How Childbirth Taught Me That Plans are Nothing But Planning is Everything
It was 2007 and I was working at Amazon as a Technical Program Manager in the Amazon Web Services department. My job was to organize software development projects, i.e. defining requirements, estimates, and schedules. You probably know that software projects are notorious for being unpredictable. As a result, they often run over budget and behind schedule.
I prided myself on my exceptional planning and organizational skills. This was my bread and butter. I tracked every task. Defined every estimate. There was not a risk that I didn’t identify and no risk without a mitigation. I was a planner to the core. I craved control. And it worked. I had a reputation for delivering highly complex software projects on time.
So it’s no surprise that I looked at childbirth just like another software project that I was going to manage the crap out of. Almost as soon as I was pregnant I signed up for childbirth classes. I dragged my husband, Rick, to a two hour class once a week for seven weeks. I made a birth plan. I watched YouTube videos. This birth was going to be my most well managed launch yet.
It was two days before my official due date and I woke up with minor cramps and 4am. It felt like indigestion and it was the first time I felt any type of early labour symptoms. The cramps were not regular enough to feel like contractions but they were uncomfortable enough to keep me awake. I didn’t even bother waking up Rick because I was sure that these were just very preliminary signs of labour and they were either going to go away or last for hours. About an hour later, I felt my first real strong contraction. I had to use my relaxation breathing to get through it. I thought, boy, that was kind of intense, do women really go through hours of such contractions before they even go to the hospital? I decided I didn’t want to go through this alone anymore so I woke up Rick and told him that I was having contractions. He asked me if he should call into work and tell them he’s not coming in but I said just wait and see. I had a few more contractions and each one was just as intense. They were coming every two minutes or so. I still didn’t think I was in real labour because according to our baby class, the average labour for the first child is 12 hours. But then the next few contractions were increasingly intense. I decided it was time to call my doctor. I told my doctor that I started having contractions at 4 am and now they’re about one minute apart. She asked, 4am yesterday? I said no, 4am this morning. She said alright, you better come in.
I hurriedly packed some clothes as I battled through contractions while Rick was looking for his iPod so we could have the right music in the hospital. I was not amused. When I got into the car my water broke.
The ride to the hospital took about 25 minutes and I was screaming and cursing like a cliche the entire ride. The whole time I was thinking I can’t wait to get to the hospital so that I can get some EPIDURAL! This was in my birth plan. The way I see it is that humans evolved to develop technologies so that women don’t have to die or suffer during childbirth. Who am I to deny evolution?
We made it to the hospital at 6:45am. When the nurse came to check me, I fully expected her to tell me that I was going to be ready for my epidural. Instead she told me that I was fully dilated to 10cm and ready to push! I said “WHAT?! Can I still have some drugs please??” They said at this point there’s not much purpose to get an epidural. The baby would be out before they could get the anaesthesiologist to show up. I begged for some drugs for my back which was absolutely killing me from the contractions. The answer was no.
So there I was, a mere 3 hours after my first contraction, wheeled into the birthing room, with no drugs, not even an IV. It took all I had to push for the next hour or so until finally, at 7:53am, our baby boy arrived.
When they handed the baby to me on my chest I was so happy but at the same time in shock. Almost none of it happened like the way we had planned or expected. Who knew that it would only take four hours for me to deliver my first baby? And on top of that, with no drugs whatsoever? That seemed overly ambitious even for me! Nevertheless, this was how our first born decided to arrive into this world.
I guess I really shouldn’t have been surprised that almost three years later, with my second son, my labor lasted 1.5 hours and I gave birth in triage, one minute after arriving at the hospital. This means that had we left for the hospital just five minutes later, I would have been one of those women you hear on the news that had their baby in the car
Almost every childbirth story is different and they’re almost never according to plan. And it’s appropriate that one of our first lessons as mothers is that we need to plan and prepare but also be ready for the unexpected. Since becoming a mother, I’ve had to become much more flexible. It doesn’t mean I plan any less. But when surprises inevitably happen, I’ve had to learn to go with the flow and have confidence that all the planning I had done has equipped me for the moment.