Like most moms-to-be, when I was pregnant — especially as I got closer to my little one joining the world — I thought a lot about how I wanted the labor, birth and subsequent hours to go.
I decided that while I loved the idea of a home birth or birthing center, I would opt for a hospital birth. Sure, it sounded great that a water birth could mean my baby would presumably glide carefree into a tub of warm water while surrounded by calming music and fragrances without all the wires and the unflattering florescent lights of a hospital room. But I couldn’t help but worry about not being close to emergency care should something go wrong.
For as much as I knew I couldn’t control how it all panned out, I knew I had certain basic preferences for how I wanted it all to go and I made plans accordingly.
And then of course, nothing went according to plan.
Plan 1: Labor at home with a doula
I took steps to plan for as natural a birth as possible. I hired a doula, a wonderful woman who would bring a taste of the birthing center. She would come over and help me labor at home for as long as possible. We would bounce on an exercise ball and take hot showers and sing to the baby in ready position to come out, and she’d rub me down with essential oils while playing ambient sounds on her apps. Then, when I was more than 5 centimeters dilated, we would go to the hospital. I would be comfortable in my home environment and labor better as a result.
In reality, my water broke two-and-half weeks early. When the water breaks before contractions start, you really don’t have the luxury of laboring at home. The rate of infection increases after the four-hour mark. Plus, after only three hours at home, I didn’t feel the baby kicking and called my doctor. She was concerned and told me to come to the hospital right away. So much for laboring at home! Essential oils were nowhere in sight, let alone music or bouncy balls or showers or anything homeopathic and calm.
Plan 2: Vaginal birth with no epidural
I planned to give birth vaginally to avoid what I deemed unnecessary medication, including an epidural or any pain medication. I had done my Kegel exercises and practiced my breathing and braced myself mentally to deal with the most painful experience of my life. I was ready to take it like a champ.
Unfortunately, because my water broke before contractions started and because I went into labor early, all my plans went out the window. I wasn’t contracting on my own, so I ended up with an IV line of Pitocin, a drug used to induce contractions. After 18 hours of labor with medically induced contractions less than two minutes apart, I was still only 1 centimeter dilated. I was not ready to give birth and wouldn’t be before the safe window closed after the water breaking, according to my doctor. I was told I needed a C-section. And of course, I needed an epidural for the C-section. As brave as I was prepared to be, I wasn’t prepared to have my lower half sliced open and organs tossed about without some serious drugs.
Plan 3: Breastfeed from the start
I planned to breastfeed my baby from the time he was born. There was no other option in my mind after reading up on how “breast is best.” The hospital encouraged breastfeeding too and placed my newborn on my chest just moments after entering the recovery room so he could latch and start to get the first substance that comes out, the colostrum. Unfortunately, Baby couldn’t seem to figure out how to latch, and even with hand expression, I wasn’t able to produce enough colostrum to satisfy him. I had to turn to formula on his second night on this Earth when his hunger cries were louder than my expectations to do things according to plan.
More: When Breast Is Not Best
It’s easy to lie in bed and feel your pregnant belly and dream up a rosy picture of how you want things to go with your birth, but when it comes time, you’ll have little control over how your little one decides to enter the world. At the end of it all, all that matters is that Mom and Baby are healthy. In hindsight, even though there were no scented oils or Enya music or the joy of getting to push out my baby and see him being born, I now have a perfect baby and a body that’s nearly healed, and I wouldn’t change a thing about how it all came to be.