“What’s the point in writing a birth plan? Everyone I know says that they aren’t worth the paper that they are written on and will go out the window.”
Sadly, this type of question and statement comes up in every MummyNatal class and Couples Birth Preparation workshop I have run, and that’s quite a number of times in almost two years of teaching!
In MummyNatal week 5, when we are discussing the birth environment, and in week 6, when we look at birth choices, this is a key topic. However, at The Natal Family (which created the MummyNatal and BabyNatal courses I teach), we like to use the term ‘birth preferences’, rather than the term birth plan.
Well often when we think of a plan, we think of something fixed or rigid – something that cannot be altered and that we must stick to. This can lead to feelings of regret, sadness, or even guilt when the plan doesn’t go the way we had written it down. These feelings are real, and are not to be dismissed. In fact, in some instances they can become so intense that they influence the decisions that mums and dads take for the birth of their future babies.
Should you feel this way, please don’t hold it inside but speak to someone you trust or a professional, as there are plenty of ways to explore your birth and how to make provisions for the future, should you wish to.
“So how are birth preferences different?”
In our MummyNatal weekly course and in the MummyNatal Couples Birth Preparation Workshops we use the term ‘birth preferences’. And it’s exactly what it says on the tin – what you would prefer to happen in your birth, rather than what you plan to or what will happen.
This implies that you acknowledge an element or adaptability when it comes to thinking about your birth experience. Discussing with your birth partner what you would both prefer to happen in your birth, and indeed what you wouldn’t like to happen (this is just as important) can allow you the time to really sit back and consider your options and maybe have a few listed.
“Yes – but things still might go wrong, so why bother going to all that effort?”
In my MummyNatal classes I like to use the analogy of a wedding when it comes to birth.
So often I hear women say to me that they will “go with the flow” or “do what they are told” when it comes to birth, and I always challenge them on this and ask them why.
Imagine when or if you planned a wedding. How long did you or would you spend on this? Likely, it’d be a few months or even years. Every last little detail would be considered and made just perfect for your big day.
But hang on – your birth is also a big day! OK, we may not have as much time to plan, but we certainly have a good few weeks or even months to. I have never heard someone say that they have picked a day for the wedding and that they will “go with the flow and see what happens on the day”.
Regardless of what type of wedding you choose to have, a lot of thought and preparation goes into this day and, let’s face it, people would think that you were absurd if you said you’re just going with the flow!
Yet in birth this is perfectly acceptable?
In a wedding, like in birth, things might not go according to plan – the flowers may be late, the car may not be as clean as you’d like it, and so on. But what happens then? Hopefully, you adapt. You notice what has happened and what you can or cannot do about the situation, and go with your plan B. Chances are that you will have some ideas about what can be done to modify the situation and bring the wedding back on track.
The same is true in birth. You can make a note of how you would prefer that day to go and know that if something doesn’t quite work out the way you imagined it, then you know you have other options to bring it back to the environment or the way that you would prefer to birth in.
“That makes sense if it’s something small, but what if something major happens, such as an induction, assisted birth or caesarean section? Surely you can’t turn that around into something you would prefer?”
Sometimes in birth things beyond our control happen, and we need to change the way that we would prefer to birth. This could be due to a number of factors involving the health of the baby or the mother, and discussions around inductions, assisted births or even a caesarean section may come into play.
Remember that you still always have a choice, and always do ask what the benefits and risks are of each of the options that are presented to you. Even in an emergency your birth partner can explain your birth preferences. You may not be able to birth the way that you prefer, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot have those immediate post birth preferences that you wanted – skin-to-skin, delayed cord clamping, or dad informing mum of the sex of the baby, for example.
While it may seem that a situation has become out of your control, it is important to remember that you do have control of your environment and choices. Therefore having discussions in advance is fundamental, as otherwise you will not know what you may wish to change in the event of an emergency.
Remember to include your birth partner in these discussions so that you are both clear on what you would prefer for you birth experience. And in situations where you may disagree, it is important that your birth partner respects mum’s choices.
“So how will I know what my choices are? How long can my birth preference be?”
Making an informed decision is key. You need to find out information about all your choices and make the ones which suit YOU the best. We discuss these in our MummyNatal weekly courses and our Couples Birth Preparation workshops.
There is also plenty of information widely available to you – talk to your midwife or care provider and use books or the internet to help you make an informed choice, rather than to listen to the many horror stories that there are out there!
So the next time you hear someone tell you not to bother with writing a birth plan as it will all go wrong, with the best intentions, just ignore them!
Discuss and work out what you would prefer to happen in your birth. This can be written down in your notes, a post-it or even a laminated sheet. How you do it is up to you. Remember that you don’t need to write an explanation – only what you would like or not like to happen. What is important is not how this is displayed, but rather that you, your birth partner, and your midwife or care providers know what is on it.