What To Do When Your Birth Plan Doesn’t Happen How You Imagined

The nurse tiptoed over to me as my husband snored quietly a few feet away on the world’s most uncomfortable couch. She leaned over the bed, and I tried to maneuver into a more upright position, an IV in my arm and monitors around my belly measuring my baby’s heart rate making the task infinitely more difficult.

By Gwen Farrell4 min read
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The nurse’s voice was laced with sympathy, and my heart instantly dropped to my stomach. “With everything going on, we want to induce you tonight,” she said.

I was 10 days away from my due date and immediately against the idea. I didn’t want an induction. I wanted to go into labor naturally and deliver my baby without medication with the help of a midwife. That had been the plan, up until that evening.

The nurse left me to think things over, and my mind bounced back and forth between the possibilities like a ping pong ball. I knew what the nurse meant. With a slow leak in my amniotic sac which began earlier that day and my daughter’s heart rate much faster than it needed to be, it wasn’t a question of if she was going to come early, but when. As panicked and disappointed as I was, I knew then that my birth plan wasn’t going to happen. 

I still had a beautiful experience though, and you can too. Here’s everything I learned, and what you should know if your birth plan doesn’t happen quite like how you imagined.

Surround Yourself with Support

You can’t give birth without a support system. You just can’t. Whether that’s your husband, a doula, your mom or even a sister or a friend, make sure you have a support system in place. And even though they should all be aware of your birth plan as well, make sure first and foremost that they’re committed to you, not just the plan.

I was extremely lucky to have my husband by my side when so many haven’t been able to over the past two years. I was also lucky to know that whatever happened, he would support me and my choices, even if they were choices I hadn’t originally intended to make. After the nurse told me both my doctor and midwife were suggesting an induction, we were given a few hours to talk things over. My husband knew that I feared being induced because I feared it might lead to a C-section, which I wanted to avoid. While many women might schedule an elective induction or a C-section, I knew neither were for me. I also knew implicitly that whatever decision I wanted to make, he would support me no matter what.

I knew that whatever decision I wanted to make, my husband would support me no matter what.

We were also fortunate to have an amazing team of medical professionals at our side. We know that trust in doctors has fallen over the past few years – which only added to my anxiety – but my team of nurses, midwives, and doctors were incredibly supportive and sympathetic. With no birthing center in my area, I had done extensive research beforehand and chosen a hospital that encouraged unmedicated birth and had a team of midwives for their moms. I had also chosen this hospital because they had the lowest C-section rates in the entire state. While many hospitals or birthing centers may advertise letting moms-to-be make their own decisions when it comes to giving birth and not follow through, this team could walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

Remember It’s Not Just You

As I grappled with whether or not to follow through on the doctor’s recommendation (and potentially open myself up to a cascade of interventions, which I specifically designed my birth plan to avoid), there was one thought in my mind that I couldn’t shake.

I was terrified, honestly. As I drove home from the hospital to rest and potentially pack my bags to go back, I sobbed until my eyes hurt. I called friends who’d had unplanned C-sections in case that was on the horizon for me, and I prayed aloud that I would make the right decision. I was panicking and quickly starting to spiral downward mentally and emotionally, but I knew that this was no longer about me. While it’s tempting to retreat inside yourself when it comes to making decisions about labor, it’s not just you anymore. It’s crucial to keep in mind that someone precious and smaller than you is depending on you and depending on your strength and resilience as well. 

I was spiraling downward mentally and emotionally, but I knew that this was no longer about me. 

I wanted unmedicated, I wanted to labor in a pool, I wanted intermittent monitoring, and this, that, and the other. I had a whole laundry list of do’s and don’ts for myself and my birth, and in doing that, I’d removed the most important part of the equation from the process: my baby. 

The induction was originally suggested because my daughter was potentially in danger. I knew deep down that my midwife, whom I trusted, wouldn’t have even suggested it if the situation weren’t serious. While the decision was ultimately mine, it wasn’t really about me anymore. I had her to think about, and her safety and wellbeing to consider, which is why just a few hours after I left the hospital, I was back with my husband to start the induction.


My induction was a three-step process over the course of 12 hours. First, a Foley balloon was put in my cervix to start dilation. I was then given cytotec to soften the cervix and increase effacement. Once those two steps were completed, I was given pitocin, which is a synthetic version of the “love hormone” oxytocin, to start contractions. 

I could have easily gone down the Google rabbit hole on all of these steps – what to expect, side effects, possible complications, everything. But I decided early on not to do any of that and instead surrender to the process. This was the most difficult part because it meant giving over control and trusting that my doctor, nurses, and midwife knew better than what I had originally planned. 

I designed a birth plan to be in control, but I had to face my fear of the unknown to meet my baby.

I designed a birth plan because I wanted to be in control. I feared the unknown and poetically enough, I had to face it to meet my baby. And I still made the best of the situation. I chose what positions I labored in, to wear my own clothing I brought from home, and which music to play as I transitioned to active labor. I also chose to get an epidural, which I had originally been against. The strength of the pitocin made me throw up continuously and didn’t give me any breaks to rest between contractions. With pain management (which I don’t regret) I could relax and fully be present in my labor and delivery.

Fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. But whether we’re scared or not, we still have a choice: to retreat into our fear, or to overcome it the best way we can. There is freedom in surrendering to something more than yourself, like the natural process of delivering your child. Surrendering and relinquishing control to your body helps reclaim the labor process, despite the unexpected.

Closing Thoughts

Here’s what I would tell my frightened self and any other woman who has to throw her birth plan out the window: You’re not weak. You’re still in charge, and you can still have a meaningful and memorable experience. Overall, I loved giving birth. It was unexpected and painful and powerful. In the end, my love for my daughter outweighed all of my fears, and she’s worth every second of uncertainty.

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