Expectation (ek'spek-ta'shn)

1. a. The act of expecting. b. Eager anticipation: eyes shining with expectation.
4. Statistics b. The mean of a random variable.

I love the various meanings. It suits labour and birth, doesn't it? People even say, “She’s expecting," when a woman is pregnant.

So, is expectation a positive or a negative thought process? Does it help us to realistically anticipate the event? Or can it set us up for the possibility of failure and guilt?

One thing that I discuss with clients are their anticipated “roles and expectations” - of themselves, of each other, and of their caregivers. Clients share their dreams for birth, however varied. Then we compare their expectations to the many potential realities.

One woman said her expectation was to have me provide her with a perfect birth with no pain. Another expected that she would have to fight the medical staff to have her wishes honoured, so she presented me and her doctor with a hard laminated birth plan which included her wishes for an enema, early epidural, and episiotomy. Another client expected to hear “angels singing” at her home birth.

How could I work with each woman to bridge the gap between her expectations and the potential reality while honouring previous life experiences and addressing her current needs? I had to gently help each woman to see that, while she could have some control over her environment in labour, she ultimately had to open herself up to the “wild card of labour.”

Labour is all about surrendering to the power of our own body, letting go of expectations, and accepting the “mean of the random variable.”

So, you probably want to know what happened to these three women.

The first woman also happened to be a therapist. I told her that I was uncomfortable with the pressure of her expectations. I said my role was only to support her, to help her gain the strength to make her own decisions, to have the birth that SHE was meant to have, not one that I “provided” for her. Together, we drew up a worksheet covering our expectations of each other, and our roles. We expanded the worksheet to cover all her family, friends, and caregivers. The understanding which grew out of this worksheet - which became an amazing collage-like venn diagram - led her towards a better understanding of herself, and, ultimately, a 4-hour labour which was mainly spent in her hot tub.

The second woman had suffered a life of abuse. She had also been in foster care as a child, and had never felt the power of autonomy. I told her that I would honour her wishes, and trust her to make good choices in labour. I said she might only want to make one change to the birth plan (she furrowed her brow,) and add the sentence, “It is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.” She laughed so hard when I said that. She wrote the sentence at the bottom - in indelible ink.

On the day of labour, she was so happy and open. She knew she could trust me, and the others around her, to honour her wishes. She found that she actually enjoyed labour (it was hers and hers alone) - and decided to NOT have an enema, NOT have an epidural, and NOT have an episiotomy. She trusted her body and her own ability to make decisions, and to change her mind. She said afterwards that, because she knew she could trust us, she could let go of her expectations, and it had changed her life.

The third woman - well, I had to tell her that home birth is a testament to a woman’s trust in her body.

But -

I also had to tell her that we often imagine home births to be like “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” full of nostalgia, angels singing, flickering candles, and beautiful music. But we have to open ourselves to the possibility of it being a lot more like Christmas when you’re grown up - no Santa, no angels singing, no fuzzy nostalgia. More often than not, it’s just like real life (which is why I love home births), complete with the noise of the garbage truck in the back lane, the phone ringing off the hook, dad running up and down stairs to get an extra heater or an extension cord, the wheeze of the hot water dispenser, and lots and lots of raucous laughter. She said that she hadn’t thought of that possibility at all, and thanked me for opening her up to another perspective. She said that she would let the day be what it was meant to be, and let go of her expectations.

On the day of her labour, I put the lasagna in the oven, ran upstairs to be with her as she laboured in the bath tub, walked over the crinkly-sounding plastic covering the carpet, and I heard her singing.

“Well...whaddyaknow?” I thought to myself. “The angels sang!”

Birth is unknowable.

It defies expectation.