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No Birth Plan? No Problem

By Nora McInerny Purmort

In January 2013 I became the first woman in the history of the world to give birth to a human baby.

Or at least that’s what it felt like. I kid you not, when I saw that tiny hamster-worm hybrid pop out of my body I knew how God must feel. And it’s awesome.

But before I started my God complex, I was just a naive lady with a person growing inside her body. So where to start? According to the Internet, movies, books and other people’s opinions, you gotta make a birth plan.

A birth plan? I thought. Isn’t the plan to just, ya know, have a baby?

I didn’t know there was more than one way to do that. I didn’t know you could have a baby in a bathtub or in a kiddie pool. I didn’t know you might have to have a baby cut out of your belly samurai-style (I honestly have no idea how a C-section is done, but I hope it’s that dramatic). I didn’t know that some people think opting for an epidural means you’re a weak person. I didn’t know that some women walk into the delivery room and say, “Shoot me up!”

I should mention here that I was 29 years old when I became pregnant and the holes in my knowledge of the human reproductive system were clearly vast. Not because I was stupid (O.K., maybe), I just had other things on my mind during the years leading up to the event.

It soon became apparent that the only way to make sure you didn’t have a bad birth—with lots of unnecessary pain and anguish—was to present your medical professionals with a list of what you did and did not want to happen as you brought a human being into the world. So in the first trimester, with the help of a doula, my husband, Aaron, and I made our birth plan. We started with the essentials:

  • No Music: Music annoys me in intense situations. Bring the iPad with seasons one through three of Arrested Development. I want our baby to enter the world hearing the soft sounds of Lucille Bluth admonishing her grown offspring.
  • No Drugs: I’m a strong-ass Amazon woman. My grandmothers bore 18 children between them, with nary a drug in sight. You think I need drugs? Just because I take three Tylenol at the slightest hint of a headache? You’re wrong, people.
  • Labor at Home for as Long as Possible: I read enough and heard enough to know that hospitals mean interventions and for some reason interventions are bad. So we’re staying home until the baby’s halfway out
A Change of Heart

A few weeks after making our list I switched from my ob-gyn to a midwife named Eileen. When she walked into the room, every cell in my body relaxed. This is a woman who knows how to have a baby, I thought. And I was right.

We talked for a half hour and she asked, casually, if I had a birth plan. “No,” I said, despite the one my husband and I had made. “The plan is to have a healthy baby and have the experience without any expectations.”

I don’t know where the change of heart came from, but it was right for me. I’ve been a planner my entire life. A doer. I’m ready for the next step before it arrives, and while that’s great for things like standardized tests it’s not really applicable to, you know, the miracle of life. Birth is not a test you can ace. It’s not a vacation you can plan. It is a magical, crazy, doggone miracle of an experience that cannot be contained in a Word document.

The day I had our son, Ralph, I wasn’t even 100 percent sure I was in labor when we went to the hospital. I was so sure we’d be sent home, I made Aaron keep our bags in the car, just in case. But not only was I in labor, I was eight centimeters dilated, fully effaced and ready to go. I pushed for an hour and then I was a mom.

A lot of scary things happened in between. My blood pressure went through the roof and Ralph’s heartbeat was weak. A C-section had to be an option so I got an epidural. Ralph’s heartbeat kept getting lost. My nurses and midwives were the picture of calm while outside the door two OBs were ready to cut that baby right outta me.

Even with a fairly good imagination there’s no way I could have planned for any of that, but I still had a say in my delivery. I said no to the heart-rate monitor that hooks into a baby’s skull because it looked too frightening. I felt every contraction, even with an epidural. We watched two episodes of Arrested Development before we got into the delivery room and I think the laughter helped.

Stick to Your Plan…Or Don’t

I’m not saying you’re a dummy if you make a birth plan. There is certainly nothing wrong with being more involved in and aware of your healthcare. And for women who don’t have the same amazing midwife that I did, I understand the need to protect yourself from being pushed toward elements of a birth experience you don’t want (labor-inducing drugs, a C-section, your father-in-law in the delivery room).

What I am saying is this: Giving birth is the most insanely wonderful and crazy experience that a woman can have (sorry, dudes) and more than anything your plan should involve showing up and having a healthy baby. Don’t judge yourself if you want the epidural. Don’t be too shy to ask whether you really need to be induced. Don’t be too bummed if you scrap your water birth after five minutes in the tub.

You were built for this. You’re gonna do great. And however it goes down—whether that baby arrives via C-section, natural birth or stork delivery on your front steps—the last thing you’ll think about when holding that fresh little human close is whether or not you stuck to the plan.

Nora McInerny Purmort is a tall glass of milk. She lives in the City of Lakes (Minneapolis) with her son Ralph, her husband Aaron and some of the tallest, nicest people in the world. Visit her blog at and follow her on Twitter @noraborealis.

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