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Why Your Birth Plan Doesn't Matter

Photograph by Twenty20

Before my son was even born, I knew I was not going to be much of a crunchy, earthy mother. Bring on the formula, the day care, sleeping in a crib from the get-go! I also rolled my eyes (inwardly) when I read about other women's birth plans. A "birth plan" to me meant a privileged, hypersensitive woman being very loud about the fact that she knew better than the medical professionals who were only reluctantly present before going off to their golf game, obviously trying to prove that she was better than all those sheep moms who just went along with toxic, lazy-people procedures like epidurals and C-sections. Bring on the medical interventions and pain relief! I would be a 21st-century, go-with-the-flow mother.

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That is, of course, until I actually had my son and I realized that I did have a birth plan all along—I just didn't know it. My secret birth plan had entailed starting contractions at home around 40 weeks, laboring in my house for awhile, going to the hospital, getting an epidural, pushing for a little bit and having a baby, probably all within a span of 24–36 hours.

Instead, due to high blood pressure, I was sent to triage on a Wednesday afternoon at 37 weeks, spent a night being monitored, then had a balloon put inside my cervix for 12 hours to "ripen" it, then received pitocin (and an epidural, because by that point I was too frightened of what getting my water broken would feel like), threw up numerous times, developed a fever, was informed that I might or might not be getting a C-section, eventually pushed for 45 minutes and then had my son, on a Friday night.

That's what they should call birth plans: 'birth hopes.'

It was the most traumatic thing that had happened to me. It was scary and uncomfortable and painful and dramatic and it's worth saying again, scary. It was birth. Birth has no plan. You may have one, but your baby and body do not.

Now, I am pregnant again and all I want is for my second labor and delivery to go faster and smoother and less frighteningly than the first. It's a hope, really. That's what they should call birth plans: 'birth hopes.' Of course it's smart to be aware of what your choices are in the hospital and to advocate for yourself, but there is no use in pretending like things can't change quickly. I had a friend who spent many hours taking Lamaze classes (yes, they still offer them!) only to realize she couldn't use any of the poses she'd learned because, due to a sudden drop in her baby's heartrate, she was hooked up to monitors that prevented her from moving much. She was disappointed that she couldn't use what she had learned, but not to the extent that she was going to rip off the monitors and get on all fours.

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Things like this happen all the time. Despite science and medicine and knowledge both new and old, we still have so little control over how babies are born. This is information that should be shared more. Too many women feel guilty or disappointed that they didn't get the delivery experience they dreamed of, but that's like feeling guilty or disappointed that you didn't get the plane trip you dreamed of. Of course we all want a smooth trip with no delays or turbulence but—given the option—all we really want is to get there.

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