Two weeks ago my baby, my youngest child, turned five. FIVE. It is such a bittersweet thing to watch your youngest grow up. I love the girl she is turning into, but a part of me will always mourn the baby she no longer is, even more so than with my other two children. But as I was reminiscing about her baby days, I thought of her birth, which was amazing in so many ways, but also so different than I expected it to be. This led me to thinking about birth and expectations.
I think most of us, whether it is our first birth or out fifteenth, go into our births with some kind of expectation of what it will be like. If you have had children before, you might expect this one to be somewhat similar to the last one. If it is your first birth, your expectations may be shaped by the media, or the stories of your family and friends. You might expect it to be awful, great, or somewhere in between, but you likely have some expectations about it.
My expectations for my third birth is that it would be amazing. To give some background, my first two children were born in hospitals. My second did not go at all as I had wanted it to, so I decided to give homebirth a try. I knew this would likely be my last child so I threw myself into making sure it was everything I hoped it would be. I listened to hypnobabies CDs and visualized myself having a fast and easy birth. I hired a wonderful midwife team. I ate as well as I could, and watched youtube videos of homebirths. These laboring women were so calm as they quietly pushed their babies out into their birth pools. I had actually been pretty calm during my first birth, which was unmedicated. I felt very confident that I was going get exactly the birth I was planning for, the birth I expected.
But birth rarely goes the way that we plan, or the way we expect. I see it over an over again as a doula. A woman goes into her labor expecting one thing and getting something very different. I know that is how it was for me. I was 41 weeks and 6 days pregnant. My fluid was low, I was grumpy, and I felt very strongly that it was time my little one vacated her comfy home of 9+ months. So after avoiding even thinking about taking such a step for weeks, I downed a dose of castor oil, thankfully disguised in an ice cream milkshake.
When contractions began, they surprised me. I was expecting labor to begin slowly, as my other two had, with mild contractions spaced apart pretty widely. Instead, these hit hard and fast, and despite my weeks of hypnobabies telling me that I could have a painless childbirth, they HURT. My husband set about filling the birth pool, we let the midwives know what was going on, and I descended into Laborland. (Note that here is where I could have really used a doula because my husband spent pretty much all of my labor filing the birth pool, which as you will see turned out to be a wasted effort.)
A few hours later my midwives arrived, checked baby's heartbeat, and found all was well so they settled into their watchful waiting. I, on the other hand, was crawling around on the floor with my birth ball and I was being LOUD. This was not the quiet peaceful homebirth I had envisioned. Finally, FINALLY, about an hour after the midwives got there, the birth pool was filled and it was the right temperature. My midwife asked if I would like to have my cervix checked before getting in and I agreed so I climbed on the bed. She told me I was complete (10cm) which was great news because it meant I was almost done. But the truth was I was a lot closer to done than I thought! Six minutes later, my eight and a half pound daughter came barreling out of me while I screamed at the top of my lungs the whole time. Yep, my expected calm, quiet, beautiful waterbirth, ended up with me screaming on my bed. And the first thing I said when she was out was, "I am so glad that is over!"
Everything that happened after that was great. I was allowed to deliver the placenta on my own and in my own time. I only had a tiny tear and I felt like I had conquered Everest! My older two kids were able to come and meet their baby sister only an hour or so after she was born. I was able to rest and recuperate in my own bed. It was wonderful.
But for months after her birth, I was left feeling unsettled about it all, as if somehow, by not getting what I had expected, I had failed. Maybe if I had waited another day and not taken the castor oil, things would have been easier. Maybe I should have listened to the hypnobabies more often; then it might have worked better for me. We should have planned better for how long the birth tub would take to fill up. And on and on.
It took becoming a doula for me to come to terms with my unrealized expectations for this birth. I learned over and over that the only thing predictable about birth is that it is unpredictable. I didn't fail at birth. In fact, it is impossible to fail at birth. Did it go the way I had expected? Nope. Instead, it was raw and real, and I was strong. I am now able to look back and be proud of myself and not the least bit ashamed that my favorite part was when it was over.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is, plan and dream a little bit when preparing for your birth. But remember that when it comes down to it, there is no way to know what it will be like for you or how it will go. That is part of the miracle. Release your expectations and trust that you will be able to do it, that you will birth your baby in the way he or she needs to be birthed. And it will be amazing.
Andrea Gerdes is a certified birth doula and postpartum doula who lives and works in Charlotte, NC. She is the homeschooling mother to three kids and the wife of one amazing husband.
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