For any expectant mother, the idea of labor and delivery is loaded with a barrage of emotions. The thought of bringing new life into this world is daunting, exciting, and, frankly, terrifying. These feelings are enough to shake even the most composed women, making it easy to succumb to panic in the final hours of pregnancy. Then, more than ever, it is important to stick to your guns. Being your own advocate is the best way to ensure that you are getting as close to your birth plan or wishes as possible.
My birth plan was simple. I wanted my daughter’s cord blood to be donated. I wanted her to be bath to be postponed for twenty-four hours and I wanted to be there to see it. I wanted immediate skin to skin contact with her, even though I was to have a scheduled c-section. None of these wishes would be carried out through no real fault of anyone’s but my own. I still can’t help but feel that our birth story wasn’t what it should have been.
My daughter was in the Frank breech position. That is, with her head in my ribcage, her butt pointed downward and her legs folded opposite her head. My OB felt that a c-section at thirty-nine weeks was best and I agreed. Two days before my scheduled appointment, I had what some may consider atypical labor symptoms. When my back began to ache in the most indescribable way, I had a feeling something was up. When I collapsed on the bathroom floor in a fit of nausea, I knew it was time to head to the hospital.
Upon arrival, I waddled in agony up to the birthing unit. Slumped over the nurse's desk, I explained that I was in labor. I was met with skepticism and nonchalance. “Has your water broken?” One nurse asked without looking up from her computer. It had not. “Are you having contractions?” I was, of course, but unsure and unable to speak, I shrugged pitifully. I could tell I was not being taken seriously. It is often suggested that women don’t or cannot adequately report their pain level or distress. This notion was certainly implied as I was admitted that day. I was told I could be seen by the on-call physician, but I’d likely be sent home. If I was really in labor, I’d know it.
My husband practically carried me down the hallway as I was not given or even offered a wheelchair. Just outside our room, I fell to the ground again and began to vomit. Only then did I get the sense of urgency I longed for. I was helped into the bed and hooked up to all sorts of machines. As I groaned, poured sweat and continued to throw up periodically, all sorts of diagnoses were tossed around. After suggesting food poisoning, the flu, a stomach virus, they finally landed on kidney stones. The on-call physician examined me and confirmed this theory. They were all so sure. I couldn’t help but feel a little crazy. I thought I knew my body well enough to know when I was in labor. To be told with such conviction that you are wrong, wrong, wrong is unsettling, to say the least.
I don’t know how much time had passed between my arrival at the hospital and my delivery. Somewhere in the range of maybe four hours, I was given morphine to ease my pain. I have always hated pain killers but labor pain is no joke, so I did not protest. The pain medication did so little for me. I remember lying on the bed, all scrunched up yet limp, too tired to move. I was still in pain, still awake, and growing more terrified with each contraction. I even remember my husband telling the nurse that I had fallen asleep but I was so exhausted, I couldn’t bring myself to move or speak to correct him. I also remember thinking that me sleeping was probably comforting to him and my mother so I half-willingly played possum.
Finally, I was handed a phone. It was the on call OB. I could hear children in the background and she sounded like she was in the car. I felt so bad for ruining her afternoon. She told me that I was in labor and that she was on her way — we would deliver within the hour. She also said that she would perform exploratory surgery after the baby was out in order to be exhaustive. I felt such relief, I could have cried. I was not crazy. I was not sick. I was going to be a mother within the hour. Fear for my baby and honestly, for myself was cut in half as I waited to be wheeled into the operating room.
Sterile white tile stretched up to the ceiling in the operating room while what seemed like fifty people hustled and shuffled about. I remember itching my face raw without a second thought. Later, I’d realize this was a side effect of morphine. My c-section went off without a hitch. We couldn’t wait to introduce our baby girl to the eager family members that had filled the waiting room. The only thing that stood in our way was the exploratory surgery. My husband and I had no concept of time. We were in the operating room for almost two hours. Our poor families anxiously paced the floor, wondering what was taking so long. Finally, we were wheeled into a recovery room, new baby in hand.
The rest of the night was a blur. I remember so little. Instead of the excitement, ecstasy, and joy I imagined I’d feel holding my daughter for the first time, I only felt relief that it was over and she was safe. I don’t remember her first latch or feeding, only that it happened. I remember voices of family members but I couldn’t tell you everyone that was there.
My labor and delivery experience was different and even a little strange but we all made it out happy and healthy. I could not be more grateful. Still, I wish I had spoken up. I did have a birth plan. I did want my baby’s cord blood to be donated. I did want skin to skin contact. I did want her bath to be postponed and I did want to be there to witness it. I did not want to be high out of my mind, itchy and drowsy. It’s easy to say now what I could have and should have done. Could I have endured the pain until the OB got there? Maybe not but I could have at least discussed my options with the nurse instead of handing over the reigns completely.
In any medical situation, it is imperative that you be your own advocate. This especially goes for labor and delivery. The implementation of a birth plan results in fewer c-sections, lower pain levels, and even higher APGAR scores. These are an evaluation of things like heart rate, lungs, coloring to assess the physical condition of a newborn. Additionally, a birth plan helps mothers feel more empowered and in control of their labor and delivery experience. Creating your own birth plan can be done on your own or with the help of your OB, midwife or another birthing professional. Whether you intend to use a birth plan or not, it is best to discuss your wishes early and often.
Doctors abandon birth plans or parts of them for a number of reasons. Sometimes it is for the safety of the mother and child. Other times it is because birth is unpredictable and therefore too fluid to be strictly planned out. Whatever the case, choose your OB wisely. Find someone with whom you are comfortable and feel you can put all your trust into.
It is also important to keep in mind that your labor and delivery will not go exactly as planned. Don’t get too attached to anything and trust your doctor or midwife. If something in your plan is being compromised or abandoned altogether, ask questions. Why can’t we do it this way? What are the benefits of doing it your way? What are the risks? Be vigilant and attentive. You know your body. No one can stick up for you better than you can.
Expectant mothers are tasked with a multitude of new responsibilities. One of the most important is to advocate for themselves during labor and delivery. It should not be forgotten to speak up, ask questions and be stern when necessary. Being able to discuss and problem solve with an OB that you trust can aid greatly in this endeavor. Whether you chose to have a detailed birth plan or none at all, you are your own best advocate.
Hilary Warren is a contributing writer to Blood + Milk. She is a mother, wife and retired NFL Cheerleader. Hilary writes about women’s issues, pregnancy, parenthood and the power of positivity.
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