You know how it feels. You lay out a nice, clear plan and it just gets stepped on and disassembled, rerouted and reassembled in a completely different fashion than you’d envisioned. Do you get frustrated? Angry?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time working with pregnant women. I highly encourage them to produce a birth plan for themselves and their birthing team. (Yes, there’s a team involved nowadays!) We go over all sorts of details: who do they want in the room, how do they feel about epidurals, right down to the type of jammies they’ll be bringing to the hospital and which toothbrush will make them feel most comforted. Then, after all that careful planning and deliberation, I make sure that they know that they may be asked to chuck the whole kit and caboodle right out the window. And then, wonder of wonders, I ask them to make themselves okay with accepting the unexpected and the unforeseen. After completing an exercise that makes a pregnant woman and her partner feel as though they have some modicum of control, I then, in the same breath, ask them to relinquish the entire scenario for what can’t be seen and what may not be known. I used to feel like such a hypocrite! Until I went through the experience of birth myself.
There I was, a seasoned doula, present for the births of several of my closest friends and some very generous strangers. I was 8 ½ months pregnant and I had a birth plan, a doula bag, a carseat, loads of medical experience and a husband that worked long 18 hour days while I sat at home on maternity leave, searching for the beatific Gaia sensation I’d been hearing so much about. I was alternately trying to get into the lotus position, waiting for my halo to arrive and crocheting. I crocheted because I figured that was what I was supposed to be doing, right? I was calm and collected because I had a plan. I knew full well that the plan wasn’t what it was all about (and it certainly wasn’t the hokey pokey.). I knew that I may be asked to heave my well thought-out plan right out the window at a moment’s notice. My husband will tell you, the idea of scrapping the plan was what likely made him the most nervous. He’ll also tell you I’m NOT GOOD with what he calls “calling an audible”.
In the wee small hours of November 24, my water broke. Now, of course, the PLAN was to labor at home as long as possible while baking cookies for the nurses and breathing and smiling and singing “Kumbaya” and describing contractions with terms like “minor discomfort” and “Oh, about a 4 on a scale of 1 – 10.” But when my water broke, there was blood. A lot of blood. A scary amount of blood. This? This was a problem and NOT part of the PLAN. At about 1:30 in the morning, I woke my husband and calmly alerted him that my bag of waters had just broken and we needed to head to the hospital. NOW. He’d arrived home just a few hours earlier after a 10 hour day and was in a super-deep sleep. He asked, muddily, ”Can’t we just go tomorrow?” Er, no, hon. We can’t.
The next half-hour or so was spent gathering ourselves together and getting into the car. On that cold, dark night, we headed out for the hospital. That was a trip we’d made several times before, but this time? This time was different. Neither of us said anything. We rode together in that car for about 15 minutes in complete silence. We were both keenly aware of the fact that this would be the last time that we would be in the car together, just us. Just him and me. From here on out, it would be him and me and baby makes three. Our lives together were about to change. I was petrified, but I didn’t want to let on. I’m sure the same thing was happening for him as well.
There were several hours spent at Kaiser Walnut Creek with our midwife and then with our doctors. I had begun having contractions in earnest, but the talk had turned to Caesarian section and the amount of blood that I was losing. We didn’t know how much blood I’d lost when my water broke, we didn’t know how much blood the baby had lost, we didn’t know where the blood was coming from: was it me? Was it the baby? They weren’t sure how to stop it. Both of us bleeding to death: one more piece of this picture that was not part of the PLAN.
Our doctor came in and broke it down for us: they weren’t sure where the blood was coming from, but what they did know was that the baby wasn’t recovering as well as they’d like from the contractions that I was having. The blood that was flowing out of me wasn’t stopping. The baby and I were in danger and the doctors thought that a C-section was the safest route to get my baby born and to keep the both of us out of danger.
But, wait, wait, wait! What happened to my PLAN? I had a doula bag filled with aromatherapy oils and a birth ball and visualizations and meditations and massage tools and righteous indignation! I envisioned telling the nurses all about how I was progressing during my labor and they would all stand around and ooh and aah and remark at my birthing prowess. I was going to take long, hot showers during my labor. Nowell had packed his swimming trunks so we could labor together in the shower! I had brought the jammies I wanted to labor in and I had my playlist all prepared for my labor! C-Section? What manner of crap is THIS? The C-section option was on the sheet with the plan, but it was definitely not PART OF THE PLAN.
We knew that this might happen. We’d talked about it and hoped against hope that we’d be able to just ignore it and maybe it’d go away. Two people like us, who like to be in charge of stuff, in control, would have to relinquish control and put our fates in the hands of someone we didn’t know and didn’t know us. Admittedly, my husband is WAY better at that than I am. We asked the doctors for 5 minutes to ourselves, within which time I broke down and sobbed. I was so very sad and mournful of the loss of my vision of my natural birth. My well-laid plan was being pulled right out from under me and I needed some time to cope with that. Four minutes and fifty-eight seconds later, the nurse knocked gingerly on the door to my room. “Mrs. Helms?” she asked. “Are you ready?” Between hitching sobs, I responded to her. “Lady, I’m as ready as I’m gonna get.” In that moment, I put my faith in the wisdom of the universe, my hand in the hand of my beloved husband, and we struck out together from the realm of things I was familiar with into the murky darkness of the unknown. I let go.
My oldest daughter Nina came screaming into the world that day. A family was created that day. A mother was born. A father emerged. None of these things happened in the way that we planned, but our daughter’s unexpected entry into this world was a sacred event. I’ve always viewed birth as a sacred ritual. It’s a holy rite that not all of us get to experience, but it’s a holy rite that generally can’t be repeated or recreated like a sermon or a mass; it’s different from woman to woman, from family to family and even child to child from the same woman. Each birth is sacred. Each birth is different. Once you’re pregnant, all paths lead to birth, but the number of paths always changes. Have a plan, by all means. But don’t hold on to it so tightly that you are unable to let go. Take a deep breath, trust in the Universe. Even your trust is a sacred act.