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Mom Talk: When Your Birth Plan Goes Off The Rails

Written by Olivia Roberts

Photography by Myka Haddad, Photographed By Sarah Hebenstreit

We’re back with another round of “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Olivia Roberts, humanitarian worker for Action Against Hunger, talks the night her birth plan went haywire, and she and her husband were left to deliver their second-born by themselves in their home. -JKM

There is a lot of waiting around when you’re having a baby—waiting to see if your period comes, waiting for the blue line on the test, waiting for scan dates, waiting for appointments and, ultimately, waiting for baby to make an appearance. I am not so keen on waiting. I’m always on time, love it when my flight leaves as scheduled, and generally, I think punctuality rules. My babies, however, do not.

After my first child was two weeks late, I was reasonably and mentally prepared for my due date to sail by for my second pregnancy. But, by week 41 and three days, I was developing a creeping sense of impatience and anxiety. It’s hard to feel like you have a “birth plan” when days turn into weeks, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it, but wait and wait a bit more.

With my first pregnancy, we were living in New York City and my overdue antenatal care was very much “watch and wait”, with regular trips to the hospital for monitoring, but no interventions offered until the end of week 42. By contrast, back home in the U.K., my lovely, cheerful Irish midwife was ready and poised at week 41 to discuss cervical sweeps and inductions. “You’ll be in labor by tea time,” she would chirpily predict. But, after two unsuccessful sweeps, I was ten days overdue and getting anxious about what lay ahead, specifically my plans for laboring at home, then a drug-free birth at the midwife-led birth center, which were both rapidly disappearing. So, I greedily accepted the offer of induction—a low dose of hormone gel to the cervix, then back home to wait for normal labor progression. That felt sufficiently like a plan. “It’s almost one centimeter,” the midwife cheerily said when inserting the gel, mustering all the positivity she could when referring to my reluctant cervix. My husband and I gloomily headed home, predicting a quiet night of Netflix and no contractions. But, 40 minutes later, I was breathing deeply, while leaning over the kitchen table. Fifty minutes later, I was in the bath moaning softly. Fifty-five minutes, and I was on the bed shouting loudly, “I’m not getting to the car, let alone the hospital,” I told my husband. “Call the delivery suite for advice!” What the hell is the plan when you progress through practically all the stages of labor in under an hour? Call 999, the U.K. equivalent of 911!

What ensued was a surreal 20 minutes of my giving birth at home with no midwife, apart from my mildly hysterical-sounding husband for company, having oddly zen thoughts like, “Oh yeah, that’s the baby crowning,” and “I guess I should tell my husband my water’s broke.” Meanwhile, he’s got the emergency services on speaker phone, whose main message seemed to be, “Don’t drop the baby”, which they repeated to my husband three times. The baby’s head appeared, then I heard him cry (the baby, not my husband), and our cellphone midwife told me, “One last push.” My husband caught the baby. The ambulance crew that had been banging on the door of our apartment during this whole process, while my husband ran back and forth to try and buzz them in (our apartment entry phone looked like something from Carrie) then took over: cutting the cord, checking the baby, and delivering the placenta. At some point, they took a family photo for us, and my husband and I managed a hug before we got into the ambulance to go to the hospital to get stitches for me, checks for baby, and a cup of tea (and possible sedation) for my husband. And, all this was free on our tax-funded National Health Service (including the tea).

I’m so grateful for that unplanned experience, speedy and surreal that it was. My husband is delighted that he got to be really involved in the birth, and not a spectator, as he felt the last time. Good luck to all the mothers out there who are waiting, impatiently or not. The memories of the first time around the block certainly helped, but it’s also amazing what the body can do, and how you can bring your baby into the world if you have to, whether it was part of the plan or not.

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