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How Having a Birth Plan Can Prevent a Traumatic Experience

I hadn’t even heard of a “birth plan” until after I gave birth. See, my first pregnancy didn’t really allow for any kind of planning per se. Instead, it consisted of dealing with crisis after crisis with pre-term contractions at 24 weeks, numerous hospitalizations to make sure the baby would “stay put,” and a number of medical interventions – so my OB and I never got around to discussing what I’d want the actual delivery to be like. I spent a lot of time (12 weeks, to be exact) trying not to deliver a baby. I didn’t think beggars could be choosers, and didn’t think I should start talking about musical preferences when I just wanted to deliver a healthy baby somehow, sometime after 36 weeks.

I thought I was lucky when the delivery came at exactly 36 weeks – we made it! I thought. But during labor, the baby’s heart rate dropped and my doctor had to attach a vacuum to the baby’s head to hasten the delivery. What I thought was going to be a safe delivery turned out to be a nightmare – my husband got pushed aside, the baby was forced out of me, and I hemorrhaged. We still can’t piece together the entire scene. I was thrilled when they announced, “It’s a girl!” but then they whisked her away to the NICU before I even got to hold her. In the meantime, I was given medicine to stop the bleeding while a nurse reached inside of me to pull out the placenta, which was retained. What they failed to mention was that they weren’t sure that they got the entire placenta.

Two days later we were sent home, but I wasn’t in the clear. For the following week, I bled profusely and felt faint. After a week of this, along with a fever, I called my doctor who told me, “That’s how new moms feel.” Holy crap! I thought. Who knew it was going to be like this? He had been my doctor for years so I trusted him. But after a mom friend looked at me, pale and faint on the couch, and said, “Nooooo, this is not how you’re supposed to feel,” I begged my doctor to see me.

So, two weeks after giving birth, I was back at the hospital, this time toting baby Mia. An ultrasound revealed the leftover placenta and they scheduled me for an emergency D and C. Since I was already infected I had to stay in the hospital for another week. I deliriously came in and out of sleep to pump and dump breast milk since I was on IV antibiotics and I still wanted to provide my baby with breast milk.

When I was released, I was happy to finally be able to bond with my baby, but I still felt horrible and faint. The doctor assured me that was because I had had an infection. But three weeks later, still pale and faint, my husband called the doctor’s office and demanded that I be seen. When we got to the hospital, they did another ultrasound “to appease” us. Guess what they found? More placenta. They hadn’t told us that I had also hemorrhaged during the D and C and so had to stop the surgery early, unable to truly see whether they had removed all pieces. And so, two months after having my daughter, I was readmitted to the hospital for a second D and C to have my placenta removed. Though retained placentas occur in about 1% of deliveries, my surgeon told me he had never seen it happen twice for the same birth.

After that, my husband and I returned home with Mia and tried to put the whole experience behind us, though a lot of the trauma remained; we waited three years to try and conceive again. We had high hopes for the second pregnancy. I had a new doctor, one who seemed kind and compassionate and, most importantly, a good listener.

Soon after my 18-week appointment, my OB handed me a packet of forms. She said, “It’s early, but start thinking about what you want your birth plan to be.” I looked at her and nodded. “That’s OK,” I said. “Just make sure the baby and I are OK. And don’t forget to deliver the placenta!” I added, laughing. A birth plan? That just seemed high maintenance. All I wanted was for my baby and I to be healthy.

“Amy,” she said seriously, “it doesn’t have to be that way, really. You can tell us what you want to happen. Help us give you a good experience.”

But I couldn’t get over my bitterness. Even though she wasn’t my OB through the complications of my first delivery, I had lowered my expectations of giving birth. Just let me live, the baby live. And make sure you get the placenta. For a stretch, keep us free from infections.

I kept moving the papers around the house from one pile to another until I was ready to actually read them. I couldn’t believe the things they wanted to know about me. The form asked: Did I want the dad to be a part of the delivery? Did I want to hold the baby afterward? Did I want to nurse the baby? Immediately, my bitterness turned to tears. Even now, it makes me cry to remember just being asked what I want. It matters. And people cared. I filled out the form with trepidation as if just by writing down my desires, I’d jinx myself into having the opposite. But it was healing, too, to sit down with my husband and talk about what we would want in an ideal world if we could have it. To tell my new doctor what we had been through and to have her listen. To have her tell me that she wanted to give me a good birth experience, no matter what might come our way.

Things still didn’t go as planned the second time around, like most pregnancies and births. I was, once again, on bed rest for three months. I had to take medicine to stop the pre-term contractions. The baby didn’t have enough fluid around him, so my OB had to induce labor. None of these interventions would have been my ideal, but I was happy that I had filled out a birth plan.

I don’t know what music was playing. I didn’t have lip-gloss or special clothing or any of the other things magazines tell a woman to pack. I tried to go without an epidural but decided to get one. The birth was different than my plan, but you know what? My doctor was there, encouraging me. I had an amazing nurse and my fantastic husband by my side. I had peace of mind knowing everyone cared about my wishes. And my baby, Jeffrey Thomas, screeched his way into the world and ended up swaddled in my arms. Two days later, we went home. It was just as good as anything I could have planned.

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