and commitment. Know your goals for going the natural route and hold onto them; this will motivate you when labor gets tough.
One way to help you become more empowered to birth your baby is by attending childbirth classes. (I didn’t participate in one, thinking Youtube was gold. Turns out, not everything can be learned in just a few videos. Especially not something as significant as natural childbirth.) The right class will equip you with the tools you need to reduce fear and achieve an intervention-free, natural birth experience.
Did you know that having a doula assist in birth can help women prevent unnecessary birth interventions and have more spontaneous vaginal births? When choosing a doula, make sure that the two of you really connect. Birth is an incredibly intimate and special experience and you would surely want someone whom you are comfortable with and whose strengths match your needs.
While I already knew that childbirth can be a very physically demanding and draining time, I was too confident that I could handle whatever landed in my path. I have a naturally high pain threshold and was confident about my bod—too confident in fact that I thought I can do away with less exercise. Turns out, getting up and moving whenever possible is vital to keeping your body strong and pelvis open. Walking, swimming, and prenatal yoga are some of the best exercises to prepare for birth.
About the different types of birth intervention as well as their risks - In many US hospitals, birth interventions are common and all too often hastily decided upon. In fact, a 2013 surveyof women’s pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experiences reveals that 67% of women who gave birth vaginally had an epidural in labor, and 31% were given Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin) to speed up their labors. Meanwhile, 17% of women had an episiotomy, and 31% delivered via a c-section. While medical interventions are often real life-savers for high-risk pregnancies, it’s a different story when healthy, low-risk pregnancies end up in unnecessary c-sections. That’s why I encourage every soon-to-be mama to take the time to read about birth interventions and understand that just because they are available doesn’t mean they have to be a routine part of your maternity care.
Oh yeah, did I tell you that labor was painful? To help you achieve a drug-free birth, I suggest that you research natural alternatives for pain control. There are so many techniques available, ranging from self-hypnosis, guided imagery, yoga, and deep breathing. Looking back, I realized that I actually did not do my homework then because I wasn’t aware that such techniques existed.
Moms shouldn’t underestimate the importance of rallying their troops during birth. Having a supportive partner, family, and provider (whether an OB/GYN, midwife, nurse midwife, or a family physician) around can help moms achieve their intended birth experience with fewer tears and frustration.
I’m usually not the one to go with the flow (hello, birth plan!), but my birth experience taught me that when things get real it’s important to be flexible and embrace the process as much as you can. By letting go of your preconceived notions of what birth will be like, you can actually increase your odds of having the birth you’ve dreamed of.
Childbirth is hard no matter which route you take. Like a flower, birth unfolds and blooms as it needs to. But whether you were able to successfully birth your child drug-free or via c-section, remember that welcoming your child to the world is an important rite of passage, so try to celebrate it as such.
How about you? Tell us about your birth story! Were you able to achieve the kind of birth you wanted?