Maybe you read all the books, attended all the classes, and typed out a 2 page birth plan… or maybe you like to fly by the seat of your pants, but you had some expectations about your birth experience.
I guess I fell somewhere in the middle? I attended the classes (highlight of my week), had “The Business of Being Born” memorized (yes I’m one of those “crunchy” moms), and researched everything from red raspberry leaf tea to the Vitamin K shot… but I didn’t write an official birth plan. I didn’t even consider that I would need one.
I chose to have my prenatal care and birth at this incredible, midwife-run, natural birth center called Breath of Life. For 9 months, I absorbed the in’s and out’s of an unmedicated labor and delivery, was given endless support from my midwives, and learned to trust in God’s genius design of childbirth. The combination of those three factors gave me this insane amount of confidence and excitement for what I anticipated was going to be the greatest, most memorable, most peaceful, most rewarding event of my entire life… that all changed when I had an unplanned, mandatory c-section at 38 weeks.
I think that most mamas can relate to that last sentence in their own unique way. Maybe the peaceful birth that you anticipated was with an epidural and surrounded by your closes friends and family. Instead, it ended in a freezing operating room with unfamiliar faces, after you heard the painful words “failed to progress.” Maybe you dreamed of a home birth, but you ended up having to transfer to a hospital, drowning in feelings of defeat. Maybe you planned to have an epidural since the day you found out you were pregnant, but your baby came so fast that you didn’t have time for one, and you experienced a degree of pain that you did not prepare for in any way.
One thing we can all relate to is that we spend 9 months dreaming of the moment we meet our child.
Every woman’s dream is special in it’s own way, because it’s theirs. So when your child’s birth doesn’t go as you dreamed, however big or small the degree, what can you do?
1. Be honest
Prepare for a lot of people to tell you “all that matters is a healthy baby, not how they are born.” Yes, absolutely, a healthy baby is what matters most, but there are reasons that you chose a certain birth plan. Most of those reasons have everything to do with the health of that child. Delayed cord clamping, immediate skin-to-skin, uninterrupted first attempts to latch and breastfeed, the microorganisms the baby receives when passing through the birth canal … these are all so important and can play a major role in the short and long-term health of your baby. You dedicated time to research, educate yourself, and choose what you believe is the best birth for your child… so do not push aside your feelings of disappointment if the outcome was the exact opposite. It’s okay to be disappointed. It’s okay to even grieve a little. Those are normal, human reactions. Internalizing your feelings might fix your problem temporarily, but those feelings might sneak up on you and cause fear and anxiety in a future pregnancy or labor.
2. Talk, talk, and talk some more
Piggy-backing off the previous point, find someone who you can talk to about those honest struggles. Even though I couldn’t end up giving birth at my birth center, my midwives still reached out weekly to see how I was doing and how I was processing through my c-section. I spoke openly to family and friends about the fact that I felt disconnected from my own baby for the first few weeks, because I didn’t get to see, feel, or experience birthing him. I knew that people would not understand that, and I knew that people would write it off as postpartum depression, when it had everything to do with my birth experience, not hormones. It’s important to understand that no one will fully understand your struggles, but talk about them anyways!
3. It’s the little things…
There are so many positives that you can focus on while healing physically and emotionally from birth. God literally made babies with big eyes, big cheeks, and soft surfaces to activate the part of the human brain that wants to cuddle and hold objects. You get to cuddle and hold the cutest thing you’ve ever laid your eyes on ALL.DAY.LONG. How’s that for a positive? Maybe you had a sweet nurse, or an empowering labor. Despite so many unneccesary interventions between me and my son after he was born, our breastfeeding relationship still was and is perfect. He was so calm and peaceful in those exhausting first couple weeks, which was such a blessing.
4. Attend a birth healing class
I have not personally experienced a birth healing class or workshop yet, but I think it’s a great idea to consider attending one before another pregnancy. Most classes apply scientifically-proven methods of addressing brain waves to reverse trauma. This can be especially beneficial for any woman who is planning for a TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean), which requires an unreal amount of trust and confidence in her own body.
5. Write it out!
One of the best pieces of advice one of my midwives gave me was to write out my birth story, detail by detail. I know that sounds like a joke, considering that you have no free time with a newborn, but it can be done! Writing it out helps you process. Not only is this an important healing tool for yourself, but it can be incredibly helpful for other mamas to read your story and know that they’re not alone. Below is my own birth story.
Koa Axel Meloy
At 37 weeks, birth center bags were packed, video camera was charged, “are you having twins” comments were occurring 3 times a day, and I was 200% physically/emotionally/mentally ready to take on an unmedicated water birth. I went in for my weekly midwife visit, and my midwife had a hard time finding the heartbeat. I thought nothing of it, because I had an anterior placenta, which can create a little sound barrier between a doppler and your baby’s heart. After feeling around, she decided to double check her suspicion with an ultrasound. There on the screen, we see my big guy lying transverse across my pelvis. A transverse lie means a mandatory c-section, because the baby has no way of descending into the birth canal. Before c-sections, moms and babies would die from this birth complication. Not only that, but if your water breaks and the umbilical cord comes out, you have 4 minutes before your baby runs out of oxygen.
For the next week, I did spinning babies exercises nearly 10 times a day, as well as pool handstands, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, moxibustion, massages, and Webster’s technique. Every night, my husband and I would blast worship music in the house and get on our knees and pray. When I woke up the morning of my next midwife appointment, it felt like he had finally moved. Two midwives checked me and told me he felt head-down. I was on cloud 9. We did another ultrasound just in case, but I was confident he had flipped. I looked at the screen, and I saw two giant feet where I expected to see a head. Baby boy was still in transverse lie, with his legs dangling below him.
My midwife immediately sent us to Orlando to see a doctor with the highest ECV success rate in the state of Florida (97%). She explained that with the size and length of our baby, an ECV would be the best chance of flipping him at this point. I was emotionless during the entire drive. When we got there, I was prepped for a c-section (this is in case something goes wrong during the ECV, as the procedure is incredibly hard on your body). Next thing I know, 3 massive men that looked like they just stepped off the offensive line come in the room. For the next hour, these three men poured sweat as they put their bodyweight into my womb and tried to manually move my baby. If that doesn’t give you a visual of how painful this procedure was, I don’t know what will. My husband had to continually ice my face and neck to keep me from overheating as I drowned in my own sweat. I blacked out twice. The ECV was unsuccessful. I cried the whole drive home.
The next day, my water broke. I didn’t realize it was my water breaking, so I just ignored it. It wasn’t until 6am the next morning that I woke up wide awake in a huge puddle. I called my midwife, and she sent me to a hospital. At that point, my water had been broken for over 24 hours. Within 30 minutes, amniotic fluid was confirmed and I was prepped for a c-section with the surgeon on call.
I was talked through what to expect out of a “gentle cesarean” [drape dropped so I can see him come out of me, delayed cord clamp, immediate skin-to-skin from my womb, early start to breastfeeding], but none of these happened. I didn’t see Koa come out. His cord was clamped within 5 seconds of delivery. He was measured, weighed, and tested before they let me hold him. I had him in my arms for only a few seconds before I started throwing up from the medicine, so they took him back. It was half an hour of heel pricks and more tests before a nurse brought him back to me. She grabbed his head and shoved his mouth on my chest as an attempt to start breastfeeding, all while I’m vomiting off the side of the bed. When he didn’t latch after 5-10 seconds of shoving, she took him back and said
“Well… we have exhausted all of our efforts. We need to start supplementing with formula. Otherwise your baby’s blood sugar will drop, and he will die.”
My jaw was on the floor. My husband and I had to literally beg for one more attempt to latch. I couldn’t believe that I had to fight for the chance to breastfeed my own child. She told us that we could try one more time, but as soon as his blood sugar dropped, we would need to supplement. In the meantime, Koa is taken away from me for more screenings and heel pricks. No bonding…no skin-to-skin… basically the perfect recipe for unsuccessful breastfeeding. Another half hour goes by, and I am given Koa as we are wheeled into our room. Once we are there, the nurse does one more heel prick to see if his blood sugar has dropped, and by God’s sweet grace, it had stayed exactly the same. I finally have my son on my chest, and he latches beautifully. We have had the most amazing breastfeeding journey ever since.
My birth story ended up being the exact opposite of what I had dreamed about for 9 months. I thought I was going to be in a tub of water, surrounded by my husband and midwives. I thought I would be the first arms that he felt as I pull him from the water to my chest. I thought I would get to experience the oxytocin and endorphins that would come with labor. I always heard about that indescribable newborn gaze from an unmedicated birth… Those big, alert eyes studying your face for the first time as he hears your familiar voice. The truth is that I didn’t see Koa open his eyes for 2 days. He was so lethargic, and his eyes were full of ointment that had to be given to him because my water had been broken for so long.
But guess what? Now I get to see that gaze every single day. I get to wake up to my son’s smiles. I get to watch a perfectly healthy child grow through nourishment from my own body. I get to praise God for a living, breathing baby boy. Even though Koa’s birth didn’t go as planned, that c-section saved his life. I have so much to be thankful for, including that week of prayer before he was born. It allowed me to go into my c-section covered by God’s peace. I could rest in the fact that this was His plan and totally out of my control.
The most precious parts of my life were not planned, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.