When Birth Doesn't Go According to Plan

To say my first birthing experience didn’t go according to plan is quite an understatement.

Let me begin by saying that I am a nerd. I love learning and I’ve been researching various aspects of birth for a few years now. Like I said, NERD. After a lot of research, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to pursue an un-medicated, intervention-free, natural birth. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m sure I annoyed and maybe even offended a lot of people as I told my friends all of the reasons why they shouldn’t have Pitocin, epidurals, or unnecessary fetal monitoring - and don’t even get me started on scheduled c-sections! I was 100% confident that was the best route and never wavered in my pursuit of a natural birth.

As I began my pregnancy journey with Max, I worked with my incredible midwife to pursue the birth I desired. She was entirely on board for everything I wanted and committed to helping me accomplish the birth I longed for. Then we got to know sweet Max a little more. We learned that he had Down Syndrome, a heart defect, and ultimately around 31 weeks, we learned he had developed a highly fatal disease called Hydrops. As my pregnancy progressed, Jeanean, my midwife, prepared me that while we would certainly try for the birth I wanted, having to take Max early, whether through induction or c-section, was a real possibility.

On December 27, at an appointment with my specialist, she and Jeanean concluded it was time to take Max. He was 34 weeks and 5 days. While the specialist thought I could still pursue a vaginal birth albeit with induction, Jeanean disagreed. When your midwife who deeply believes in and advocates for natural births tells you it’s time for a c-section, you listen.

In my imagination, Max’s birth looked a little like this: When contractions began, likely around 41 weeks, I would labor at home for several hours and eat and drink all I wanted as I mentally and physically prepped myself to give birth. When the contractions got close enough together, we would head up to the hospital where I would walk around the dimly lit room listening to a perfectly curated playlist, use a birthing ball, and even a birthing tub. I would not be hooked up to fetal monitors or confined to a bed with my knees pulled up to my chest. After several hours of intense but productive pain, I would breathe my son into the world, probably while standing up in a shower as my hospital doesn’t technically allow for water births. Then we would have blissful, fully aware skin-to-skin time where neither of us was loopy from drugs we didn’t really need, and breastfeeding would be a breeze. I’d be up and walking around within hours, empowered after such a rich experience, ready to go home long before I was officially discharged.

Instead Max’s birth looked like this: I headed to the hospital 5.5 weeks early, long before any contractions had begun. As soon as I got admitted, I was hooked up to fetal monitors because we were all a little worried about sweet Max. Jeanean came in and quickly convinced me that a c-section would be the best route. So about an hour and half later, she prayed with and over us and wheeled me into an operating room. I was given spinal anesthesia so that I couldn’t feel anything from the chest down, then I was laid on a table and prepped for surgery. After about 20 minutes, Spencer was brought in to join me. I remember being nervous and really, really cold.

Mere days before, with no idea it was coming so soon, Spencer and I were joking about the playlist I wanted him to make for our birth. In our loopy, punch-drunk state that evening, we decided 80s hair metal would make a great choice, so when the doctors asked what music I wanted on during the operation, I laughed as I shouted, “80s music!” I felt a little pressure as she made the initial incision, then a lot of pressure and pulling as they extracted Max from his cozy little home in my uterus. For one beautiful minute, Max was still attached to the umbilical so he could benefit from the extra cord blood. Then the minute ended, but he still never cried. My sweet boy was truly alive for one minute, technically for 30, though the rest of that time was all life-saving measures and attempts at resuscitation.

NOTHING about that day went according to my plan. And while the disparity between my expectations for birth and the reality is an extreme example, I learned something really important that day. It’s not about the birth, it’s about the baby. Of course, birth can and should be a truly beautiful, empowering experience, but obstacles will appear, and navigating those is all part of the process. Had I labored with Max for hours, he still would have died, however, I would be left wondering if my desire for a particular birth experience had contributed to that. As it stands, I know that I made the best choices I could for my son. I sacrificed what I so deeply wanted for what I knew my son needed.

As I look forward to the birth of Lachlan, I have a different perspective. In an ideal world, I would still really love to pursue a VBAC – a redemptive attempt at that birth experience I originally hoped for. But, again, God has different plans. As my births will be exactly one year apart, I’m not exactly a prime candidate for a VBAC. So instead, I will be having a repeat cesarean, and incredibly, I could not be more excited. Even more incredibly, I’m scheduled for that cesarean on the exact same day I had Max, one year later, in the very same OR.

I will boldly walk (well, get wheeled) into the room where I experienced the most beautiful and most devastating moments of my life, believing in the redemptive power of Christ, trusting that he is writing my story and holds my “birth plan” in his hands.

Am I disappointed that I’ll probably never experience labor? Of course I am. One of things I appreciate about a natural birth, is the strength it takes. I have always prided myself on being a strong, self-sufficient woman, taking joy in the things I can do that others can’t. And if I’m being entirely honest with myself, that played into my desire for a natural birth. But I know now, that I am no weaker or less of a mother because I don’t experience childbirth the way most women do. I am still strong. I am choosing to do what is best for my children, myself, and my husband (I do not think he could handle watching me pursue a risky VBAC after everything he witnessed last year). I undergo major abdominal surgery to bring my kiddos into the world – there’s nothing weak or cowardly about that.

Birth plans are nothing more than that – plans. And if the last year and a half has taught me anything, it’s that:

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
— Proverbs 19:21

I would love for all women to experience the birth they desire, but I am living proof that plans don’t go always go according to plan. Roll with it, friends, and find the joy in the unexpected.