How to have a planned but unscheduled c-section

At the hospital, in active labor, waiting to get prepped for my c-section.

After Beatrice’s birth, I knew how it worked to go into labor, go to the hospital, try to push the baby out and not have it work, and then have a c-section. When I decided to have a c-section again with Blythe, I opted not to schedule it and instead planned to go into labor on my own and then go to the hospital for the c-section.

This sounded like the best of both worlds to me. I love the mystery of going into labor and the fun and magic of that experience, and didn’t want to miss that if I didn’t have to.

But as the day got closer I realized I didn’t know anyone who had done this, and my efforts to research and find stories about how to do this weren’t very fruitful. Do I just show up and say, “I’m ready for my c-section?” Women who have scheduled a c-section and suddenly go into labor before that date find themselves in this situation all the time, but it’s different to plan for it in advance rather than to have it arrive unexpectedly.

So I decided to share my experience for those who might find themselves in a similar situation.

Here’s how it worked for me:

How to plan for your planned but unscheduled c-section

The lynchpin to planning for your planned but unscheduled c-section is ironically enough, scheduling a c-section.

The hope is that you won’t have to use that appointment, but getting your name on the schedule kicks off a host of things that make it much easier for you to prepare for your spontaneous birth.

My doctor wouldn’t let me go past 41 weeks, so I scheduled an appointment for 40 weeks, 4 days or so, and kept my fingers crossed that I’d go into labor before that day. (I did — I beat it by nearly a week). I didn’t get around to scheduling my dummy appointment until I was at 38 weeks, but I wish I would have done it sooner because I didn’t realize the things the appointment kicked into motion.

As soon as I hung up from scheduling my appointment my phone started ringing off the hook. First, the hospital called to ask a million questions about my health history. Fantastic – I was happy to give them everything they wanted to know and relieved that they had this info in advance and I didn’t have to give it while in labor.

Then, another woman called to give me a very detailed play-by-play for how the birth will go. They told me where I should park. They told me exactly how long every step would take. They told me about a little window after the baby was born that’s a great time for dad to call or text family. They told me how long I’d need to be in the recovery room (two hours) before I could go back to a regular room and have family visit — all crucial details that I really appreciated knowing and sharing with my family.

This is also the time to clarify any birth plan-related requests. They were happy to give me skin-to-skin time right after Blythe was born and they’d done their quick testing. Then they would finish up their testing on her while they sewed me up and twenty or so minutes later we could be reunited and breastfeeding.

Skin to skin, right after she was born. We snuggled for about ten minutes before they finished up the surgery.

Once you have everything scheduled and all the info you need, you can pack your bag and wait.

And wait. And wait. Until you….

Go into labor!

The biggest question I had was, when do I go to the hospital? My doctor said I could go into the hospital anytime between when I was in active labor and when they’d typically want you to come in (contractions four minutes apart lasting one minute for one hour, or whatever). My doctors also preferred that I hadn’t eaten or drank anything for 8 hours before surgery, so if I thought I was in labor, I needed to stop eating and drinking. Once I got to the hospital it’d be two hours before the surgery started.

With Beatrice it took 19 hours for my contractions to get close enough to head to the hospital, so I wasn’t looking to labor that long just for fun. I was hoping for a nice window where I was really in labor but it didn’t hurt too much, and food and drink were far enough in the past that once I arrived we’d be ready to go.

My secret hope was that like with Beatrice, I’d wake up in the middle of the night in labor.

The other factor in this scenario is that like many women who find themselves in this situation, our planning had to include who would take care of our toddler. Since we didn’t know when I’d go into labor or how long it’ll at last, we had to prepare for all scenarios. This was harder than we realized, because in some situations it made sense for our parents to come to our house, and others, for us to bring Beatrice to theirs.

At 39 weeks, 3 days, a week before my scheduled appointment, I awoke feeling a bit off, but went to work. I was tired and napped a bit over lunch. I went to some afternoon meetings, then headed home an hour early. I ate an early dinner when I got home (around 4:30) but then consciously stopped eating and drinking after that. I finally owned up to myself that I was in labor at 9 p.m., my water broke at 10:30 p.m., and we headed in to the hospital soon after that.


In labor, getting prepped for Blythe’s birth.

When we arrived my contractions were 2-3 minutes, so we cut it kind of close. I didn’t ask but in general they’re not going to give you anything for the pain if you’re going in for a c-section, so I knew that I’d need to tough out whatever came my way. It was a little awkward prepping for the surgery while in active labor, having to stop every minute or so to work through a contraction as they asked me some more questions and got the IVs started.

My doc finally asked the nurse to move it along, and I was grateful. By the time they wheeled me in and gave me the spinal block my contractions were one minute apart. I arrived at the hospital around 11:30 p.m. and at 1:38 a.m. Blythe was born!

c-section birth

Just born Blythe!

I absolutely love my birth story and my experience with Blythe, and I wouldn’t change anything for the world. It was such a fun, magical day for us.

What I didn’t go into in this post are the medical pros and cons to a planned but unscheduled c-section. I had some medical professionals tell me that going into labor first kicks off important hormonal changes that help you and your baby; others said that a c-section after laboring carries more risks that one without laboring. Going into labor first just felt right to me, and I was glad to have that option.

Blythe at hosptial

We are so grateful for medical professionals and technology, for the blessing of a healthy baby and safe delivery, and for our little Blythe.
Blessed, blessed, blessed, and so grateful.

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  1. Cherrie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’m almost 35 weeks along with my first and baby is breech. I know he may flip at any time, but I’ve been curious as to the process of going into labor before a c-section (in case he doesn’t flip) and your article helped me understand the process much better. Much appreciated.

  2. Did they allow your husband to be in the operating room with you?

    • Yes! For both births they spent a minute or two getting me set up. Then they invited my husband in so he could sit beside me. When the baby was born they held it up and he announced the gender to me. He accompanied the baby to the other part of the room for the tests and cord cutting (I could hear everything but not see it well).

  3. Yay! I am so glad I decided to google this and that I came across your post. Since learning I was pregnant with my second and that a c-section will be necessary, I had decided that allowing my body to begin labor was my only option. Very reassuring to read your personal experience and know that this is not such a crazy idea! Thanks so much for sharing.

    • I’m so glad this was helpful! You’re going to have a great birth — I’m so excited for you!

  4. Shevaun Barrie says:

    Thank you for this!! Our first baby was born by emerg csection after 26 hrs of labour. I was told that our next baby will need to be delivered by csection as well (whenever that happens). I’d like to go into labour first for the same reasons as you, it’s exciting! And I want my body to know the baby is on it’s way too. Im glad it all went to so well for you! Thanks!