Updated: Oct 30, 2020
During my pregnancy, I was all about getting prepared for birthing my baby. I wanted to find out about all of the options I would have, how I could cope with labor pains, and how I could make the best decisions for myself and my baby when the time came.
(Before you dive into this post, you can read about my experience with being pregnant during a global pandemic here: Dear Well-Intentioned People Who Have Never Been Pregnant During A Pandemic.)
You’re probably in the same boat if you’re reading this. Maybe you’re pregnant with your first baby and wondering how your labor and delivery process might go. Maybe you’re anxious. Maybe you’re looking forward to it. Maybe you’re using this birth story of mine, and others you hear, as models for the experience you hope to have.
Going into the birth of my first child, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to have a completely medication-free, natural birth. I hoped to have as few medical interventions as possible. While I planned from the start to deliver in a hospital, despite the current pandemic, I felt confident that I would be able to stick to my all-natural birth plan with the help of my midwife and supportive husband. I planned for no induction. No IV meds. No artificial rupture of membranes. And CERTAINLY no epidural.
But what I didn’t know when I made this birth plan was how the end of my pregnancy would unfold, setting me up for an entirely different birth than I had imagined. Different - yet incredibly beautiful.
My birth plan was first put in jeopardy when I learned at 37 weeks pregnant that I had tested positive for Group B Strep. This meant that I would have to receive Penicillin through an IV every 4 hours while in labor. Since I would need to receive at least 2 doses of Penicillin before delivering my baby, this meant that I’d have to be at the hospital at least 8 full hours before giving birth. So much for my plan to labor at home until the very end…
Okay, so I’d need an IV. Medical intervention #1. But there was nothing I could do to change that, and I knew it was for the benefit of my baby, so I made peace with it. Then came the second factor that threw a wrench in my plans.
I got to 40 weeks pregnant, and still no baby. I was getting more and more uncomfortable by the day, as well as more nervous that my baby might be really big. My husband and I already come from bigger-boned genes, so going past 40 weeks could mean that my baby had a higher chance of getting stuck.
I had been having consistent contractions for nearly 2 weeks, and yet was only half a centimeter dilated. After two false alarms of going to the hospital thinking I was in labor, only to get sent back home, I reluctantly opted for an induction at 41 weeks. Medical intervention #2.
The morning of my induction, I woke up to slightly painful contractions. While I’d been having contractions for weeks, they hadn’t yet been painful. I was hopeful that this might mean I was going into labor on my own. I handled the contractions throughout the day, and at 8pm we checked into the hospital to officially start induction.
I was given a dose of Cytotec orally to help soften my cervix and prepare my body for more dilation. Soon after this first dose, my contractions got even more painful, to the point of taking my breath away if I didn’t really focus on it. I was so excited! I hoped this meant that a tiny pill was all I needed to get my body into full-blown labor, and that I wouldn’t need any further interventions to keep my labor going.
I rocked labor during that first night. I was bouncing on my ball, getting in the shower, rocking and swaying. I was doing everything I could think of to roll through each contraction with focus and calmness. However, the downfall to my coping mechanisms is that each of them involved standing or using my legs a lot… which would eventually tire me out. But during that first night, I expected that my baby would arrive soon, and I could keep coping with these active strategies. Being in the bed just was not an option for me. Movement felt best.
By morning, I had progressed to 2cm. I was excited that I had made some progress, but a bit discouraged that after 12 whole hours of pretty intense, frequent contractions, I was only at a 2. I still had 8 whole centimeters to go. However, I was fully effaced and my baby was dropping more and more. My midwife decided that I didn’t need Pitocin at this point, since I was making progress on my own, and I could continue to labor.
Four hours later, I was checked again and STILL at 2cm. My midwife recommended that she break my water to get my baby to drop down even more and put more pressure on my cervix, encouraging dilation.
I thought long and hard about this option. I had always told myself that I didn’t want to have my water broken. I just wanted it to break on its own. But after 16 hours of intense labor, I was ready to do just about anything to make some more progress. So, here came intervention #3: artificial rupture of membranes.
My midwife broke my water, and my contractions intensified even more. I felt them radiating from my back to my abdomen, down to the tops of my legs. I soon realized that the leg pain that came along with my contractions was too much for me to keep using my active coping strategies.
My midwife got my bed into what she called the “princess position,” where I was sitting with my back upright and legs bent downwards. This way, i could get the baby’s head to put pressure on my cervix while getting some much needed rest. I found my inner calm in that position, and allowed the contractions to come over me like waves. I coped with them pretty well for another hour or so, before getting so uncomfortable in that sitting position that I just had to get out of bed again.
My midwife checked me again - I had progressed to 4cm. I was so excited for more progress! I dealt with contractions all evening, doing my best to stay calm and conserve energy. However, they kept growing in intensity and I started to question how much longer I could cope with them.
I was checked again at about the 30 hour mark of being in labor. It was now after midnight - officially Saturday. My induction had started on Thursday. I was still only at 4cm, but the baby was very, very low down in my pelvis. My midwife assured me that the baby dropping more was progress, even though I hadn’t dilated any more.
But I was at the end of my rope. I felt like I was watching the whole thing from another perspective, like an out-of-body experience. My speech was slow and slurred. I could barely form cohesive thoughts. I felt near collapse. I knew that my baby was worth all this pain and more, but I started to wonder how I would even have energy to push this baby out when the time came, especially if I still had hours and hours of labor ahead of me.
So out of pure exhaustion, I begged for the epidural. It felt like my only hope for getting in a nap before pushing. Medical intervention #4. The anesthesiologist came in within half an hour and placed the epidural perfectly. My contraction pain faded away, but I could still move my feet and legs. And best of all, I could sleep.
To help speed things along while I rested, I was given Pitocin through my IV. Medical intervention #5.
After only about an hour of having the epidural, I woke up to a strong pressure bearing down. I called the nurse, and she checked me to find out that I was at 8 cm. Finally! I was almost there.
Another hour later, I was at 10cm and ready to push.
Pushing didn’t hurt. It felt like a relief. I was so grateful to finally be at this stage and so close to meeting my baby. I got into a side lying position. My husband held up one leg, and the nurse held up the other while my midwife gave directions from the end of the bed.
I had always thought I wouldn’t want anyone counting or telling me when to push. I wanted self-directed pushing. However, with an epidural, I knew that plan had to change since I didn’t have full feeling. So when the contractions came, the nurse slowly counted to 10 while I held my breath and pushed with all my might.
Before too long, the very tip of her head was visible. My midwife held up a mirror so that I could see, and all I saw was a mop of thick black hair. I felt so encouraged seeing my little baby so close. I knew that I could do it.
After an hour and a half of pushing, my sweet little girl was born at 4:36am. She had shoulder dystocia on her way out, so my midwife and team of nurses had to act quickly to push on my stomach and get her out. She was only stuck for 50 seconds, thankfully, and then was born as healthy as can be.
My little girl was finally in my arms, after a long and hard labor. But what about my birth plan?
In this moment, I realized it wasn’t about the plan. My birth plan wasn’t the focus of my birthing experience after all - the true focus was my baby. Once she was here, all the other hopes I’d had for the very specific way I wanted things to unfold just washed away. All that mattered was my perfect little baby girl.
I feel no regret, no shame for how my plans had changed. If you’re pregnant and want to make a birth plan, by all means go for it. You might get to follow it to a tee. But if you don’t, I can promise you that your little baby will be worth it anyway.
Your baby will be worth it if your birth goes perfectly to plan, or if nothing goes as planned.
So don’t stress. Think about what you might want, what you might prefer, and then just go with it. Your baby will be here soon, and he or she will not care how the process of their arrival went. All they care about is getting to meet their mommy.
I feel so blessed to be my little girl’s mommy. I am so proud of her and happy she’s healthy. I know she’s proud of me, too, because I had the courage to change my “set in stone” plans in order to provide the best outcome for her. She is so worth it.
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