Birth Complications

Birth plans can help you feel informed and in control—but labor and delivery don't always go as planned. Here, three moms share their unexpected experiences.


“After my emergency Cesarean section, I was shell-shocked that I wasn’t pregnant anymore.” Jennifer O’Brien, East Greenbush, N.Y.

My first delivery, which was vaginal, went well. Overall, my second pregnancy was very routine and I planned to have a vaginal delivery. But during my 33rd week, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to the sensation of being wet. I got up to go to the bathroom, and when I turned the light on I realized I was covered in blood. My husband and I immediately pulled our older daughter out of bed and we all went to the hospital. I was hooked up to a monitor right away and we discovered that the baby had a heartbeat, but I was still bleeding profusely.

When my doctor arrived, I was told I was going to need a Cesarean section immediately. I didn’t want a C-section and didn’t know what to expect. In fact, my husband and I were so overwhelmed by the events happening so quickly that we almost forgot we were having a baby! We didn’t know what we were having, so they announced, “It’s a girl,” and I was able to see my daughter, Caroline, briefly before they took her away to stabilize her. Although she was born at a viable weight, she was not yet fully developed and spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit before coming home. A part of me still longs for that perfect birth experience, but it’s also helpful to know that you and your child can go through something that scary and you’ll both be OK in the end. Today, Caroline is perfectly healthy and well—and I am, too.

“It took a few weeks for my delivery experience to sink in and I thought,‘Well, that sucked.’ ” Emily Keyishian, San Francisco

I had wanted to have a natural childbirth. But at 39 weeks, I went in for a check-up and discovered my blood pressure was high. I was showing signs of pre eclampsia, so I was checked into the hospital. I was given medication to soften my cervix, and my water broke in the middle of the night. Soon after, I experienced fast contractions and intense pain and was given an epidural.

I pushed for four hours and the baby wasn’t moving, so I was told I needed a Cesarean section. The bright lights of the operating room were a totally different environment from the quiet and dimly lit birthing room. There was a white sheet in front of me so I couldn’t see anything. But, when they started cutting my stomach, I could feel the pain! The doctor tried to inject Novocain into the incision, but it was too late to numb the pain I was experiencing. I ended up being put under general anesthesia and did not get to see the birth of my son, Harry.

I was in the hospital for six days after the delivery. Harry was jaundiced so he spent half the time in the nursery and half the time with my husband and me. I felt guilty because we were all supposed to be together in one big happy family bed. Overall, I was really angry, but I was also in shock. You don’t have a lot of time to dwell on your emotions because suddenly, you’re caring for a new baby. But in the end, you realize that giving birth is just a tiny part of your baby’s humungous life.

Editors’ note: According to OB-GYN Sean Daneshmand, M.D., a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at San Diego Perinatal Center, the risk of epidural failure is relatively low (less than 4 percent).

“I was in a lot of pain, but I was never worried for myself. I was worried about my baby.” Jennifer Weintraub, Denver

I was surprised when my water broke two weeks before my due date because the baby hadn’t dropped yet. Previously, I had tested positive for Group B streptococcus bacteria, and after I was admitted, they induced me because of my positive test result. My husband, Jeremy, and I had arrived at the hospital at 10 p.m., but it wasn’t until the next morning that my contractions really started. Even so, the staff felt the birth wasn’t moving along as fast as they wanted so they increased my Pitocin. This intensified my contractions, so I got an epidural.

I started pushing at 2 p.m., but I wasn’t making any progress and the baby had still not dropped. I pushed for three hours and it was really tough. Also, my regular doctor was on vacation, and I had never met the OB-GYN who was helping me deliver. She had a very poor bedside manner and I felt as if she wasn’t listening to me. The doctor said I wasn’t pushing correctly so she turned off the epidural so that I could feel the contractions. It was very painful, so I tried standing and squatting, which helped relieve some of the pain but didn’t move the baby.

Suddenly, I was told I was being taken to the operating room because my baby’s heart rate was going down and he was in distress. They said I would have a C-section if a vacuum-assisted delivery [a procedure in which the doctor uses a suction instrument to help pull the baby out] didn’t work. It all happened so fast and I was scared. Once the doctor turned on the vacuum, they told me to push, and in 20 minutes the baby was out.

Looking back on my labor, I felt like I didn’t always know what was happening to me and I wasn’t being listened to. It’s important to be your own advocate and to demand that the hospital staff tell you what they are doing and why.

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