Five years ago today, I was in labor with my daughter, Charlotte. Her birthday, however, is not until Saturday. You do the math.
Needless to say, sh*t did not go as planned. I mean, the healthy baby girl part happened, and for that I am deeply, profoundly grateful. But nothing that occurred along the way looked anything like the masterpiece of a birth plan I had so meticulously prepared. (Which read, roughly, like this.)
If I’m being really honest, though, things went off the rails months before I began drafting the most obnoxious birth plan in history. Mistake #1: Watching “The Business of Being Born.” Damn you, Ricki Lake! I was happily bobbing along on my path to a pain-controlled hospital birth until I watched your dumb movie. Suddenly I was interviewing doulas, reading Ina May, and treating every medical professional with extreme suspicion.
Mistake #2: Choosing care that wasn’t a good match for my brand of crazy. I opted to deliver at a teaching hospital because it had a world-class NICU juuuuuuust in case. Along with that decision came a constantly rotating cast of attending doctors, residents, and interns, which set off every one of my control-freak alarm bells. (Especially since Ricki Lake already warned me not to trust any of them!)
God, I was so annoying. Especially since I then made mistake #3: Agreeing to an intervention when my whole plan was to avoid interventions. A fat, miserable pregnant lady cannot be trusted to determine whether artificially jump-starting labor is a sound decision. (The answer will always be HELL YES.)
Mistake #4: Going to the hospital too early. (A couple of times.) Our departures for the hospital were sitcom-worthy: my husband and me, pulling out of the driveway with an empty carseat in the back, stupidly grinning at each other with the knowledge that we would return home with a real baby! Or maybe, just a morphine shot in the butt and some admitting nurse side-eye.
After two-and-a-half days with hardly any progress, I’d had it. I demanded to be taken to the hospital where I was going to have a baby, dammit! And that’s when I made mistake #5: Letting my doula park the car. All it took was that small window of time for a nurse to tempt me with an epidural and the promise of finally being admitted. Without my gatekeeper present, every principled opposition I’d ever had to epidural pain relief vanished. It was needle-in-the-spine time.
And then I slept, awakening six hours later to the news it was time to push, which felt at the same time both bizarre and extremely civilized. Without any of the screaming, cursing or sweating I’d prepared myself for having watched many television and movie births, my daughter arrived. Her delicate little nose was temporarily smushed sideways, her dark lashes were already enviably lush, and despite being born covered in her own poop she (eventually) smelled divine.
And that’s the gift of Charlotte’s birth story that I really wanted to share with you: it will all be FINE. I agreed to many of the interventions I’d vowed to avoid, I didn’t listen to my doula or Ricki Lake, and I was delivered by a complete stranger on her third week of work as a doctor EVER. And somehow, despite all of this, it was a completely successful birth. So stop freaking out, step away from the epic novel that is your birth plan, and go take a nap or eat some pie. The real major life event you should be planning for isn’t the birth; it’s everything that happens after.
*I appreciate that a healthy, normal, uneventful birth, though statistically more likely, doesn’t happen for everyone. My intent with this piece is to allay fears, not to diminish individual experiences. My sympathies are with all women in their diversity of birth stories.