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In Defense of the Birth Plan

Ah, the birth plan…such a polarizing topic, am I right? In my experience, folks’ opinions on birth plans predominantly come from two camps:

First, there’s the Over-Planner Unrealistic Expectation Camp whose members feel like if they research and plan out as much as possible, they’ll get the birth of their dreams. (Cue Oprah: “You get a magical birth! And you get a magical birth!!”)

Then there’s the Fly by the Seat of Their Pants Camp, whose overarching opinion is that planning is futile since birth is so unpredictable anyway. If you don’t over-plan, you won’t get disappointed. Low expectations won’t let these parents down!

 

Now, these are obviously very oversimplified generalizations and I understand that most birthing couples have far more nuanced beliefs surrounding birth planning. However, I do think that these stereotypes speak a some truth and as a doula, it’s my job to help my clients hit a sweet spot that’s the best of both worlds. Below you’ll find the most common questions I get from clients when discussing the benefits of birth plans and my responses to those questions. Hopefully they’ll help shed some light on your way to creating your own balanced birth plan.

 

What’s the point in a birth plan if everything is going to change anyway?

Let me be clear here. When I advocate for clients to create a birth plan, I don’t mean that I think they should create a hard and fast legal document that they’ll nail to their delivery room door a la Martin Luther. There’s a big difference in creating a list of birth demands and creating a birth plan. Creating a plan requires birthing people to look at all of their options, weigh pros and cons, make decisions based on their values, priorities, and goals, and educate themselves about possibilities. Ideally, the process of creating a good birth plan will leave couples with a wealth of information that they can tap into if and when they deviate from the plan.

The other side of this coin begs the question: How do you know what you want or don’t want if you haven’t researched your options? Do you want your baby to be administered Vitamin K? How do you feel about the use of fetal scalp monitors? Do you want to labor down or have coached pushing? I can assure you that the easiest time to ponder these decisions is not during contractions or immediately postpartum, especially if you’re hearing your options for the very first time. If you’re completely comfortable deferring to others for the medical care of yourself/your partner/your baby, then by all means don’t make a plan. But if you’re the type who wants to know more or to better understand your options, planning is definitely for you.

My final thought on this question is that you will never regret knowing “too much.” Navigating a birth situation, especially for a first time parent, is much less tricky when you’ve taken the time to educate yourself on terminology, hospital policies, and potential procedures. A change in plan or an unexpected event during labor is a lot easier to manage when you’re not completely unfamiliar with the options that exist. Knowledge is power, my friends!

 

I don’t want to make a birth plan because I’m afraid talking about it will just scare me!

Okay, let’s lean into this for a minute. When I hear someone say that they’re frightened of birth I can infer a few things. First, this person is normal, and second, they have some some soul searching to do. Guys, our culture has not served us well in preparing us for birth. When the main birth narratives we’re taught from childhood center around horror stories, panicked scenes in movies, and “Yoouuu did this to meee!!”  it’s no wonder we’re scared. Combine that narrative with everything we’re not taught about women’s bodies and you’ve got some major blanks to fill. And what do we fill the blanks with? You guessed it, fear.

It is absolutely normal to fear what we don’t know. The Haunted House ride at Wonderland Park in Amarillo, Texas scared the cuss out of me as a kid. I almost peed my pants and broke my sister’s hand when she forced me to go in it with her. I didn’t know what to expect except to know that I was embarking on a journey of abject terror: it was dark, loud, clammy, musty, and full of strobe lights. I rode it with my eyes screwed shut the entire time except for the portion during which my sister told me it was safe and I opened my eyes to see a zombie driving a freight train right at my face. Good times, good times.

But here’s the thing: the Haunted House wouldn’t have been so scary if I had known what to expect. If I had been given a calendar that stated the month I was scheduled to  visit the Haunted House, I’d have had time to psych myself up for it. If I had been given a guidebook that told me the different rooms I would travel through, I’d know that our vehicle would pass some bats, a clown or two, and four to eight severed heads on pikes. If someone had taught me the mechanics of how those severed heads popped up, I would have been able to anticipate the scares and manage my response accordingly. By the time I got to the zombie train, I’d have known that the ride was almost over and daylight was just around the corner.

When we know what to expect, the unknown isn’t as scary. I think it’s very important for us to dismantle our fears surrounding birth. What specifically are we afraid of? What is the root of this fear? What is the worst thing that could happen if this fear came true? What practical things can we do to prepare ourselves for the things that scare us? When we speak our fears and give them names, we take away their power. Once I finally knew what to expect from the Haunted House at Wonderland Park, it had significantly less power over me. I was far more confident riding with knowledge than when I knew nothing and buried my head in my sister’s shoulder, trying to pretend it wasn’t happening. I still got nervous when I rode the Haunted House the second time, but I started to enjoy the thrills and cheap gags for what they were. The more I knew, the better able I was to cope. And guess who closed the Haunted House down at Wonderland that day? This kid.

 

This isn’t my first baby, so I know the drill and a birth plan isn’t really necessary.

I understand the temptation to fall into this line of thinking. I’ve got four children of my own and I know full well how impossible it can feel to even think about stealing one uninterrupted minute to plan for a subsequent birth. When you’re pregnant and parenting other kids, it’s easy to feel as though giving birth is like riding a bike. And in some ways it is…until it’s not.

I like to remind clients that every birth and every baby are different. So many factors contribute to how a birth will play out from baby’s positioning to how mama is feeling emotionally. You only get to do each birth once, so it behooves you to take some time to remind yourself of what your birth goals are and reevaluate your previous births to see what you loved and things that you’d do differently this time. Birth planning for seasoned parents is likely to be less time intensive than for first timers, but again, you’ll never regret taking the time to recenter and refresh your knowledge.

 

 

To conclude, birth plans can be an incredibly useful tool when created with evidence-based research, open hearts, and room for flexibility. I take pride in the fact that I spend a large amount of time with my clients discussing and planning for their births. I value birth planning so much that I even offer Birth Brainstorming sessions independent of my birth doula services for folks who just want assistance in planning their births. Sometimes it’s just nice to have an unbiased third party to bounce ideas off of! You can find more information on Birth Brainstorming sessions on my Services page.

What about you? Are you a planner, do you prefer to go with the flow, or are you a combination of both? Remember, at the end of the day, plan or no plan, this is your body, your baby, and your best birth. I’m here to support and educate you however I can, so feel free to reach out and let’s chat!

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