Why I Wrote the Birth Plan for My Third Baby Two Days After Having My Second
When I became pregnant with my first son I dug into research on birth, newborn care, and parenting. While I understood that I’d be making big decisions for him his entire life, I focused my research energy primarily on what would come first: His birth.
I decided around my 20th week of pregnancy that I would deliver my son intervention-free and without the aid of pain medication. I went to Bradley method classes for 12 weeks and diligently practiced my relaxation and visualization techniques. I wrote a lengthy birth plan and created a labor playlist designed to soothe and calm me as the surges overtook my body. As my belly grew, I would drift off to sleep at night imagining my sweet labor and the primal, natural strength that would move my baby downward, outward, and into my arms.
The night before my son’s due date, my husband put on a mix CD he’d made me in high school and we danced around the house with the vigor of a couple who really wanted to meet their baby. We jumped and squatted and laughed as we danced, taking bets on exactly when our lives would change. He thought it would be the next week, right around my 41st week of pregnancy. I didn’t think it would be that long. Later, we snuggled into bed, happy, tired, and excited. We were unaware it would be our last sleep as a family of two.
At 4:16 a.m., I woke to a powerful surge. I rolled out of bed and onto all fours with a long moan. Though one of my chief concerns about labor had been that I wouldn’t realize it was happening, I immediately knew it was time. As the surges continued, stronger and longer than I’d assumed they’d be so early in labor, time seemed to speed and slow in synchrony with the tightening of my belly. I woke my husband. Timed my contractions. Threw up in the bathroom. I told my husband to call my parents. I breathed deeply and squatted and swayed. My eyes blacked and my body stiffened. The surges became so strong I couldn’t move or talk or breathe through them.
Around 10:00 a.m., I moaned that we needed to go to the hospital. As my husband murmured the relaxing and supportive words he’d practiced, I was only able to focus my body. With each contraction, my world shrank. I heard only the blood pounding through my veins, saw only the light of the sun shining through the windshield, felt only the tightening and release of my belly.
When we got to the hospital, I moaned my way inside. And, upon entrance, I demanded an epidural. The line was placed and relief swept through me. I laughed with my husband. I marveled at my belly, tight and low. Half an hour after I got the epidural, I began to feel a deep pressure. I knew it was time to push. The epidural was shut off and the pain rushed back, slowly at first and then all at once. I pushed and moaned and willed my son into my arms.
Less than two hours after arriving at the hospital, he was born. Hank Christopher was 9lbs 9ozs and as beautiful as any newborn baby is to their mother. In the hours after birth, I laid with Hank on my bare chest, a perpetual swollen smile on my face. As my parents and siblings met my boy, I relayed the details of labor, amazed that THIS is what women had been doing since the dawn of time. I had prepared myself for tightness and for surges, not for waves of pain so unbearably deep that I couldn’t see or hear as they overtook me.
When I looked down into my baby’s beautiful slate eyes, it was easy to shrug off my disappointment in missing out, by 30 minutes, on a med-free birth. He was here, he was healthy, and he was perfect. When I took Hank home, the intensity of new parenthood continued to obscure any disappointment I thought I might feel at having “caved.” Until I began to see the beautiful black and white images of my classmates' water births pop up on Facebook.
After my intense labor, I had assumed that at least some, if not most, of my classmates, would also opt for a last minute epidural. With the exception of one emergency C-section, though, it turned out I was the only woman who had opted for intervention. I was officially a Bradley method flunk out. My birth experience had been intense but, upon reflection, beautiful. I’d felt my son's head with my hand as it emerged, I’d pushed him out with a strength I hadn't known I possessed, and I’d welcomed him with a love that felt new and deep and magical. I decided that I’d had a good birth but that next time, the second time around, I’d have the natural birth I was truly meant to have.
Fast-forward two and a half wonderful, messy, chaotic years, and I was again pregnant. In the time since Hank’s birth, I’d become a member of several birth groups online. I’d gotten to know countless other mothers and heard more birth stories than I could recall. Over and over, mothers who had had med-free births described them as magical, powerful, and life-changing events. This time, I thought, I could do it. I dusted off my Bradley book, downloaded meditation and relaxation mixes, and hired a doula. I attended a birth conference where my abilities as a woman were affirmed. I wrote a detailed birth plan highlighting my desire to remain intervention- and pain medication-free.
This time my baby surprised me. We hadn’t danced or bounced or done anything at all to hurry his journey earthside. At 38 weeks exactly, I rose from bed at the calling of my big boy and heard a pop and gush. I began to laugh as the water spilled from within me. My baby would be here today! I cuddled my big boy and told him his brother was coming. My husband packed the car and gathered towels. We went out to a family breakfast and, when my belly inspired questions of when my baby was coming I gleefully responded with, “Today!”
As I ate I began to feel that familiar rolling tightness. By the time we paid the check, I was rocking and swaying next to the table. As we walked around the shopping center, determined (stubbornly) to enjoy one last walk as a family of three, I began to pause and moan with each contraction. It was time. We drove my son to the babysitter’s house and I managed a tight smile for our last picture together. After that I was silent. As I moaned my way into the hospital, I began to remember, with a sudden clarity, how deep the pain of labor is. I stopped to sway, willing myself to relax, as we walked towards labor and delivery.
As we entered the room in which my son would be born, my world began to shrink. Cold tile under my feet. Warm hands on my hips. Blinds drawn. The movement of nurses around me, talking to my husband, to my doula. I bent over the bed frame, wailing in time with my contractions. I heard the nurse request a cervical check. I refused, knowing it would reveal that it was “too late” for pain relief. I refused the urge to push and called for an epidural. As the pressure grew, I begged them to hurry. The line was placed and relief flooded in.
Immediately time seemed to return to a normal pace and my senses returned. For a blissful hour, I listened to my labor mix and held my husband’s hand. We laughed at the hardness of my belly and the fact that we were minutes, JUST MINUTES, from meeting our baby. When I felt ready, the epidural was shut off. I pushed with my body and both watched and felt my child’s head, then shoulders, then everything emerge. Four hours after arriving at the hospital I pulled my boy onto my chest with relief and joy. Louie Patrick was 9lbs. 13ozs and as beautiful as any newborn is to their mother.
Louie’s birth had been joyous, my labor hard but wonderful. I felt powerful, god-like almost, I had created and birthed this person! I wanted to feel bad that I’d caved again, but I just couldn’t, not with that perfect, round baby sleeping on my chest. Over the next few days, I nursed and healed and undulated between euphoria and disbelief that my baby was here and that I was now a mother of two. I marveled at the similarities and difference between my birth experiences and my babies and at how much I’d forgot in less than three years. If I had remembered the depth of pain would I have aimed for that med-free birth? Would I have hired the doula?
I was close enough to the labor now to remember the sensation of contractions and, while it was all still fresh (because it was all still fresh) I decided to write my next birth plan. I took out the notebook I’d been using to record my nursing sessions and scribbled it out. When I get pregnant again, and I start to think about birth, I’ll plan to trust my writing more than my memory. This birth plan, for a third baby who we aren’t trying for yet, is simple. Instead of pages written for my provider detaining IV’s and epidurals and lighting and who will cut what, it was written to me.
It says, simply, “Labor will hurt much more deeply than you remember. It will also be as worth it as you remember. Take a last picture with your kids if you can. Take a walk if the weather is nice. Go to the hospital when you feel ready. Play music that you like if you have time to plug in your speakers. Ask for an epidural if you want one, don’t if you don’t. Take time to savor the pain as you push. Make sure you can see the mirror. Watch everything. Catch your baby, smell their newness as they root and cry. Feel their weight in your arms. Examine their fingers and toes. Know that you are powerful and strong and that you created and birthed life. Feel good about feeling good about your birth whatever you chose. Enjoy!”