Monday Musings: Births off the “plan”

As childbirth educators in The Bradley Method®, we attract students who want to have an unmedicated vaginal birth.  It is our goal to prepare them for Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby outcomes by starting with a foundation of a  healthy, low-risk pregnancy.  We stress the importance of abdominal breathing, relaxation, exercise and a healthy diet.  We share information so that they are confident in the process, have the education to ask good questions and get complete answers.  It is all with the goal for them to be able to evaluate decisions in their birth and make empowered decisions that they feel good about when they look back on their Sweet Pea’s Birth-Day.

In our evolution as instructors, we don’t teach The Birth Plan anymore.  We teach The Wish List, and encourage them to embrace the process of communication between themselves and their birth team.  We ask them to prioritize the different possibilities, variations and complications and decide how they would want to choose while they are calm and have the whole scope of the internet as a research tool without time constraints or pressure to decide *right* now.  We spend 12 weeks informing, encouraging and hopefully, empowering them, for a Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby outcome.

Sounds nice, right?

It’s crap sometimes.  I have watched students and/or been in contact with them throughout their births and they end up with interventions, up to and including cesarean births.  The overwhelming majority of them are for appropriate reasons – the true complications when interventions and/or surgery are unquestionably the right choice for both mother and baby to still be “healthy”.

We invite and encourage them all to come back and share their birth stories when it comes time to have their class reunion. Thankfully, those that do come back and share, still feel that the time spent preparing was well worth it, because they used the tools they learned in class throughout the birth experience.

I can’t help but wonder if they are ever “okay”.  As a regular at ICAN meetings for almost three years now, it has made me painfully aware of how powerful our words are – those we say to ourselves and those we hear from others.

I have a new goal for my classes.  Just like we switched from “the plan” to “the wish”, my intention is to focus less on the birth and more on the process.  I cannot fix the mamas who are going to have postpartum depression. I can however change the message of our classes so that there is one less pressure to have a “perfect birth”.

The lightbulb went off when I looked at my face in the picture at the top of this post.  This is our fourth child – my fourth time going through this process of labor and birth.  And I still look surprised!! And I was – after our longest labor, I was still thrilled and awed to be holding a new life in my hands – a life that up to the moment it was born, had been inside.  Now it was outside, living, breathing, beating it’s heart all by it’s lonesome without any influence from me.

My new focus is going to be on the miracle of pregnancy and the work we do to have a baby on the other side of labor.  In that, we are all equal.  We have all endured the anticipation of a pregnancy test, come to terms with the answer, and grown these little miracles for however long they reside within us.  To borrow words from the affirmation post I wrote for the SPB blog today:

“Never cease to be amazed by the miracle of life that you grew within you…no matter how you birth, take heart from the fact that the new human being you are holding in your arms was grown within you and by you with loving intention.”

The thought that our bodies have failed us can be devastating.  If we can find joy in the miracle of the life that we grew and take some of the pressure off of the way they entered the world, maybe one mama can start her journey towards healing with a positive thought about something she did do well.  Her body did succeed at growing a baby, and that is something that can be celebrated in the midst of the questions about why the wish list went completely out the window.

I encourage mamas who feel like they have healing to do in regards to their birth to reach out for help.  There is the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), Birthing From Within is training Birth Listeners (I am on the waiting list!! I hope to take the training this year), or you can speak to a counselor, therapist or psychologist who is qualified to work with women who want to work through and process their birth(s).

If I am speaking to you, please know that my heart is breaking with yours.  I know that you have a healthy baby.  I grieve with you about the birth you did not have.  I want you to know that you are a hero in my eyes.  You allowed your body to be invaded by instruments (needles or otherwise) to give your baby the birth that they needed because you have so much love for them that you were willing to be *that* vulnerable for them.  I hope you come to a place where you will believe in your heart of hearts that you are not broken.  You may need mending, and you are not broken.  You are loved.