It’s a time-honored movie cliche: the pregnant woman has one or two contractions and instantly knows, “It’s time!” She and her entourage then blunder their way to the hospital, where she asks for the epidural, but, much to her screaming, sweaty chagrin, it’s too late for that. Three minutes of screaming and two good pushes later, and–WAAAAHHH! The baby has arrived, and everything is instantly calm and glowing and beautiful and nobody has the shakes or needs an episiotomy stitched up.
Of course, every woman who has ever been pregnant is well aware the process is much more complicated and unpredictable than that.
If you’re pregnant, or have been pregnant, you’re probably well aware of the interrogation you face almost every day. Do you know the sex? Have you picked a name? When are you due? Will you breast or bottle-feed? And then, toward the end, the daunting, Will you have an epidural?
With my son, I went eight days past my due date before my labor was induced. My labor was completely controlled, from the first contractions to my son’s first cries, and that was the way I wanted it. Many women, however, are not as fortunate and as in control. I know many whose labor and delivery experience went in the complete opposite direction they would have liked, and were physically and emotionally devastated by their experiences. I’m now entering the second trimester of my second pregnancy, and it’s starting to hit me: I’m going to have to go through labor again, and I might not have nearly the control I had with my son.
As much as I want another totally smooth, painless labor and delivery experience, I have to be ready for that cliche movie moment when the doctor says, “I’m sorry, Kristen, you’re too far along; you’re going to have to do this the old-fashioned way.” And likewise, I believe all women should be prepared for their birth plan to go completely awry.
There are plenty of complications over the course of labor and delivery that may make it necessary to scrap your original birth plan. Unforeseeable problems, from a breech baby, to high maternal blood pressure, to dilation and effacement further along than will allow for an epidural, can throw your original plan off, and I absolutely believe it’s essential, for your physical and emotional health, to be ready for the exact opposite outcome of your ideal series of events. If you’re dead set on a vaginal birth, emotionally prepare yourself for an emergency cesarian section. If you want to be numb from the waist down and sleep through over half of your labor (like me), be ready to be told you’re too dilated for an epidural. If your heart is set on having a certain midwife or obstetrician deliver your baby, be ready for an unfamiliar face between your knees when it comes time to push. And so on, and so forth.
However, there are plenty of steps you can take to be as prepared as possible for any situation the little one might throw your way (and if this is your first baby, get used to him or her calling the shots, because it’s not going to stop any time soon). Pack your bags with everything on the list your midwife or obstetrician gives to you (plus more pads, you can never have enough pads!). Program your OB or midwife’s number into your phone, and have a contact group set up for those who you want to keep abreast of any baby updates. If you’re a social media junkie, like me, and want to keep your FB friends updated, check on the wi-fi status of the hospital you’re going to. If you’re in an unfamiliar city at any point in the last month of your pregnancy, know where the closest hospital is. Lastly, and, I think, the most fun preparation: make sure you tour the L&D and maternity wards in your local hospital. You can usually arrange this through your practitioner.
Putting together your birth plan can be fun and exciting and terrifying all at the same time, but if events start to take a turn for what, in your mind, looks like the worst, just remember: at the end of the day, what matters the most is that little bundle of joy and poop and spit-up in your arms, and his or her health and safety throughout the process of getting him or her out of your warm, cushy womb and into this bright, wide world.