Mourning the Birth Plan – Kelly Riolo, Ph.D.

When I was pregnant, I did all the “right” things to prepare for delivery. I read the books, went to childbirth class held by the hospital, discussed my preferences with my doctor, I hired a doula to help make sure I could have the labor experience I had hoped and prepared for. My birth plan was relatively simple:

1. Have a healthy baby
2. Avoid a cesarean
3. Use as few interventions as possible

As soon as we checked in to the hospital, I knew I would not be having the birth I had hoped for. Even though I felt relatively open to the possibilities that could happen during a delivery, I was not prepared for what we were about to experience. I won’t go in to too many private details here, so briefly, my labor was induced because Ashton was not “happy” when I experienced contractions. I underwent a series of escalating interventions that neither he nor I tolerated very well for 24 hours and ended up with an emergency cesarean when he went into distress.

Refusing the interventions or surgery very likely could have been devastating for Ashton. Even though I know that this was how he needed to come into the world, it is still difficult and emotional to think about. For the first few weeks after we came home, I cried every Friday night thinking about where we were and what we were doing the night before Ashton was born. I still feel a twinge inside every time someone refers to a vaginal delivery as “natural,” implicitly suggesting that my birth experience was “un-natural.” Even without having a firm birth plan, I still felt an intense period of mourning that I never heard anyone acknowledge when I was pregnant. I told myself that sacrificing my plans and my body for my child is one of the most “natural” things a mother can do and tried to take solace in the fact that I had a healthy baby to take home.

Although I’ve come to accept what happened as part of our life journey, it’s still emotional to think about. I recognized my feelings as normal and allowed myself a grieving period. I was surrounded by supportive people who were able to listen, offer comfort, or hold the baby for a bit. Some moms find these feelings more pervasive, intense, or need someone to provide professional support. Please take mental health seriously. Some sadness, grief, or mourning is normal. When it interferes with caring for mom or the baby, it is time to get help. Surround yourself with supportive people and talk it out. If that doesn’t help, talk to your doctor or find a local therapist who can help.