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Ages & Stages

You Can’t Tame a Unicorn: How to Unplan Birth

I told the triage nurse exactly what I needed. Self-diagnosing my contractions as the result of dehydration from a stomach bug, I told her to hook me up to some IV fluids, and I would be on my way, thank you very much. 

Total denial. 

According to my powers of uneducated deductive reasoning, I could not be in labor. I was only 36 weeks. I had been sick. Dehydration can make the uterus forget its place and start contracting without permission. And the most important reason I was not in labor: I was not ready to have this baby yet. 

Several semesters deep in nursing school prerequisites, I was tackling the gnarly beasts of Organic Chemistry and Genetics in my hardest term yet. With only a week left until finals, I had perfectly planned my third babe to make her debut after finals, with time to spare. I could not possibly be in labor. This was not the plan.

“I think you’re in labor,” the triage nurse tells me. I continued to deny this when I could manage to speak in between breath-taking contractions. But the cervix doesn’t lie, my friend. Apparently, my babe had not read my class syllabi and didn’t care that she was crashing the party unfashionably early. She chose today as her birthday.

Our sweet Hazel made her unpredicted entrance into our lives and hearts a matter of hours later. Just as we were steadying ourselves after this wave of spontaneity crashed over us, another swell rose on the horizon. Hazel’s early lungs were unable to provide the oxygen she needed, and she would need to be sent to the neonatal intensive care unit. 

There I was, holding my baby by her NICU isolette, studying my notes to prepare for exams. 

This. Was. Not. The. Plan. 

And yet, this was the reality. The true, crazy, can’t-make-this-stuff-up reality. Now I had to choose how to respond.  I could mourn the loss of my perfectly timed birth, or I could be thankful that my baby was safe and well no matter how she had arrived.

So I embraced my crazy reality. I crammed while snuggling my tiny study-buddy. I took my exams and aced them. Hazel came home from the NICU and was lovingly enveloped into our home. While her birth had not happened how I had meticulously planned it, Hazel joined our family in her own unpredictable and dramatic way. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Her wild birth is now a part of my story and hers, and it is all the more beautiful for being real and unscripted. 

And now, as a labor and delivery nurse, I have the privilege of shepherding women through their own unique births. Some go according to plan, and a great many that do not. The greatest lesson I have learned through my work as an OB nurse is that it is the little people that run the show. They are the ones who dictate their own birth stories. Baby flips to breech? Scheduled c-section. Baby stops growing? Early induction. Baby’s heart rate drops, indicating she can’t tolerate labor? Emergency c-section. As a nurse, I know that sometimes keeping babe safe means letting go of our own vision of how this momentous day will play out. As a mom, I know that it can be scary to let go and plunge into the unexpected. 

Most of us go into birth with a plan in mind. Whether it be a five-page specification of every detail or a simple vision of the day, the glorification of taking control and doing birth our way is very on-trend right now. But I learned that if we cling too tightly to those plans, we risk being disappointed in our amazing day instead of embracing the fact that we are meeting our little one for the first time. You see, birth is like a wild unicorn, friends. It is beautiful, magical, unpredictable, and messy. It cannot be bridled, and that is part of its beauty. 

The miracle of life has so many facets; it is impossible to orchestrate it. I thought I could bend it to my will. But while I was profoundly mistaken, I was also surprised at the beauty that took the place of my plans. So I encourage you to hold loosely to your preconceived notions too, mama. Let’s leave room for the beauty and spontaneity of the mythical creature of birth. Let’s keep our eye on the prize of taking home a healthy baby. Let’s dare to unplan our births and openly welcome our babes in whatever manner they come into our arms. Because the story of our baby’s birth – with all of the craziness, unpredictability, and beauty – will be a part of our story. No matter how it is told, it will be beautiful. We can plan on that.

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Theresa Phillips is a mother, author, nurse, and mom-encourager. She runs a crazy household of 4 young kids and moonlights as a labor and delivery nurse, where she has the privilege of inaugurating women into this amazing society of motherhood. Before nursing, she was a therapist specializing in marriage and family therapy and had the honor of helping those in crisis. Now she marries all three areas of experience into a powerhouse of encouragement for moms. She’s like your midwife, best friend, and therapist all rolled into one! For regular encouragement in this crazy mom life, follow The Gritty Mama on Facebook or Instagram.


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1 COMMENT
  • Sue Phillips
    6 months ago

    This story of Hazel reminds me why every birth is a miracle. We may do the work of “labor” but the out come is certainly the design of a Higher Power. I was touched by the writer’s expectations turning into part of the baby’s story. That realization is part of the journey. Thankyou for sharing.

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