When I was pregnant with my first child, I had lots of ideas about what my birthing experience would look like. I carefully designed my birthing plan considering the science, medical needs, and emotional attachments to some idealized version of birth.
Then it fell apart. My labor didn’t go as planned. Neither did the process of delivering. Every step of the way, I tossed out bits and pieces of my birthing plan until my experience was nearly nothing like I expected.
When pregnant with my second, I was more aware of my lack of control but still hopeful for something closer to my wishes. After suffering some pregnancy complications, everything went out the window again.
Terms like “natural birth” and “unmedicated birth” are thrown around like badges of honor (no judgment if you want or had one, but also no judgment if you didn’t!). But what I’ve found from now two unexpected labor and delivery experiences is that our initial birthing expectations not being met doesn’t have to make for a miserable birth experience.
After giving birth to my first, I read a great piece in the New York Times Parenting section that discussed the elements of a “good birth.” Surprising as it may be to some readers, the criteria didn’t depend on whether a child was born vaginally or via c-section. Being medicated (or not), hospital vs. home birth, none of those were the most influential factors in whether someone had a “good birth.” Instead, factors like agency and support were.
And during the process of having to change plans, my doctors treated me with compassion, focusing heavily on informed consent and allowing me to steer my birthing experience. I felt in control, even when circumstances around me were outside my control. I thought that I was knowledgeable about why changes to my birthing plans were recommended. And I didn’t feel an ounce of pressure to make those changes, even when severe repercussions could occur from not doing so. Instead, the ample information I was given helped shape my decision-making without necessary pressure.
Has there been disappointment along the way? Sure. But having the ability to engage in supported decision making, and having a compassionate support team (medical and family), spared me the trauma so many moms experience when their birthing plans change dramatically. And for that, I’m grateful.