When Birth Doesn’t go as Planned

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The funny thing about informed births is that we tend to believe we can birth the “modern way” and still feel as empowered as we would in a biological birth.  Without making choices that support a biological birth, it is difficult for that end result to occur.  Then, we tend to look at mothers who were uninformed (or ill informed) and have a difficult time processing why they may be happy with their birth after being treated like a patient needing medical attention and their baby handled like a doll instead of a delicate new creature needing their mother close for bonding.

Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

The thing is, those mothers are happy given the birth they expect.  They know the "modern way" of birthing to be "normal" and expect nothing different.  So, they're perfectly happy with the results, often until they discover they had other options - and many don't correlate breastfeeding issues or postpartum depression with birth experience.  Ultimately, though, birth is emotional, and if mom is supported (in whatever birth she has), she has a positive experience and is typically happy with any birth.

One issue is preparing for a birth and focusing on a relaxation technique, and still not making the choices to support a biological birth.  Another issue is believing a birth “plan” will fix all the problems because “people have to listen; the provider signed it.”  None of these are the right way to go about birth.

Make choices that support your birth.  If you want to be treated like you’re at home, then stay home.  If you want medical support, go to the hospital.  If you want a biological birth, don’t hire anyone to “take care of you and give you suggestions.”  Finally, limit the people in your birth space – even supportive friends and family can change the way you feel about your birth experience when what you really want is privacy and to not feel observed.  If you’re making choices that don’t support the birth you desire, then you’re not going to have the birth you desire.  If money is a factor for you and you’re basing your decisions on money, then you’re likely sacrificing something else.  If you understand this, you will have better expectations for your birth outcome and how you’ll feel postpartum.

Remember that birth is emotional.  Labor starts and progresses based on emotions and how safe we feel, and we recall the birth emotionally, not physically.  A mom who is unprepared and fears birth will have more pain and will remember the pain as the significant part of her birth.  She'll love whoever takes that pain away from her (often in the form of an epidural).   A mom who is prepared and doesn't fear birth has less pain and, if well supported, usually has the empowering experience to forget any discomfort and love whoever made her feel strong (often her midwife or doula, or dad if he gets involved - which is who it should be - or the doula shows him how).  No matter what birth she experiences, she'll remember how she was made to feel.  It doesn't matter how "bad" a contraction was, if someone is telling her she is awesome or medicine took that pain away, she'll remember the birth positively.  It doesn't matter if she had an unplanned cesarean if her support persons talk with her positively and keep her involved in the process, but the moment she has support people (care provider, dad, friends, family...etc.) treat her like she doesn't have a say in her birth, that is the significant part of the birth she'll remember.  So, most importantly, choose a birth team that will make you feel like wonder woman in any birth.

Stop creating birth plans, and create a guide.  Once you’ve made the right decisions, your birth guide will be rather short.  Your guide is a guide, not a to do list or rule book – things will change, especially the more people you bring into the picture.  Remember transferring from your comfort zone to a facility changes your birth – if you’re cool with that implication, that’s for you to decide.  But don’t have a technical birth and expect a biological outcome.

Hold your baby skin to skin and as often as possible immediately after birth when babies are in their quiet alert state receptive to discovering this mother that they have grown within for the past 10 months (or as quick as you can) and as much as possible, always.  Yes, skin to skin matters  because it increases your oxytocin (the love hormone) levels more than just holding the baby.  Breastfeeding is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this, and the close proximity of being able to gaze into your baby’s eyes for an extended period does wonders for bonding.  According to the studies outlined in Jena Pincott’s Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?, “…eye gazing can enhance, or even initiate, a feeling of love” and as such, increases oxytocin levels.  Is it any wonder why we start to see our children differently after they stop nursing?  Take some moments with your older children (and your loved ones) and gaze in their eyes for a few moments each day.

Finally, if your birth doesn’t go as planned, find a group or person to reflect on your birth.  You’ll get a lot of “all that matters is a healthy mom and a healthy baby,” but you are right to feel the way you do and emotional health is just as important as outward physical health.  Figure out what you can do differently next time.  And, most of all focus every day on all the positive aspects of your birth because you can change the way you remember your birth.  Of course, remembering a negative experience is valuable to not repeating that experience, but because this birth has such a significant impact on your life and your tendencies towards depression, it would behoove you to recall the positive details and repeat them to yourself and share those details as much as possible.  According to the studies outlined in Jena Pincott’s Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies, “the neurons in which memories reside are rebuilt every time the memory is recalled… and new emotional information can be incorporated into an old memory based on our most recent experience.”