Real Talk: Your Baby May Not Cooperate With Your Birth Plan

by Ashleigh Wilkening
aluxum / iStock

As I lay comfortably in the hospital bed, I reflected on how smoothly my labor has been up until that point. Then it happened — my water broke. I’d been here before, actually two times, and nothing was out of the ordinary. I figured the rest of delivery would continue as smoothly as the previous portion. Oh, how wrong I was. The next 30 minutes were unbelievably terrifying.

After my water broke and the baby’s head dropped further down into my pelvis, her heart rate began to drop. Loud beeps and alarms continued to sound off from the monitor indicating fetal distress. I knew something was seriously wrong when I saw the looks of the doctors and nurses who’d been all smiles and laughs up until that moment.

The staff hastily put an oxygen mask on me and attached a fetal scalp electrode monitor to my child’s head while she was still inside of me. They proceeded to flip me from side to side in every position imaginable in hopes of relieving the pressure being put on the umbilical cord. Nothing was working, and I heard the doctor tell the nurse to get everything ready for an emergency C-section.

Everything was happening too quickly, and I didn’t have a chance to digest what was going on. Every emotion was felt. I was overwhelmed, scared, nervous, anxious, confused. I worried for the safety and health of my unborn child. I panicked at the idea of undergoing an emergency C-section. My two previous pregnancies were vaginal deliveries, and the idea of a C-section was so foreign and unfamiliar. I still can’t wrap my head around how, without any warning, things quickly took a turn for the worst.

Right before they were going to whisk me away to perform a C-section, the doctor checked me one last time, and thankfully, I had reached 10 cm. Stirrups came out, and in a matter of seconds, I was told to push. Three pushes and one contraction later, my baby girl was out with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. It wasn’t until she started crying that I felt the tiniest bit of relief.

As quickly as the moment happened, it was over.

No amount of research or childbirth classes can prepare you for an experience like this. Although a nuchal cord — the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck — is actually fairly common, affecting about 1/3 of childbirths, it is only one of the many complications that could occur during childbirth. Heading into labor, this wasn’t even on my mind as a potential issue, but that didn’t stop it from happening.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first, third, or tenth (gasp!) child, labor and delivery can drastically vary from pregnancy to pregnancy. I’m embarrassed to admit just how easy my first and second deliveries were, leaving me somewhat naïve to the possibility of encountering difficulties during childbirth. Going in with this blind sense of security and confidence only hindered my ability to successfully face the tremendous emotional struggle I was about to go through.

Before the exciting day arrives, you usually have a clear understanding and expectation for what you hope your labor and delivery experience to be. You give intense consideration to every option and preference that could potentially arise during the process — usually discussed and communicated with your doctor and partner beforehand. You might even choose to outline everything in a physical birth plan and bring this sacred agenda with you when the time comes.

Do you plan on delivering at a hospital, birthing center, or home?

What kind of labor environment do you envision having? Dim lights? Prepared playlist playing in the background?

Who will be present? Spouse? Family members? Labor coach? Doula?

Natural or pain relief medication?

Cord-blood Donation? Placenta encapsulation?

Breast or bottle?

These are just some of the questions and options you consider when thinking about your ideal labor and delivery experience, but they still take into consideration the best-case scenario. At any moment, a situation could arise requiring a serious deviation from your plan.

You might start labor with the notion of having natural birth, but once those contractions start and the intense pain hits, you could be screaming for that epidural. You could plan for a vaginal delivery, but an unexpected complication could result in an emergency C-section. You could have every intention of eating your placenta, but after seeing what the afterbirth looks like, you could be disgusted and completely turned off by the idea.

You can work out every detail in your birth plan to your heart’s content, but it’s important to prepare yourself for the unexpected and be flexible. Prepare yourself that some or none of your requests and wishes will be granted. Prepare for everything to potentially happen exactly opposite of how you thought it might.

Even with the most carefully thought-out agenda and arrangements, just keep in mind that life has a funny way of laughing at your so-called “plans.” Regardless of what your birth plan looks like, the most important thing remains true for all pregnancies and deliveries — the safety and health of baby and mom.

When hearing my unborn child’s heartbeat was dropping and she was in distress, it didn’t matter if the delivery wasn’t happening exactly how I envisioned or planned. Being unprepared for the unexpected was somewhat overwhelming, but all that mattered in that moment was the safe delivery of my child — emergency C-section or not.