5 Ways to Deal When Your Birth Doesn’t Go as Planned

As moms-to-be, women often spend a lot of time researching the best birthing environment and agonizing over every detail, from who will support us during labor to what position we will birth in, or what those first moments earthside will look like as you meet your baby. Or, maybe you’re a fly by the seat of your maternity pants kind of girl and didn’t plan much.

Whether you plan every detail or not, sometimes birth doesn’t go as we envisioned. We might be left with lingering disappointments, or even years of heartache.

I spoke with several moms whose births took a different turn than they’d hoped.Their planned home births turned into hospital transfer, or their child ended up in the NICU after birth, or they’d hoped for a natural hospital birth, but ended up with a c-section. Others had the birth they wanted, but experienced unsupportive staff during their labor.

Personally, even when I’ve achieved the home birth I’d wanted, there were still parts of the process that I had to grieve and let go of—like when I lost so much blood that it affected my first few hours of bonding with my newborn, or the disappointment I felt when my best friend couldn’t attend a birth. Our grief can stem from something seemingly minor or a huge shift in plans– either way, the feelings are valid.

So what can moms do after a birth doesn’t go as planned? 

Talk About It.

Find safe people to talk through your birth with— people who are willing to just listen and relate. Talking through my births with my close friends and my midwives helped hash out some of the disappointments I felt and gain their insight into what happened and why. It can help for future births to take note of what worked and what didn’t.

Online communities are another place to discuss a birth that didn’t go as planned. Birth Without Fear is a great resource— they support women educating ourselves during pregnancy so we know our options, and they also understand the value of sharing our stories to process the birth. If you can attend one of the “Find Your Village” events that owner January Harshe travels around hosting, it’s a wonderful opportunity to share your story and be with other like-minded people.

Some mommas seek counseling as a way of finding peace when a birth doesn’t go as we’d planned or hoped. If you find yourself needing extra support, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional.

Enjoy Your Cute Baby.

Overwhelmingly, every mom I asked said the reward of their cute baby was the light at the end of the tunnel. They all agreed that the heartache and struggles of bringing their baby into this world was worth it once that baby was safe and in their arms.

Focus On What Matters.

Shifting our gaze from the hardships to the truth of what really matters helps. “I told myself that my son is alive and healthy. That’s all that matters and I’m okay,” Ashley C. said after her plan to have her baby at a birth center morphed into a hospital birth with a belittling and unsupportive doctor. Finding joy in the simple things can usher some sunshine into our sad hearts. Jacqui experienced two unexpectedly complicated c-section births due to preeclamsia and HELLP syndrome. She urges mommas to keep in mind that “The ultimate result should be a healthy baby and healthy mama, regardless of how it came about.”

Know You Did Your Best.

Julissa had planned a home birth but when her daughter was transverse (the baby laying sideways instead of head down) she had to have a c-section. She found peace with knowing she had done everything she could to turn her baby, from seeking chiropractic care to having doctors perform a version to try and manually move the baby into a better position. Sometimes our babies choose their own births for a reason. Cling to the fact that you did the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time.

When Deanna decided to transfer from home to a hospital after a grueling four day labor, she decided to get an epidural so she could get some much needed rest and more effectively push. Initially she felt defeated, but she says eventually she realized what she did accomplish in her long labor. She says, “No, I didn’t get my home birth, but the strength it took to last that long was more than enough to give me the confidence I would’ve needed to have my second and third child at home, unassisted. I was badass!” With time, the shift in perspective can help soothe the ache and help us move towards a position of strength and pride.

Try Again, Maybe.

Several moms told me they didn’t find true peace until they had a subsequent birth go as planned. “I did not find peace until I actually achieved a VBA2C. It was devastating,” remarked Ashley F. She was determined her fourth child to be a vaginal birth— and she succeeded! If your family doesn’t feel complete yet and having another is an option, arm yourself with knowledge and the right staff to try again for the birth you dream of.

Meanwhile, other women said they found a level of peace knowing that while they didn’t get the births they imagined, they’ll never have to go through the experience again! Do what is best for you.

However your plans and memories of birth shape up to be, it can be a beautiful thing to work through. I love writing my birth stories out to encourage other mommas, and so my children can know the details of their birthday when they’re older, but also as a way to process the occasion. You don’t have to be a writer like me to write your story— just write from the heart. No matter how your birth went, it can be healing to let the memories flow.