The Case for Shredding Your Birth Plan

October 23, 2019 | add comment

This piece was originally published on Scary Mommy.

“Get a shoelace to clamp the umbilical cord.” My landlord relayed the 911 dispatcher’s instructions as I lay on the kitchen floor, a pool of blood beneath me. My husband pulled a lace from his Vans sneaker and said, “Does it matter if it’s filthy?” Our newborn was on my belly covered in a towel.

Here’s what I was not thinking in that moment: “Didn’t our birth plan note delayed clamping of the umbilical cord for at least three minutes?” No, I was thinking, “What the actual hell just happened?”

With all the thought I put into my birth plan, I failed to include a section addressing what to do if the nightmarish birth stories I’d only heard about from strangers and Seth Meyers became my birth story.

I awoke at midnight to my water breaking — a huge gush, the kind reserved for high-heeled women in rom-coms. I felt foggy as my husband gathered our things and phoned our doula and nanny.

Before heading to the hospital, we snuck into our two-year-old’s room to say goodbye on his last night as an only child. I barely brushed his leg, unintentionally waking him up. OOPS. We tiptoed out in hopes he would fall back to sleep. He began crying and yelling, “Mommy, sing me a song.” 

Before I could sing one note, I felt my baby starting to arrive. I chirped a panicky “Good night, sweetie” and waddled out of the room, clutching his crib for stability. He cried even harder, his expectations of a midnight lullaby thwarted.

“Call 911. The baby’s coming now!” I said to my husband and our landlord as they helped me to the floor. After a few grueling pushes, our baby arrived in the middle of our tiny San Francisco kitchen. The paramedics, doula, and nanny were still in traffic.

“It’s a boy,” my husband said. But I didn’t care. All I kept saying was, “Is he okay?” — terrified at the thought that he wasn’t. He came out crying. His big brother, in his room less than six feet away, was still crying too. No birth plan could have prepared me for how surreal that moment felt.

In the weeks that followed, everything felt wrong, or at least harder than it should have. I was working through the trauma that nestled in deep, beneath 3:00 a.m. feedings and diaper changes. 

One night I dug up the energy to make slow cooker oatmeal. I chopped up some apples and mixed them with coconut milk and cinnamon. This felt like a big accomplishment. In the morning I realized I’d forgotten one thing — the oats. 

Our newborn was so fired up in those first few months. Was it colic? Acid reflux? Had he, too, been reading Trump’s tweets? I threw a foolish sum of money into infant chiropractors and cranial sacral therapy. None of it did a thing. I think our little one just needed to wail for a while. Maybe the fast arrival shocked him just as it had me.

When you’re in the throes of labor, your birth plan will not matter. The battery-operated candles will not matter. Touching your baby’s head while crowning will not matter. (Spoiler: It feels squishy.) The laughing gas will not — no wait, that did take the edge off with my first delivery. My point is, the things you think will shape your birth story may be all but forgotten. What you’ll remember the most you can’t yet envision. 

Giving birth offers an early but crucial lesson in being a mom: At some point, you have to relinquish control. Let go. Take each breath as it comes, and hope you arrive on the other side a bit stronger and wiser. 

Letting go was and is hard for me as a mom and a recovering(-ish) perfectionist. I’ve always liked things “just so” — the exact opposite of how babies and kids operate. 

As a new mom I ditched my beloved fiction novels for parenting books, thinking the more I read about parenting, the better I was at it. With time, I learned to expect less of myself, and to be okay with things not going to plan.

There is no birth plan for the insane amount of love you’ll feel holding your newborn for the first time. There is no book that will adequately prepare you for the overwhelming emotions that accompany parenthood.

My older son, now three-and-a-half, is fascinated by dinosaurs and is beginning to understand the permanence of death. The other day he looked at me with his big hazel eyes and said he didn’t want to die. He asked if we could die together. I didn’t have a good answer, so I said yes.

Having a baby is a fantastic leap into the unknown. Create a birth plan, of course. Visualize it. Meditate on it. But also, be prepared to shred it. Or at least create a second one — a blank sheet.

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