When Labor Doesn’t Go as Planned: Six Ways to Prepare your Mind for the Unexpected

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As a practicing Ob/Gyn physician, Contributor Megan has her fair share of labor stories. Here’s one story when labor doesn’t go as planned.

The story begins as Molly, a first time momma in her mid thirties, is admitted to labor and delivery in early labor with a full term baby. Her family and friends excitedly await the birth of new life. Molly chooses to get an epidural for pain management during labor. At the time the epidural is placed, Molly is five centimeters dilated. Two hours later she has progressed to six centimeters. That is when things start to go wrong. The baby’s heart rate starts dropping with each contraction. The nurses come running in making Molly turn back and forth in bed while placing an oxygen mask over her face. The doctor enters the room to examine Molly’s cervix and she is still six centimeters dilated. The baby is not responding to any of the maneuvers the nurse and physician are attempting. Instead, the baby’s heart rate drops even lower and does not seem to be coming back up. Molly’s physician recommends an emergency cesarean section. Before she knows it, Molly is whisked off to the operating room. The baby is delivered before Molly can process what has transpired. With her husband at her side, Molly anxiously awaits the sweet cry of her baby boy. And then she hears it, the sound of new life.

Most new mommas arrive to labor and delivery with the expectations of a perfect delivery. We all envision the onset of spontaneous labor that baby tolerates progressing into a short, painless period of pushing resulting in the arrival of a new life. Most women don’t ever consider cesarean section as a possibility. Fortunately, a vast majority of women have an uncomplicated, uneventful labor and delivery experience.

However sometimes labor doesn’t go as planned.

Even the most normal of labors can go awry occasionally. All women should be aware the labor and delivery process is somewhat unpredictable. We all hope for a perfect labor and delivery course, but one should be mentally aware of the unpredicted.

While no woman can be completely prepared for the unanticipated, there are some things you can do to help when labor doesn’t go as planned: Six Ways to Prepare your Mind for the Unexpected:

When Labor Doesn’t Go as Planned: Six Ways to Prepare your Mind for the Unexpected

  1. Keep an open mind about the labor process. Be willing to consider new ideas and deviate from the birth plan you developed during pregnancy. The nurses, physicians and midwives will often have helpful recommendations based on evidenced based medicine and experience that may not always coincide with your birth plan.
  2. Remember that things can change quickly in labor and often require swift decision-making and expeditious action.
  3. Keep an open line of communication with your labor nurse and your physician or midwife. Inform your team how you feel and any changes you may notice. Good chemistry between you and your delivery team helps to diffuse anxiety during stressful situations.
  4. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your labor nurse, your physician and your midwife questions. We are all on the same team and have the same goal: a healthy momma and a healthy baby. Your doctor, midwife and labor nurse want you to be well informed and comfortable with every decision that is made throughout the process. If you are not sure about something, then ask. There truly is NO dumb question on labor and delivery.
  5. Trust the process. When labor does not go as expected, the team surrounding you is highly trained and experienced to handle complications of labor. While this is your first experience with labor, your team has been doing this for years and has been involved in many different scenarios. Your doctor has trained her entire adult life to care for you and your baby during labor. They all want what is best for you and your baby.
  6. Enjoy the time. Labor can be very exciting. Maintaining a positive attitude and enjoying the process can take the edge off the underlying anticipation and anxiety. Relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing, meditation, chanting, laughing) are a great way to keep your mind calm during labor.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’d thought that I was prepared for my first baby by keeping an open mindset in how things could go, but the ONLY thing that I hadn’t expected (not for my first and not after my own mom had gone 24+ hours in labor for all three of her kids) was how fast my labor and delivery would be. So, when things went awry and my baby’s heart rate dropped Molly’s baby’s did, I was still reeling from how quickly everything was happening to be able to remain flexible in my plan. They were prepping the OR for an emergency C-section and had another doctor on call with the vacuum when I delivered my baby vaginally. Even though I had the natural birth that I’d wanted, the fear when everything went awry and the speed of it all left me struggling to process the experience for days afterward, and it took about a week for me to look back on it positively.
    Long story short: next time, I’ll pay more attention to practicing tips 1, 2, and 6!

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