High school gave me major anxiety. I couldn’t wait until it was over. The day I graduated? Well, it was the last time I worried about which “lunch table” I would sit at. That is until I was 5 months pregnant. I was hovering over a cheese platter at a party and a random, amazingly skinny pregnant girl, asked me, “So, what’s your birth plan? You are going to have a natural birth right?”
In that moment I remember feeling extreme panic. Since the day I found out I was pregnant I was terrified of natural child birth, I was terrified of an epidural, and I was terrified of ending up a C-Section. Wasn’t there someway they could just magically transport the baby out of the womb?
Too ashamed and embarrassed to share my fears I quietly listened to this mother-to-be as she stereotyped moms into two categories:
Category A: A woman who loves her child enough to fight for a natural birth. She eats well, takes classes, and visualize her cervix opening like a flower. Her doula will usher her child into the world as Enya plays and drums beat. She will only breast feed and shutters at the words “formula supplement”.
Category B: A woman who has a need for convenience. She shutters at the thought of a 12-week birthing class and IF she hired a doula, it was for the massage. She plans on an epidural and deep down obviously hopes for a C-section. (Who REALLY wants to end up, to quote Sean Penn, looking like Madonna “Throwing a hotdog down a hallway.”)
While, I knew deep down the concept of women being on only one side or the other was absurd, I still felt immense pressure to make the right “plan.” So after talking to the lovely, perfect pregnant lady, I ditched the snack table and told my husband, “We need a good birth plan!!!!”
Since we already only ate organic foods, believed in natural methods when possible, and were very active as a couple, my friend suggested we sign up for the “Bradley Method” class. At first, it made a lot of sense. Unfortunately, doctors do not walk you through all the things that happen in the hospital. Nor do they explain you have choices. People assume this is because doctors like the convenience of a c-section. Personally, I think if you get that feeling from your Ob-gyn, no matter what your plan is, it is time to find a new one. What I saw with my doctor when I started asking questions was fear. The fear I will have too much knowledge and go “Google doctor” on her, which would ultimately interfere with the health and safety of my baby.
On the other spectrum of things it was around week 6 of class that I learned if you want to make enemies in natural birthing class ask questions like, “What do you do if your birth does not go as planned?” I had known several people who were terrified during their emergency C-sections or inductions because they were unprepared. So, it made sense to me to just ask about all the “what ifs”. To say this did not go over well with our classmates is an understatement. In fact, the week our teacher finally went over the “what ifs”, half of our class opted not to attend because that was “negative” birth energy. It was at this point I not only realized my husband and I were not going to be invited to the class BBQ’s but when it comes to birth- EVERYONE OPERATES UNDER FEAR.
Sadden, by our lack of bonding in our birthing class I sought solace in my other group of pregnant friends who were ALL about the epidural. While their stories of “how amazing” the drugs can be made me giggle, I wasn’t sold. First off, ‘needle’ and ‘spine’ are two words that should never be used in the same sentence. Plus, I had learned in Bradley an epidural can slow down the birth process if given too early. I also had a few friends who loved the concept of removing the anxiety associated with the waiting game of birth. The had actually opted for a C-section. The idea of a spinal and/or surgery still terrified me and sounded traumatizing. Feeling hopeless and once again afraid, the same question ran through my brain, “Where did I belong as a mother?”
Finally, despite being on the Bradley diet, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Immediately, I found myself lying to people about my situation. I was ashamed. Would people not know I walked everyday and ate well? Would they think I was lazy and didn’t care about my baby? I could feel the guilt and emotion taking a toll on me so I decided I needed some help. I started working with a doula that was a former RN nurse. At our first session I broke down crying about; what the doctors were telling me, what friends were telling me, and what Google was telling me!!! What if I was forced into an induction? It wasn’t what I wanted!! What would people think? Would they think I was a bad mom and caused this to happen? First, she told me to take a deep breath. Then she told me to start working on my Academy Award for best actress. She said, “You need to seem trusting and informed when with the doctors. If you show fear or panic when describing your needs or wishing they will categorize you as ‘hysterical’ and think you are not being rational. Stay calm, and agreeable when telling her what you want or need.” She also told me to start “acting” around my friends. “You want the best of both worlds for your baby, so listen to all their stories and opinions. You don’t have to choose sides. If they are judging you, don’t play that game” The plan became I would start meditation, acupuncture and continue on the Bradley diet. My goal was a natural birth. However, we taught ourselves about all the other possibilities that might occur.
As luck would have it, around 37 weeks my baby had a growth spurt and it seemed an induction might be eminent. (Clearly, my negative birth energy was coming to get me.)
My Ob/GYN knowing I was open to her advice, yet wanting a natural birth, was supportive in giving me instructions on how to naturally induce labor. For two weeks my husband and I meditated on my cervix opening like a flower, (insert several inappropriate jokes here), we did moxibustion, I drank raspberry tea, we had lots of uncomfortable, ugly sex and I walked 2 miles everyday. I even tried out of desperation an LA urban legend labor inducing salad dressing.
Instead of getting support from fellow mothers on my quest for a natural induction, I found that even the kindest of momma bears can be down right mean. I had more comments on how, “It will never work” than I did “you go girl”. I am not going to lie, in my hormonal and fragile state I was crushed. However, looking back, I am sure those moms meant me no harm. Unfortunately, judgement is a common language amongst mothers. We have all been guilty of it and fell victim to it.
At 39 weeks exactly, we had an ultra sound with a Periontologist who “called it”. I needed an induction. My doctor assured me that while this wasn’t the scenario I had in mind, this could be, in my case, the best chance at vaginal birth.
What happened over the next 3 days was no picnic. Since, this is not a blog entry on birth control, I will spare the gory details of my induction. I will tell you it was horrifying for me and not in “my birth plan”. However, I will also say my doula, my sister, and my husband were by my side the whole time. My doctor, who had never let an induction go more than 30 hours, was patient and did everything in her power to grant my wish of a vaginal birth. I asked that only midwives monitor me instead of residents. (This a possible request at my hospital) My OB/GYN granted my request and I, in return, worked with her and the midwives to do my part to help. I refused an epidural for the first 2 days. (YES TWO DAYS) When my cervix all of a sudden shut, my doula and midwife explained to me that, sometimes, a very light epidural can relax the cervix and allow the birthing process to continue. In my case, stress and fatigue were my enemies. And they were right. I received a walking epidural and my cervix and I relaxed.
I was able to walk in the room supervised and my body allowed the induction to continue. (By the way, several people told me a “walking” epidural is an urban legend- not true!)
By day 3.5 we knew the induction was not working. I felt shame that I couldn’t even give birth naturally with assistance. My daughter’s heart rate had oddly stayed “zen” the entire 3 days, which I attribute to the meditation, but as zen as she was, she was not dropping down the birth canal. In fact, now that I have met my daughter, I am pretty sure she crawled back up. On the fourth day I sobbed as we all decided a C-section was the safest for the baby and me. My doctor did her best to assure me this could still be the birth I envisioned. She had me pick the music played in surgery, (We chose Enya to keep our sense of humor).
It was obvious to the whole operating room I was scared. The anesthesiologist assured me, once she was born, I would no longer be afraid. 15 minutes into surgery she was placed on my chest for skin to skin contact while they finished. I did not feel the overwhelming relief I had hoped. I was violently shaking from the medication and frightened she would fall from my chest. The whole surgery seemed surreal. I felt extremely disconnected from my child and my body. Once again, I felt shame. The first few seconds as a new mother… I was already failing her. Then, a miracle snapped me out of my self pity. My Ipad somehow shuffled from Enya to a Christmas album and the OR filled with laughter as “Silent Night” blared in March. The energy shifted in the room and I finally caught a glimpse of my daughter Delaney. She was beautiful and she was part of me.
She wasn’t as big as they had thought, but her head was BIG. She knew better than everyone else she would get “stuck” in a vaginal birth.
My doula started helping me breast feed in recovery, and our daughter never left our side. Not for a moment. (Many people have horror stories of the dad and baby going to the recovery room while mom is still in surgery) I can honestly say we worked as a team to do what was best for my baby and her gorgeous big head of hair.
I was released from the hospital in under 3 days post surgery. I did not take any pain killers except Motrin. My doctor said for someone who was in labor 4 days, THEN had a c-section, my recovery was fantastic. This was attributed to my diet, exercise and holistic approach to my pregnancy. Still I was genuinely embarrassed to tell my friends the story of my daughter’s birth. As months went by and friend after friend gave birth naturally around me, the pain deepened. In our society when you are able to give birth naturally you earn some sort of “bragging” right that deserves high-fives and hugs. When you have a c-section no one high-fives you or says, “OMG that is AMAZING, you are so strong!!”
Social media, our broken medical system, and a competitive society has created a mommy war zone. There are battles around birth choices, birth plans and birth stories. I believe mothers have a right to be informed and make their own decisions. I also think we have a responsibility to be open and stop labeling each other. Not all medical intervention is bad. Not all moms fall into 2 categories. We have to stop judging each others’ choices or stories; it forces us to take sides rather than unite. In the end, we are own advocates and if we want birth to be safer for us, and our children, we need to remember all mom’s deserve a high-five and there is strength in numbers.
So what about the idea of a birth plan? Personally, I think the best plan is to have several plans but if a mom needs that piece of paper to get through the biggest transition of her life, I support her. Remember; no matter how our birth goes, we all walk out that door a mom.