I’ve been meaning to write a little about our birth plans this time around, but I hadn’t been inspired to actually sit down and do it. Then Josey wrote a post on what she has planned for her second birth and I thought it was finally time to relay my thoughts on the subject.
My first birth plan–which I wrote up with the help of my partner and our doula–was followed pretty much to a tee. This speaks more to the luck we had in everything going smoothly than anything else. We were very fortunate to experience an uncomplicated, vaginal birth. With the help of our doula, I achieved my goal of not getting an epidural or using pain medications. On paper, my birth experience was pretty much perfect.
Which is funny because I have very little desire to recreate it.
First of all, I shouldn’t fail to mention that I’m a member of Kaiser. I always have been and I probably always will be. I think Kaiser is pretty great because 1) I can afford it, despite abysmal teacher benefits and 2) it has always offered me the care I’ve needed (except for infertility coverage of course, but that isn’t something I would expect from any insurance package I could afford (or that might be offered me through my teaching job). Of course I’ve never suffered from a serious illness; maybe then I would be more cognizant of the ways in which Kaiser might fail me, but as a relatively healthy adult, Kaiser has always provided me with reliable, competent care, and it rarely bothers me when that care comes without certain choices. In fact, I kind of appreciate not having to research specialists or deal with transferring medical files. With Kaiser, every doctor has access to my entire medical history and there has always been someone available to help with whatever ails me (or my daughter).
Not surprisingly, reliable and competent is exactly how to describe my prenatal/maternity care with Kaiser as well. Oh, and it’s incredibly affordable. With my plan (which I buy out-of-pocket for me and my daughter) the entire prenatal/birthing experience costs less than $300. All the prenatal appointments are free, I only have to pay a measly $10/each for a couple of labs and $25 for each of the big ultrasounds. Plus, it’s $200/night for the hospital stay (we requested to only stay one night last time and plan to again). Even I have to admit, that is a pretty great deal.
So when I think about how I wish I could experience a water birth, and then I research doing so with a midwife either at home or in a birthing center, it just doesn’t make sense for me to spend $5K-$8K pursuing that option, especially when I can’t even be sure a water birth will be possible until late in my pregnancy (when I’m more sure my baby isn’t breech).
While I’d really love to experience a water birth, it’s just not an expense I can justify, especially when we’re expecting to go into debt to cover my three months of Family Medical Leave and then my part-time status next year. The reality is, we need to save that $5K-$8K for life after the baby’s birth. In fact, we’ve decided we don’t really feel comfortable paying the $2K doula fee this time around. Finances are just too tight with our new mortgage and the care of two children.
And honestly, I’m 99% okay with that.
The truth is, I had the best birth experience I could have hoped for last time, and you know what? It wasn’t that great. I’m sure that sounds incredibly ungrateful, especially for women who had horrific birthing experiences that they still mourn. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, because I’m not. The thing is, even when I had the birth experience that I thought it wanted, it wasn’t actually what I thought it would be like. I was dealing with really intense back labor and the ten hours we labored at home were harrowing. I spent every contraction fighting back waves of ever mounting panic. Many time, I succumbed to that panic. There was never a break and nothing the doula could do moved the baby to give me relief. Each contraction felt more stifling than the last and most of the time I felt desperate to get some relief. We actually headed to the hospital for me to get an epidural but when we got there I was already 8cm dilated so my plans were thwarted. That actually really pissed me off at the time.
Luckily the pain of each contraction wasn’t as bad when I was pushing but I still needed to do so for over 2.5 hours to get my baby out. One of the main reasons I hoped to avoid a medicated birth was I wanted to feel my daughter emerge, but she was crowning for so long (her head was HUGE) that my nerves basically shut down and I didn’t even realize she had been born until they yelled at me to take her. This was probably for the best because it meant I didn’t feel the third degree tear she gave me.
I read a lot of books about birthing babies and was especially taken with Ina May Gaskin’s book, filled with incredible stories of women who were fully and truly empowered by their birth experiences. I hired a doula and wrote a detailed birth plan hoping to have that kind of experience. And in many ways, I did, except I didn’t feel empowered at all. It wasn’t this incredible event that left me with a sense of purpose. It was really fucking hard and even though I did everything I was supposed to do, I didn’t have the experience I felt was promised me in all the an-unmedicated-birth-is-a-transcendent-climax-of-life books and articles. It was harrowingly difficult. The hours laboring at home were so traumatic that I couldn’t even look at the couch or the end of our bed for weeks afterward without having PTSD-like flashbacks and breaking into a cold sweat. I can only imagine how I would have felt if I’d actually birthed my daughter at home. Mostly I wanted to forget the whole thing, except for the part where I was handed my healthy baby.
And I have to admit, when I’ve heard people recount their epidural-assisted births I am quite jealous. Getting to the hospital, being relieved of the pain, taking a nice nap, waking up fully dilated and in a well-rested state, pushing my baby into the world without pain, well that sounds idyllic. That sounds transcendent. That might be what I want this time around.
Most of the time, I feel pretty guilty about my feelings surrounding my birth. I got the experience so many dream of–that so many do not get to have–and yet I obviously don’t appreciate it. It was hard and painful and I spent most of it oscillating between almost losing my shit and actually losing my shit. It was hours and hours of agonizing panic and I don’t really want to relive it again.
I’m going into my second birth with almost no expectations. I don’t have any goals to manage my pain without medication, in fact I will probably ask for an epidural this time around and be relieved when it kicks in. Of course I hope I can avoid a c-section, but I have faith that my body will do what it needs to do, if the circumstances permit. I know that is a luxury that many aren’t afforded and I DON’T take that confidence in my body for granted.
And while sometimes I wonder if I’m weird for not having loftier goals for my second birth experience (or a better appreciation of my first) mostly I try to accept my thoughts and feelings on all of this. My first birth experience taught me where my boundaries are, and I’m not sure I honored them completely the first time around. This time, I plan on being kinder to myself, on having fewer expectations. I have proven to myself that I can do a non-medicated birth and sure I’m proud, but I don’t need to prove it to myself–or anybody else–again. This time I want what feels best within the confines of the birthing situation we are offered. Honestly, if I’m handed a healthy baby at the end of it, I’ll consider it a resounding success.
Did/do you have high expectations for your birth experience? Were they met? Do you hope to do things differently if/when you have another child?