Why Birth Plans are Stupid

With all this talk of feeling old, I’ve found myself thinking about the “good ol’ days”. You know — the ones that happened before children appeared. As much as I adore my boys (and I do), it’s impossible to say that them coming into my life wasn’t a dramatic change. And for us, the drama started before I’d even met Big Brother. It started with a birth plan.

For the uninitiated, a birth plan is a plan for what will happen at the birth of your child. That is to say, a list that you make while pregnant of things you want to happen during labour, things you don’t want to happen under any circumstances, and what you want your partner and the doctors, nurses, midwives, and/or sherpa guides to do when you scream at them that you need more drugs, dammit!

You’re asked to consider such things as which drugs (if any) you’d like administered, whether you’d prefer a natural birth or a caesarean, what your thoughts are on nudity (for yourself, not the staff), and what vaccinations (if any) your baby is to be given in the hospital. You’re also encouraged to make notes about what type of music you’d like playing, whether you’d like scented candles or fragranced massage oil, and what type of relaxation techniques you’d prefer to use.

When I was pregnant with Big Brother, my husband and I gamely attended the first couple of antenatal classes at the hospital. Then we wrote our birth plan. It looked something like this:

  • Drugs are good in  moderation.
  • But an epidural is a last, last, last resort.
  • I’m not a ‘relaxation exercise’ kind of girl.
  • Under no circumstances do I want to be naked in front of hospital staff. In fact, if I could give birth while fully clothed, that would be preferable.
  • Under absolutely no circumstances do I want a caesarean. No way, no how, uh-uh, never. Absolutely not.

The plan was written. The birth was practically over. Tick that box and move on.

Of course, things didn’t go exactly as per our plan…

It was Saturday afternoon. I was 39 weeks pregnant and sick, sick, sick of feeling tired and bloated and like I had giant suction cups on the bottom of my legs. (My ankles may have been just a little bit swollen.) A male friend of ours was at our apartment, and the guys were chatting away, trying to keep me happy and distracted. It was going on 3:00pm when we decided to watch a movie.

My husband gallantly moved to put a DVD in the player and turn on the TV. In a moment of I-can-do-it-even-though-I’m-pregnant-ness, I got there first. I leaned over to grab the DVD and felt an odd sensation.

I looked down.

My water had broken.

I raced into the bathroom. (I don’t know why, I just did.) I checked to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. That’s when I discovered that the fluid seemed to be mostly blood.

I walked out of the bathroom and back to the bewildered guys. In what I believe was a calm (for the circumstances) voice, I turned to our friend. “You need to go home now.” Then I looked at my husband. “We need to go to the hospital. Can you grab the hospital bag please?”

I phoned the hospital and explained exactly what was going on, and that we were on our way. Then I called a taxi. (We only lived 5 minutes from the hospital and a taxi was quicker and cheaper than parking at the hospital itself.) By the time my husband was back, I was ready to go. I took his hand and we walked downstairs, got into the waiting cab, and went to the hospital.

We got there at 3:15.

By the time a nurse looked at me, I was feeling kind of funny. She had a quick look at me, put me on a stretcher, and called for a doctor. Suddenly there were staff everywhere. Someone checked my blood pressure and said it was too high and they were going to give me something to bring it down. Someone else put a catheter in my hand and injected something into it. A nurse wrapped a belt around my stomach and announced that I was having contractions every three minutes. Another one told me I was just over 6cm dilated.

The room was full of bustling people, all of them talking and calling out numbers and unfamiliar phrases. My husband stood next to me, holding my hand. There were no scented candles in sight.

I heard the phrase ‘placental abruption’ and then a female doctor explained that part of the placenta had torn away, but the baby didn’t seem to be in any distress. She told me they’d monitor me and let nature take its course — I was already well into the early stage of labour. She instructed someone to attach a heart rate monitor to the baby’s head and left the room.

It was 3:22.

I was suddenly in pain. I sat up, almost doubling over in agony. At any moment an alien was going to rip its way out of my body.

“Contraction?” somebody asked.

“No,” said someone else, looking at the read-out from the belt around my stomach. “Nothing here.”

“The heart rate’s dropping. BP’s too low.”

Fleshing. Beeping. Bustling. Someone injected me with something, not explaining until after it was done. “Your blood pressure is too low. This will bring it back up.” I squeezed my husband’s hand tighter. The pain kept rolling over me, not in intervals but in waves.

The doctor’s face loomed in front of mine. She waited until she had my attention. “We need to operate right now or your baby won’t make it.”

She handed me some forms to sign and said something else but I didn’t hear a word of it. The room was a blur. I might have cried. I don’t know.

I signed the forms.

I somehow went from being dressed in my clothes, to wearing nothing but a hospital gown which concealed practically nothing. The room was full of people. I didn’t care.

It was 3:29.

I was wheeled into another room. My husband was gone. I was pushed into a sitting position and turned sideways on the bed. A male voice instructed me to lean forward so an epidural could be administered. He sounded calm and experienced, but spoke and moved quickly. Like time was of the essence. I did as I was told, ignoring the rolling pain.

Then I was in the operating theatre and my husband was by my side once more. He wore a purple hat and smock. He looked ridiculous. I couldn’t feel the pain anymore. I couldn’t feel anything below my waist. I gripped my husband’s hand as they pinned a sheet up between me and my lower body.

Poking. Prodding. Tugging.

A cry.

My son was lifted into the world: an angry, squalling little thing with red-blond hair and eyes as dark as the night sky.

It was 3:37.

My husband held him first — I had to wait until I’d been stitched up. But I couldn’t draw my gaze away. He was here. He was amazing. All I wanted to do was hold him; hold him tight and never let him go. And when I did, I cried again.

It was 3:50. Less than an hour earlier, we’d been arguing about which movie to watch. Now we were parents. It was surreal.

And I didn’t care about scented candles. I didn’t care about music or massages. I didn’t even care that I’d been naked in front of a room full of people, or that I’d had a caesarean. All I cared about was that my baby was safe.

We didn’t bother making a birth plan for baby #2.

It wouldn’t have helped anyway.


Filed under Life With Kids, Random Stuff

10 responses to “Why Birth Plans are Stupid

  1. What a beautiful story! I like the idea of a birth plan, it makes you think about what you want/dont want and makes you learn about all the options. But you know what they say about the devil and the best laid plans… And in the end, all that really matters is that mom and baby are healthy and happy, right?

    • Absolutely, Taryn. Once you’ve got your baby in your arms, everything else fades to insignificance. 🙂

      (I like the idea of birth plans, too. But the reality is that childbirth is still one of those things that can’t be controlled. 🙂 )

  2. Oh wow. That is crazy, fast and terrifying!! And where were the scented candles? And oh Jo, what a beautiful newborn baby. Most look like old men. Noah was beautiful. My best friend’s daughter was beautiful. Big brother too was beautiful. I just want to smooch him! Your second birth was a planned C-section, wasn’t it? Here in the states that’s how it’s done these days, but they change the rules every 10 years or so.

    Fantastic post.

    • Thanks, Kim. I wish I could find a photo of him with his eyes open during that first week — his eyes were so dark they looked like windows into eternity. And he’d just lie in my arms and stare into my eyes for hours at a time. The memory of that still makes me heart go all gooey and melty. 🙂

      Little Brother was supposed to be a planned C-section, but that birth plan didn’t quite work out, either. I ended up being checked into hospital a couple of weeks early with high blood pressure, then developed pre-eclempsia and needed a sudden emergencu C-section at 1:00am when the doctors were fearful for my life. Little Brother was quite happy — so happy, in fact, that he didn’t want to breathe when he was born, and he ended up in ICU while I had a zillion drugs pumped into me to try to stop me having seizures.

      So yeah, me and birth plans don’t really mix…

  3. Well, you know the old saying: Life is what happens while you’re making other plans (this being a somewhat more literal example than most 🙂 ).

  4. I was never much for birth plans either, as you can imagine I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my pants kind of girl. Although, I was never offered massage oil and scented candles. 🙂

    • You see, if someone had just offered you a scented candle when you found out you were having a second set of twins, you would have just laughed merrily and gone to pick daisies from a nearby field. 🙂

  5. I didn’t even get the chance to make a birth plan. We attended a couple birthing classes, didn’t pay attention to the brief mention of caesarean and a few days later my water broke at 37 weeks. Baby boy was breech so an emergency c-section was ordered and I frantically asked my husband to read the c-section chapter in What to Expect. It was so quick I think I was in shock for the first weeks of my son’s life.

    • Ha! I can just imagine a frantic first-time almost-father flipping through the book in desperation while you told him to ‘hurry up, damn it!’. I completely relate to being a shock for the first week, too. It’s so surreal when it happens suddenly.

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