Childbirth can be intimidating, am I right?
It seems like our brains come up with so many what if scenarios—even before we read other women’s emergency birth stories online or endure random strangers piling on other worries that keep us up at night.
What if I don’t make it to the hospital in time?
What if something happens to me or my baby?
We all hope for birth experiences that are no more eventful than our precious little ones leaving our bellies and entering the world. But sometimes we can be riddled with fear about having some kind of emergency birth.
What do we do with all those worries while we wait so many long weeks to reach the big day? How do we cope with that fear of the unknown?
Hope for the best; plan for the worst
If you can’t seem to stop worrying, this post is for you.
We have the power to take some control back from our fear by setting up emergency birth plans. Then, just in case something goes wrong, we can have peace of mind knowing we have a plan to fall back on instead of having to figure it out as we go along.
It’s kind of like preparing for a hurricane.
If we have an emergency supply bin, bottled water, and a plan, we can rest assured knowing we’re prepared. It’s a whole lot easier than having to scramble at the last minute to deal with an impending storm.
Being ready for the unexpected well ahead of time means all you have to do if something happens is execute your plans. It means you’ve done the work, you know what to do, and you can keep more of a level head about you. That goes a long way both for remaining calm in a moment of potential crisis and having peace along the way.
Let’s look at a few ways you can prepare for the unexpected—just in case.
#1: Pack your hospital bags well ahead of your due date
Your due date is an estimate! Plus, even if you know your due date is extremely accurate because you were fertility tracking like me, you can still give birth early. I went into labor at 38 weeks and 3 days. I was glad I’d been ready for several weeks.
Don’t wait until you’re 39 weeks pregnant to pack. Pack your bags at something like 32 weeks and leave them sitting in a corner somewhere.
Pack what you can and make a list of the items you can’t pack until it’s go-time (glasses, phone charger, etc.) and where to find those items, in case you’re sending someone else to your house to retrieve them, and in case your brain is too jumbled to remember everything when it’s go time).
Related reading: 6 Tips for Packing Your Hospital Bag
#2: Decide what you’ll do if you can’t get to the hospital in time
If you’re a first time mom, you probably won’t find yourself having an emergency birth at home or in the car.
But that knowledge doesn’t stop some of us from worrying about it.
Maybe you’re concerned you won’t make it in time because you don’t live close to the hospital. When I was expecting, my husband worked 40 minutes away and we lived at least 35 minutes from the hospital. It would have taken more than an hour and a half to get there once I decided to call my husband.
I was nervous we wouldn’t have enough time, especially if I wasn’t sure it was really being go time and waited too long to call.
So, I kept a list of a few other people close by who I could call for a ride if it seemed like I couldn’t wait for my husband to get home.
It’s a good idea to have backup options for transportation just in case things don’t go the way you think.
If your baby is coming and you can’t get to the hospital, call 911
Whatever may stop you from getting there in time, if you really believe you’re going to have your baby before you make it to the hospital, call 911.
Giving birth at home without help is not a good idea. If you call 911, you’ll have EMS there as soon as possible to care for you and baby both at home and on the way to the hospital.
The dispatcher on the other end of your 911 call will also talk you through what to do. It’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with emergency birth procedures, and to have your partner do the same. Click here for more information on this from What To Expect When You’re Expecting.
#3: Be prepared if your baby needs additional medical attention
This is probably every mom’s worst fear: “What if something happens to my baby?” Maybe you’ve heard emergency birth stories where baby had to be removed quickly by C-section to save its life. Maybe your mind has been coming up with every possible bad scenario. Childbirth is the safest it’s ever been, but sometimes scary things do happen.
The best thing you can do to prepare for this small possibility is to actively let go of control. You can’t help everything that may happen to your baby. You’ll soon realize this is a lesson that will govern everyday life as your baby grows up. Pregnancy can be a good time to practice living with the knowledge that you can’t protect them 100%.
How did I cope with this during pregnancy? Click here to read about my experience.
Preparing for what you can control
There are, however, some practical things you can do to make your life a little easier if something goes wrong with your baby.
If an emergency birth is one side of the coin, the other is your baby requiring continued medical care for hours or days or longer.
Sometimes babies need a little (or more than a little) help adjusting to their dry new world. Occasionally things happen that require a stint in the NICU.
When my daughter was born, she was big for her age. Within 6-8 hours, her blood sugar dropped to dangerously low levels and she was admitted to the NICU, where she stayed for 4 days. We never saw it coming.
Based on that experience, I recommend a few things that I wish I had done, just in case this happens to you:
Pack lotion in your hospital bag. If you have to wash your hands vigorously before entering the NICU like we did, you’ll find your skin cracking (especially for winter babies). In any case, hospital air is dry, and you might want it for a normal stay!
Bring An Extra Bag
In a separate bag, pack 2-4 days’ worth of extra clothes, and your breast pump unless you plan to use formula exclusively, and keep it in your car.
If you need more clothing, it’s there, and you won’t have to spend precious time on the phone trying to tell someone where to find your stuff in your home so they can bring it to you.
In addition, pumping may be better suited for a NICU stay than breastfeeding, and if you get discharged before your baby, you may need to switch over from the hospital pump (or continue using it as a rental, but why pay if you own one?). Plus, if you have any questions about pumping, you can have a lactation consultant help you with your pump before you leave (how to choose the right flange size, anyone?)
Ask About Hospitality
Ask your hospital ahead of time if they offer hospitality. I never knew this existed until our hospital offered it to us.
When I was discharged, we got to stay in our room for a couple extra days as long as another new mom didn’t need it. This was a lifesaver because we were so close to our baby, compared to not staying in the hospital, and I got to keep using the hospital breast pump instead of having to bother with switching over to mine.
If your hospital does not offer this, and even if they do, since they may need your room for another recovering mom, make yourself aware of options near the hospital where you can stay if you don’t live close by, whether friends’ and families’ homes or hotels.
Knowing our options for what was nearby the hospital helped me in another way, too: I used to wonder what would happen if we went to the hospital in labor but got turned away because I wasn’t progressed enough. I was scared about not making it back in time since it would take over an hour to get home and return later on. I liked the idea of staying up in town and laboring close to the hospital.
Check Your Insurance
Believe it or not, even if your hospital is in network, there can be parts within the hospital that are out of network.
Ask your insurance company if everything in your hospital is in your network, asking specifically about the NICU and even the anesthesiologist.
If your hospital doesn’t have a NICU or if there’s a chance they could transfer your baby to a different hospital with a better one, ask your insurance company if that NICU is in network.
If there’s a chance you could end up at some other hospital than you plan to for your birth, ask if that hospital and everything in it is in network. (I even used to briefly look into the nearest hospitals when I traveled, just in case.)
It’s probably all fine, but it’s not unheard of for people to be surprised and saddled with jaw-dropping bills.
Talk A NICU Mom
Find a NICU mom you know—chances are, you at least know someone who had a preemie—and ask for advice. She may have tips to help you come out with a healthier and more realistic mentality about parenting after you leave the NICU (like not depending on the monitors to know your baby is okay).
For more about my NICU experience, click here.
#4: Be prepared if you need additional medical attention
This is the other big worry we face: “What if something happens to me when I give birth?” Just like with your baby, you simply don’t have total control over what happens in your life, and making peace with that is the best way to cope with that fear.
You are 99.96%-99.99% likely to survive childbirth in the United States. Childbirth is much safer now than it was even decades ago. Keeping up with your regular prenatal care can assure that any potential problems are caught early and dealt with swiftly, because we have so many more resources these days and understand so much more, too.
If you’re worried specifically about dying in childbirth, I recommend watching this video from OBGYN and YouTuber, Mama Doctor Jones. If you have an unusually high level of anxiety about that, I recommend talking with a counselor before birth, as well as discussing your fears with your practitioner.
Preparing for what you can control.
As with your baby, there are a few practical things you can do to make things smoother if you experience any problems.
It’s a good idea before any hospital stay to talk with your partner or your closest loved ones about your wishes if ever you’re unable to make decisions or communicate for yourself. You can formulate advance care plans, designate a power of attorney, and get a will.
You probably will not need these, but in the rare event you do, they can make things smoother not only for you, but your family.
#5: Anticipating the after
The reality is, things go wrong sometimes. Emergency births happen. Scary things happen.
Most moms and babies come out totally safe.
But that doesn’t stop some birth stories leaving moms with emotional scars. Even if you and baby end up totally fine, if something went wrong, it can leave with you traumatic memories. Being alright in the end doesn’t take away the legitimacy of intense feelings that occurred in the moment. It doesn’t negate bad memories.
Part of preparing for the worst is knowing that if the worst happens, the experience will stick with you. If you have an emergency birth, it’s normal and okay to need to process what happened. As you recover from childbirth physically, you should also recover from it emotionally.
If your birth experience is in any way traumatic for you, be sure to talk with someone about it, and allow yourself time and space to heal.
Once you’ve formed your emergency plans…
Let them go.
If you’re stressed out worrying about an emergency birth, that doesn’t help anyone or anything. The beauty of these suggestions is that once you’ve had a healthy dose of preparation for the unexpected, you can—and should—set aside that worry and not think about it again.
Consider the hurricane example again. Once you’ve put together your supplies and your plan and talked it all over with your family, you don’t keep obsessing over it—you go on with your everyday life.
Make birth the same way! Take control of your thoughts, fears, worries, and emotions, and after channeling them into something healthy and productive, let go.
Your birth story will be uniquely yours and uniquely beautiful. Everything has purpose, whether it all goes according to plan or deviates into something else. You can’t control everything, but you can control you.
Decide today to let your experience be what it will be.
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