Letting Go of Childbirth Expectations

We attend birthing classes, read books on natural childbirth, practice our breathing, and then the big day arrives. What happens when things don’t go as planned?  When you’re whisked off to C-section after hours of labor?  Or when the pain exhausts you to the point that you need an epidural to continue?

While I had a great experience with our local midwifery clinic and would highly recommend natural childbirth, I was lucky to have several stories to reflect upon before I went into labor.  My sister-in-law, who worked as a family physician for some time, shared that women often experience a sense of failure when things don’t go as planned and they aren’t able to labor naturally. She encouraged me to make a birth plan, educate myself, and then be willing to let go of expectations if things suddenly changed.

Rebecca had to face that outcome in the midst of labor because she had broken her ankle just a few weeks before delivering, which limited her movement and made the pain of childbirth more intense. Although she still planned on delivering naturally, the pain exhausted her to the point that she was utterly unable to move forward.  With the help of an epidural, she got through labor and ended up with a lovely baby girl.

While it’s important for women to know that natural birth is possible, we have to be careful not to judge people who choose other birthing options.  Nor should we idolize people who are able to labor naturally.   As any woman who has gone through a traumatic childbirth experience can share, all that matters in the end is that they were handed a beautiful baby.


  1. My little one needed to be evicted (aka induced) which was not my original plan. He was also nearly born by C-section because he was breech until two weeks before he was due.
    What I found most helpful through everything was instead of making a firm plan, coming up with preferences and an idea of when it was time to change plans. I decided a C-section would be Ok IF the version did not work (it did) and that I would have an epidural if the pain was too much and I was no longer Ok. He was induced because he had reached my (and the doctors) limit of waiting around. I found this very helpful because it puts you back in some control and has you mentally prepared that it may happen.
    I was almost ready for the epidural because of the pace of the induced contractions, but they turned the pitocen down and I delivered naturally.

  2. Thank you for this post. Parenting seems to come with a lot of guilt attached, but it doesn’t need to start at birth.

    I lasted through 17 hours of fruitless labor (fruitless because I was hardly dilating at all) before I got an epidural so I could sleep and regain some strength. 13 hours after that–30 hours after my water broke, instead of the requisite 24–I finally had a C-section. Because of the vocal-ness of the “C-sections are bad” movement, I’d put on my birth plan that it was a “last resort”–words I still regret. I was too out of it to complain when the OB wanted to try “a little longer” and then “one more thing” (vacuum suction) to get my baby out. I was so out of it that I passed out on the operating table and missed my son’s first moments in the world.

    I really wish I had had the confidence to ask for a C-section earlier when it was obvious that natural labor was just not going to work for me and my son. He was a healthy baby and I am grateful for that but will always regret missing his entry into the world because I felt guilty about wanting a C-section earlier on.

  3. You do what you have to…I don’t understand why anyone would make someone else feel guilty for not having a “natural” childbirth.

  4. There is still something about having had a c-section that seems to imply to some people that you failed in some way. Either you didn’t advocate for yourself enough, or you had a doctor that wasn’t supportive of natural childbirth, or whatever. But there is still an implication of fault.

    I have now had 3 c-sections after trying twice to have a “natural” childbirth. You do have to let go of your expectations sometimes. Things I thought that I would like or do during labor didn’t work for me once I was actually in it. I do feel at peace now with having had c-sections and I hope all women can feel at peace about their own birth experiences.

  5. I had my second baby just 9 weeks ago, so this topic has been rolling around in my head a lot lately. I’m just starting to process this.

    With my son, born almost 2 years ago, I planned for a natural birth. I carefully chose my midwife, took hypnobirthing classes and read several books about natural childbirth. I wrote a two page birth plan that addressed everything I wanted to happen. I will spare you all the details and simply say in the end, It did not go as planned and I had a C-section for failure to progress.

    I had a lot of regrets and resentment about this. I felt it was unnecessary and questioned the care I received. The rising c-section rate and high rates of medical intervention in birth ARE kind of scary and in much of my reading I picked up on the obvious animosity between the mainstream medical community and many people who are beginning to question the common practices.

    So, when I became pregnant with my daughter, I was excited to be able to rewrite this unfortunate story. I would have a triumphant VBAC and join the ranks of REAL mothers who gave birth naturally. I fought against medical staff who tried to talk me into scheduling a repeat c-section. I read EVERYTHING I could find on natural birth. I hired a doula. I switched midwives and hospitals. I wrote a new birth plan that was simpler, honed down to just the most important points. Again, I used hypnosis and managed my unmedicated labor well. Again I did not progress and when the baby’s heart rate started to dive, they said I needed another C-section. They told me I did everything right and applauded my effort, but I just couldn’t get my large-ish children out the pelvis I was blessed with. I didn’t regret one thing and it felt good knowing that I tried, but this was just how I gave birth. Lucky me to live in this day and age where a surgical birth is a safe option. I was really okay with this.

    Then, at my postnatal visit with my doula, all the familiar political talk came up and she started in with the “too many cesareans” and “they didn’t give you a chance” talk and I started to doubt myself again. I guess I wish there was a way to work on improving the medical model of birth without making the individual women who experience it feel like they failed.

  6. Brilliant. Its nearly comical to read so much literature that basically tells you that your baby will be infected by chemicals and that we are lazy to even consider an epidural. I was in the same situation that after laboring 30 hours at home, we went to the hospital expecting that with contractions a minute apart I would shortly be pushing…and I was only 3 cm dialated! I was so devastated to have worked so hard for so long and be so far away. Shortly after my wonderful midwife just advised me that since I could barely stand an epidural may be very helpful. And oh it was. A total of 40 hours in labor and I did deliver a beautiful healthy boy. Its such wonderful advice to be fully educated and fully prepared, but to remember that baby had its own agenda 🙂

  7. Any suggestions for books to read on natural childbirth?

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