Birth plans, birth shame, and strong mothers.

Spring 2016-90I love hearing about people’s birth plans/stories.

It’s not just something I have liked since being pregnant, though admittedly my interest has increased with a date looming over my head when I too will go through The Event. I am just fascinated by the crazy ways that tiny humans come into the world and the myriad and diverse opinions that women have over the right and best way to round out a pregnancy.

Because if you want pregnant women to get really opinionated, you should ask them about about their birth plans. (Or, you know, their favorite item on the McDonald’s breakfast menu, but that’s another post for another time. #mcgriddleforever)

There are people who are practically professional at being pregnant. They know stats, they read books, they have researched birth in every detail, and they are the most fascinating ever. I like to be around those people, since I read one book, attended one class, watched some Call the Midwife, and then frantically popped in a DVD of breathing techniques someone sent me the other night when friends were over who were a day past their own due date and we realized that none of us had ANY CLUE about how you were supposed to do that pregnant breathing thing. I like to be around the pro-preggos, because they drop little bits of knowledge that I glean like a ravenous little chipmunk, tucking into my chubby cheeks.

Recently I thought that maybe I should make a “birth plan,” you know, like think through some things I want for this birth, beyond the detailed perusal I performed of the hospital cafeteria on my last visit. Of course, the very idea of a birth plan is the most ridiculous of modern luxuries, as pregnancy and childbirth were intimately tied to a good chance that you and/or your offspring might die until relatively recently, and your options were limited. Did Ma Ingalls have a birth plan beyond “tell Pa to put down that darn fiddle and go fetch a woman to help?” Probably not.

But now! Now we have options and decisions and OH SO MANY very loudly voiced opinions. There are those who believe that natural birth, either in the luxury of a birthing center or your home is the ONLY way to go, and they will detail for you the multitudes of injustices that doctors will inflict on you in those vile hospitals, ripping a babe from your entrails to rush out on their shift. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who condemn the crunchy crowd as backward and ignorant, longing to be hooked up to machines and coddled through the process. Both sides have an arsenal of anecdotal horror stories to strengthen this argument, and I know because I have fallen prey to it too- even if I am not a pro-preggo. Battle lines are drawn and fought over birth plans.

And then of course, there are the babies, all those unborn bundles of joy, that really give zero cares about any birth plan that might be carefully typed up and discussed in advance, ready to roll in and ruin all the best laid preparations. I have had friends who planned on medicating themselves into oblivion, only to have rapid advancing labor that forced them to go naturally, and friends who wanted to be as granola as possible and eventually had to have c-sections.

Yet all these unplanned plans ended in babies.

There is something that really bothers me about the modern birthing process. I will get on Facebook or wherever and see that someone has had a baby (YAY!) and a caption will detail how this woman was a STRONG AND MIGHTY CHAMPION because she did the whole thing with no medication, laboring in full awareness of her pain for days on end before having a child.

There is nothing wrong with that.

But there is also nothing wrong with the mother who chose something different, or who didn’t have the freedom to make the choice. These women are not one bit less “strong” than the woman who chose a more painful route. I can promise you that all women probably made the choice that they thought best for their baby, and isn’t that what makes someone a strong mother? I have watched women feel like failures when they find they have to deviate from their birth plans, and that is ridiculous. When did we develop such a sense of entitlement about our right to choose our “birth experience” that we started subtly shaming others who welcome children differently? When did we start ranking the strength of women who come out with the same end goal?

So let me just set the record straight.

To the mother who labored for 3 days in her living room before having a completely unmedicated birth in a tub- you are a champion.

To the mother who induced and promptly had an epidural inserted – you are a champion.

To the mother who walked into a C-section and had doctors remove a baby from her body without pushing once – you are a champion.

To the mother who spent years waiting and sending paperwork and writing checks before holding a baby in her arms whom she never held in her womb – you are a champion.

To the mother who fosters, who loves children that still ask when they get to go back to their “real” mom – you are a champion.

To the woman who shows up at baby showers with a lump in her throat, wishing that she was sitting there and opening tiny onesies and swaddle blankets, who takes meals to new moms and listens to friends gush about feeling those first kicks – you are a champion.

Because I’m pretty sure that the impressive part about being a mother doesn’t come from how your children enter the world, but what you do afterwards. Strong mothering is a lifetime thing, one that can’t be ranked or planned.

So here it is, my 3 step birth plan:

  1. Ignore the fear that people like to thrust on you before birth. Reject any attempt at birth shaming because babies can come into this world by all sorts of ways and they can all be awesome.
  2. Have a baby. Do what needs to be done, taking to heart the advice of talented and capable people around me.Hold loosely to what I want in the interest of what I might need.
  3. Find a way to acquire a McDonalds breakfast sandwich as soon after delivering as humanly possible.

Yes, I paid attention in the one class we did, and yes, I have thought about some ideal scenarios. There is absolutely nothing wrong with researching and preparing, especially if you want a non-hospital birth that involves setting up logistics. But having a baby is about giving up the ability to live in a world of best-laid plans and ideal scenarios. Might as well start early with an open mind and humble heart, ready to greet our baby however he decides on entering this world.


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47 Responses to Birth plans, birth shame, and strong mothers.

  1. I LOVE this. As someone who had a c-section without a single contraction and will likely have one for every birth, I love birth stories but also often end up feeling not quite as strong and brave and WOMAN as moms who went through labor. The bravery is being willing to lay down your former self for this completely new and beautiful season of caring for someone who depends utterly on you. And I think you & James will do quite well at that, with God as your help. πŸ™‚

    • Ellen Johnson says:

      Well, I’ve had 2 c-sections and I pushed for 4 hours the first time before it came to the dreaded c, and I still struggle with feeling like less of a woman and a mother. But Hannah is right, that’s baloney! We are so fortunate to be having babies in such an age when their are life saving medicines and interventions if they are needed. And, sorry to take this somewhere dark, but babies and mothers still die these days, even in our first world hospitals and homes. Having a baby is a big deal, no matter how it all shakes down! You got this, Hannah. Way to not buy into the hysteria of it all. πŸ™‚

    • Hannah says:

      Exactly! Also, I am in awe of your mothering because you are a twin mom, which means you have superpowers I can barely fathom.

      • I’m really *practicing* to have superpowers! Basically I just do all the same things as I’d do with one, usually at the same time, just a bit more of them. πŸ˜‰ And break up a few more fights, ha.

  2. Becky says:

    Go you, so wise. I “planned” a granola labor and ended up medicated as all get out and with a c section with my first. Then went all natural with my second. When the doctors acted all impressed this last time, I thought that neither of these was what I’d call ideal. A birth goddess I am not. Once labor starts it kinda doesn’t matter beyond “get this baby out asap.” Both ends of the spectrum are super difficult to be honest. Doable, awesome, exciting, and intense but difficult. But, you’re made for this, no matter what “method’ you end up with. Yay babies! They’re worth it. And the amnesia really does happen! I’m already like “I could do that again” and I’m only 4 months out (same happened with my first, hence the 16 months apart)! Whatever happens you’ll be great.

  3. Tehillah says:

    Hey Mrs. Wegmann (that feels a little weirder than calling you Ms.Stone but more comfortable than Hannah). I’m really excited for you and your baby boy and I loved this post. I wanted to share the audio of a birth story that I like. It’s Anna Meador’s sister. Can’t wait for your next post and sorry for the really long link!*/0B3auhsMui3sgeE14cmJteTgyZXc?e=download

  4. Shannon Coker says:

    Exactly. Having spent large portions of my first pregnancy in tears over the whole birthing debate and then having the actual birth go pretty close to opposite of what I had planned, this is what I tell every first time mom that I meet. Being a mother is hard (wonderful, but hard) enough without starting out feeling like a failure because however your child arrived doesn’t match up with yours or someone else’s ideal. Well said.

  5. You are setting yourself up for success! I wanted sooo badly to labor and deliver, but my first was breech and couldn’t be turned. He came via section. I practically needed counseling after that. I got to labor for 36 hours with my second and she ended up coming via section too. I still struggled with it, but seven months later I’m at peace about it. You are so right about just doing what’s best for you and the baby. You’re going to do wonderfully because you’re not setting yourself up to be disappointed in case things don’t go as planned! Happy due date!

    • Hannah says:

      See, this is why I have just decided preemptively that I am not a failure no matter what happens. Because you can’t control it! Glad you came out of it with two wonderful babies!

  6. This is perfect. You’re going to have the birth story that is perfect for you and that precious baby boy.

  7. Heather says:

    Yes, every woman should read this. Birth is awesome. The goal is a healthy baby and mom. Hope yours is smooth and quick and you get that sandwich. (I was starving afterwards and ate a full breakfast in the delivery room)

  8. abby hummel says:

    All of this, yes. I am starting to really believe that some women have births that are the opposite of what they wanted simply to learn from the get-go that THE WHOLE POINT of parenting is that it is lots of work with no control over the outcome. My experience with OBGYN’s (male, even, ) and hospitals was exactly the opposite of what the all-natural blogs/books said they would be like: totally awesome, respectful, skilled, friendly, professional, and what could have been really, really bad in a homebirth setting was a total non-issue at the hospital. My kids births were about as different as you can get without having a c-section… both fitting in to the Hummel Family BirthPlan: 1, go to hospital pregnant. 2, have baby, preferably without having surgery. 3, take baby home from hospital. The goal of labor is parenting, not a specific birth story. I like being a mom to both of them!

    Yes to food. Yes to all the food. You are so ravenous afterwards and it feels so amazing to have enough room to eat a full meal!

    • Hannah says:

      That is a truly spectacular birth plan. : ) And our hospital experience thus far has been SUPER positive, but I think I am also just a weirdo who really loves hospitals. So sterile and shiny!

  9. E.H says:

    I love this! Not because I like birth stories. Quite the contrary. To be honest, I freak out whenever someone tries to tell me a birthing story. So yeah, I’ll probably skip that post, haha

    • Hannah says:

      Don’t worry- I’m not sure I’ll write one. I tend towards the oversharing, so I think I may end up keeping this life event a little more private. But who knows- I could always just explode with sharing zeal after the fact.

  10. E.H says:

    Crap. I totally wasn’t done typing.

  11. E.H says:

    Anyway… I love this BECAUSE I think I would probably approach birth in a similar fashion. If I try to control things or unknown circumstances, I freak out. So yeah. I like your plan… it sounds like what I would do. πŸ™‚

  12. berlinola says:

    A very wise friend with 7 children said to me before my youngest was born that focusing on birth rather than parenting is like focusing on a your wedding at the expense of focusing on the marriage. That was really helpful. It helped too, and I focused on being as ready as I could be to meet my baby rather than doing labor “right.” I hope you get everything you want and then some. ❀

  13. berlinola says:

    Also, I meant to say, this post rocks. Rocks.

  14. Lisa says:

    I completely agree with your perspective, and it’s exactly how I approached birth for my first. I’m about 2 weeks post partum, so it’s also all very fresh in my brain! I finally wrote my birth story for my blog because I think it is helpful to share the experience with others. I didn’t feel ready when I went into labor, but I also knew that was good practice for all the other uncertainty parenting will bring! A healthy, safe delivery and baby is so much more important than any preconceived plan we might think we need to insist on. πŸ™‚

  15. Caitlin Burchett says:

    Thank you for not leaving out the “childless” mothers…aka those with infertility struggles or who are doing adoption and foster care. We’ve been thru three years (and counting) of infertility, a miscarriage, and are in the process of adoption, and it’s nice to not be overlooked for once just because we don’t have a child yet. Pregnancy is definitely a sensitive subject for me, and some days it’s still just too hard to talk about, but when you feel like you are still valued even though you don’t have kids yet, it means a lot.

    • Hannah says:

      I wish I could hug you Caitlin! So many of our close friends have walked the road of miscarriage and infertility, that it has really impacted how I think and talk about it. We are all surrounded by loss. I also have close friends who dream of having a family, but are still single, and often talk about how they too get excluded from all the “motherhood is the truest love there is” talk. You are of SO MUCH value- kids or no!

      • Caitlin Burchett says:

        I have so much compassion for those who desire to be married and have a family, but aren’t yet. I can think of so many of our friends this applies to as I type this. That person was me for so long and it has changed the way I try to interact with others in terms of relationships…add in social media and how it portrays a “perfect” version of life and it can be so discouraging if you’re in a place of discontentment or waiting. Everyone is fighting their own battle and a little awareness of others and compassion goes a long way in my book (especially in our self-centered society).

  16. mrsroe says:

    I second all of the above thoughts, especially to those who want to be moms, but are facing obstacles. As a foster-mom, I am deeply touched whenever I am told that I am a good ‘mother’, not just a good ‘temporary mom’. Thank you so much for affirming every woman who wants to be a mother, and every method for doing so..

    • Hannah says:

      I think that being a foster mom is genuinely one of the most amazing things ever! So many of those kids need someone to want them, and you are doing just that!

  17. CSL says:

    Yes, yes, yes. God is the only One with a fool-proof birth plan and He celebrates motherhood– period! To Him, no mother is “better” than another for birthing “the right way.” Sadly, this debate is just the beginning of the “mommy wars.” They’re real, and they’re ugly, and they divide women–even among believers. Do the best you can with what He’s equipped you with and all will be well. Your little one will enter the world just as God wants him to! Blessings to you on this journey!

  18. This is beautiful. Thank you. I have actual tears.


  19. Abi Pla says:

    I absolutely agree! There are so many opinions over your baby since week 1 you find out you’re pregnant. But the beauty of each process! We must never forget that simple yet powerful thing, each road is unique and has a lot of value, secret strength is building on the inside as we as women choose to say yes tony the unique way God has designed each one of us. Thanks for sharing! (14 weeks pregnant here πŸ™‚ )

  20. GS says:

    You actually made me tear up when you included women who are not yet moms in your list of champions. I’m over-the-moon excited whenever a friend gets pregnant and I love my friends’ kids like crazy! But there’s often still the ache of wanting to be a mom myself, and not knowing if it will ever happen. It’s a weird place to be in because you’re not a mom but have a mom’s heart. Thanks for acknowledging those of us who are in that place.

    And I think you’re right on track with your birth plan. Especially the specification that food needs to arrive just about simultaneously with the baby. πŸ˜‰

    • Hannah says:

      I know many non-moms who have a mom heart!!! I remember that once I was worrying to a friend about potential infertility and how I should have had kids earlier, etc, and she gently reminded me that as a single woman, this was a concern that constantly existed because there was nothing she could even try to do. It was a reminder that so many woman ache about having kids in so many ways, and every one deserves sensitivity and respect! I am genuinely a fan of us applauding women for being amazing where they are- not just for their someday “potential.”

  21. GS says:

    You actually made me tear up when you included women who are not yet mothers in your “list of champions.” I get over-the-moon excited when a friend is pregnant and I love my friends’ kids like crazy. But, there is still the ache of wanting to be a mom myself and not knowing if it’s ever going to happen. It’s a weird place to be in, having a mom’s heart but not being a mom. Thanks for acknowledging those of us who are in that place.

    And I think you’re right on track with your birth plan. Especially the part stating that food needs to arrive just about simultaneously with your baby. πŸ˜‰

  22. GS says:

    And for some reason my comment didn’t post the first time and then posted twice simultaneously…sorry about that!

  23. kmkersting says:

    Couldn’t agree more. With all of it (except egg white delight will 4eva be my fave bfast sammie). Healthy baby and healthy mama are priorities and I love that you voiced it so beautifully. Seriously Hannah, I want to just give you a big fat internet hug for this, and for so many other posts! I’m so thankful you take the time to blog, even while working on your dissertation!

  24. Nikki says:

    YES YES YES! Despite any and all planning (you’re right, information is good especially if you’re thinking natural for any reason), birth happens to you, so it’s best to strap in and hold on! I also love birth stories and call the midwife.

    Also, this

    Now prepare yourself for the feeding shame (because you don’t breast feed or because you do, because you don’t bottle feed, or because you do). Like many things with children, too many people know the one “right” way to (insert really anything here).

    Let me clue you in… the right thing in any parenting situation is the thing that works for your family at that moment. Relish in it when you find it and remember it may not work next time. Also, this may sound harsh, but when babies (particularly newborns) are screaming, they’re breathing and you should finish using the restroom (and all that includes post-partum), getting a snack, taking a shower, etc. and they’ll be fine until you’re done. These two gems are my favorite parenting advice, and my boys are 4 and 18 months. You know what’s up and you’ll have a baby when you’re done!

  25. I am a homebirth midwife and I could not love this more. Thank you! It isn’t about what your birth looks like, it’s about empowering women to make their choices about their bodies and babies and then fighting fiercely to defend their choices.

    I tell my clients there is no such thing as a failed birth. There are just babies and bodies, and they don’t read mommy blogs. πŸ˜‰

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