Pregnancy Help: What NOT to Expect From "The Birth Plan"

There is a strain of pregnancy propaganda out there that sets new moms up for failure. It says that unless you “achieve” some particular kind of delivery perfection, well, then…you haven’t quite made the cut, as a Mom. And that makes me angry. It’s in all the standard pregnancy books. Something along the lines of, “Create your own birth plan. Be in charge of your delivery. Don’t let that mean, nasty doctor force you to deliver in some way that’s NOT in your plan. Decide in advance if you want to use pain medications for the delivery….or not.”

What they don’t say is that the birth process is usually so unpredictable that your carefully crafted “Birth Plan” gets left at the bottom of your carefully packed “Going To The Hospital Bag”…that got left at home, in a panic, as you rushed to the hospital.

Now, I’m a recovering control freak, so don’t get me wrong. Anything that’s called “a plan” looks fabulous to me. I did it myself, with our first baby. Here were my rules, when I was cluelessly buying into the notion that I could actually control the birth process by planning for it in advance: No induction. Lovely, inspirational music playing in the background. No pain meds. No pitocin. No c-section. (Oh yeah: no binkies or bottles for the baby either, but that was a different lesson for me to learn, for a different post!)

What happened, you ask? Oh, surely you must have guessed by now. I had it coming to me, big time. The control freak gets hammered. The doctor wanted to induce labor, since the baby was getting big, and she was overdue. But oh no, that was not in my Birth Plan. So we waited. And waited. When labor finally did begin, the early stages went well. But when it came time to push…not so well. I pushed and pushed and pushed…and nothing happened. I stood up to push. I squatted to push. I pushed and pushed for hours. The doctor wanted to add pitocin in order to add strength to the contractions, to help me along. No way. Not in the Birth Plan. She wanted to add an epidural, to relax me. No dice, doc. Finally the doctor had to go and do an emergency c-section on another lady. I had some time. The nurse convinced me to have the epidural and the pitocin, and then our baby was finally born. After four solid hours of pushing.

I was so sore after the delivery I had to sit on two huge pillows for weeks, and I still was miserable. Here are some other examples of “Birth Plans” that didn’t “pan” out:

The alternative-medicine-practitioner who swore she’d never use pain meds, who begged for (and got, with huge relief) an epidural after 12 hours of excruciating labor

The Maui-Hippie-type who arranged to have a birthing bath (with doula) brought to her home, only to need an emergency c-section at 34 weeks

My pain-fearing friend who hoped for every drug in the hospital, but delivered in the hallway of the ER while her husband was parking the car

Now, I’m all for planning, to the extent that planning is possible. But I’m really against the notion of feeding new mothers the idea that there is somehow an ideal birthing situation that they should be aiming for…other than the delivery of a healthy baby, with a healthy mother. Because that sets us up for comparisons, judging, and disappointment. The labor and delivery process is so unpredictable, and so individual and varied, that you really cannot plan for every possibility.

Many of you have expressed sadness, even a sense of failure, because you had to have a c-section. Or if you “caved”, and got an epidural. Unrealistic expectations can lead to big problems. For some, this disappointment can even lead to postpartum depression.

Lamaze Shlamaze; use whatever works.

The breathing techniques I learned in yoga and exercise classes helped me way more than anything I learned in the actual preparation to have a baby. That said, I still pushed for four hours! The only thing that is important in delivering your baby is that both you and baby are healthy. I don’t care if a Martian comes down and performs some kind of weird alien delivery for you, as long as you and your baby are healthy at the end of it.

Did you have any surprises in your delivery? Do tell!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink