What to Do When Things Don't Go According to Plan

So you've written your birth plan and you're ready to go! But wait...what's that? Baby doesn't seem ready to arrive in a timely manner and your doctor suggests an induction? Your labor goes so quickly that there's no time for the epidural you hoped for? When your labor starts to look like things aren't going to go as you anticipated, what do you do?

Hire a doula

I know, this seems self-serving coming from a professional birth doula, but having someone who can prepare you for what to expect, help you advocate for yourself and be there to help your process after the fact can help prevent and alleviate trauma and disappointment.

Figure out your options ahead of time

Start preparing before things chance. When I encourage my clients to think about C-sections or inductions, my intention is not to put negative energy out in universe. I believe that knowing what to expect in unexpected situations can alleviate anxiety. Talk with your doula or provider about what your C-section options are if that were to happen. How many support people can be in the OR? Can your baby be placed skin-to-skin with you immediately? Can you play your own music? Ask them what an induction would like. If you know what your options are, you can incorporate the things you originally wanted. I always ask my clients "What would you need to feel better about a C-section, induction, continuous monitoring, etc.?" Then you can include these things in your birth preferences.

Stay involved, ask questions

If you are in a situation that's unfolding differently than you planned, it's important to advocate for yourself and stay informed. It's your right to understand what is happening and why it's happening. You and your support person can ask if you have time to process and make a decision or if it's an emergency. In case of an emergency, ask questions after. Why did things unfold that way? Why were these decisions made? This is your birth. It doesn't have to be something that happens to you.

Focus on the positive, validate the negative

After everything is said and done, people may say "Well at least you have a healthy baby!" or "It could have been much worse; cheer up!" And it is important to focus on the good outcomes and getting the things you wanted. But change can be scary. When your expectations don't match up with reality, it can be traumatic. Validate that. It's not just about the outcome, it's about the experience. As you process the experience, be gentle with yourself and lean on your support networks. Seek out loved ones who can validate your emotions, not tell you how you should feel. 

Seek professional support

Talk to your provider when you go in for your follow-up appointments and talk to your doula. Both of these folks were present at your birth and can answer your questions and help you process and find support resources. Even your baby's pediatrician can be a great resource. If you're more comfortable, find a counselor or therapist who specializes in postpartum support or join a parent support group in your area. As you process, consider hiring a postpartum doula or asking a friend or family member to carry some of the day-to-day burdens of cooking and cleaning. If nothing else, just talk to someone you trust: a friend, neighbor, partner, pastor, rabbi or imam. Remember that you are not alone!

Change is hard. And the farther your expectations are from your reality, the harder it can be. As I said before, please be gentle with yourself. And all of this advice goes for partners and support people as well. Even if you were not physically giving birth, you were there and part of the experience.

Good luck!

Maggie Mehr