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Some women choose to write out a birth plan to give to their care provider, some write one but reserve it for themselves and their support team, and others don’t write anything out but know what they want and are comfortable advocating for themselves.
Some women feel they don’t need a birth plan because they are comfortable with their care provider. Some think that writing a birth plan is just setting themselves up for disappointment or that it’s foolish to plan something as unpredictable as birth.
I don’t know, dear expectant mama, where you fall on the birth plan continuum. I’m not here to tell you that you should or shouldn’t write one. But there are a lot of misconceptions out there about birth plans, so I want to give you some truth to counteract all those lies, so you can know if a birth plan would be a beneficial tool for YOU.
Truth #1: A birth plan is an education tool.
A birth plan is first and foremost a way for you to learn about birth, learn about yourself, learn about your options, discern what’s most important to you about birth, and then to prepare both for the birth you want and for the unexpected.
In this way, a birth plan is very much about the process. The process of educating yourself, the process of uncovering your beliefs and values and desires around birth. Some women will go more in depth with it than others. What matters to you might not matter to your best friend.
But knowing what IS important to you about birth and then making choices that align with that is a healthy thing for any mother. And writing a birth plan helps to facilitate that learning.
Truth #2: A birth plan is not a guarantee.
You don’t hand your care provider a birth plan as if it’s a legal contract, nor can you predict exactly what will happen in your birth. Almost every mother I’ve talked with has had something unexpected happen during birth, maybe a little thing, maybe a big thing. Whether or not she had a written birth plan, she did have expectations.
It’s important to have a care provider you really trust, so that in an emergency or when something comes up that presents you with unexpected choices, you can still have confidence that the choices being made are the best ones for you.
Truth #3: A birth plan is not a substitute for face to face communication with your care provider.
As you’re learning about your options, bring up any questions you have to your care provider and talk to them about your hopes and fears for your birth well before you’re in labor. Sometimes it can be hard to have these conversations in the typical short appointments we’re accustomed to, but at least ask about the most important things. The process of creating a birth plan should help facilitate communication with your care provider, not shut it down.
Your care provider has a valuable knowledge of birth, and you have a valuable knowledge of yourself. Take both into account. You may find that much of what is important to you about birth is standard practice for your care provider, or you may discover that your basic philosophies of birth differ greatly and decide to switch care providers.
Truth #4: A birth plan starts way before birth.
It starts even before conception, with your attitude toward pregnancy and motherhood. I would argue that it starts even before that, with the expectations you build from the stories you see and hear from your mother, your grandmother, your peers, and in art, literature, and media.
It includes the very first decisions you make about your pregnancy and your care, decisions like where you will give birth and who will attend it. These decisions will dictate some of your options, so as much as is in your power (because I know sometimes options are limited), don’t choose a setting or provider that you know doesn’t support what you want.
Early on, when you first make these choices, you might not know what’s important to you, and that’s ok. But if your care provider or birth setting is no longer a good fit for you, consider changing. I know it’s a hassle, but it’s worthwhile if it’s what’s required for you to have safe, respectful care you can trust.
Truth #5: A birth plan serves as a guide to help you prepare for birth.
As you learn about birth and learn about yourself, you can take steps during pregnancy to help prepare for the birth you want. Making sure you’re comfortable with your care provider, nourishing your body, trying to keep your baby in an optimal position, learning some comfort measures (or learning lots of comfort measures if you’re planning on an unmedicated birth) – these are all things you can do that have an impact on your birth.
And then think about what you don’t want during birth. Are there situations in which that thing you want to avoid might be helpful or needed?
For instance, when I was planning my first birth, I wanted to avoid an epidural. I even chose to birth at home so that it simply wouldn’t be available to me without the significant inconvenience and stress of transferring to the hospital.
But I knew from the beginning that if labor was really long and I was too exhausted, if I simply couldn’t relax enough to dilate, or honestly, if the pain was far worse than I was prepared for and the natural comfort measure I had learned weren’t helping enough, then I would transfer to the hospital and have an epidural.
A birth plan helps you prepare for the birth you want and take positive, proactive steps to make it happen, while still preparing for the reality of the uncertainty of birth.
Truth #6: A birth plan serves as a guide for your support team during birth.
It’s a good idea to have your birth team know what’s important to you during labor so that they’re able to support you toward those ends. Your birth plan for your support team (partner, doula, and any other family members or friends who will be present) might be more detailed than the one you give your care providers, and it’s something they can refer to if you’re offered different interventions. You are always free to change your mind and be flexible, but they can remind you of questions to ask or provide comfort measures that you’ve perhaps practiced beforehand. If you’ve communicated your hopes, even just verbally, your support people will be able to be more helpful to you during labor.
Truth #7: A birth plan is not an indicator of a control freak mom. A birth plan is an indicator of a thoughtful and engaged mom.
Every woman has expectations and values and desires around labor and birth. Even if a woman hasn’t taken the time to figure them out, even she’s not honest about them, even if she doesn’t care about all the same things you care about, even if she doesn’t have anything written down on paper, she still has hopes and expectations and is probably at least in some way trying to prepare for what she wants. Even the decision to “not have a birth plan” is often an effort to not be disappointed in birth.
I don’t say that to criticize the moms who aren’t interested in written birth plans. A written birth plan isn’t helpful to everyone and that’s ok. I just say it because sometimes anti-birth plan voices are loud and an unnecessary point of tension among mothers. But the process of learning what you want and how to prepare for that along with how to prepare for the unexpected is a valuable one for any mother.
Know What You Want
So write a birth plan or don’t write one, but do know what you want and prepare for it. You might be disappointed, yes. Disappointment is a possibility whenever you have ANY sort of expectation, but not being honest about what you want doesn’t necessarily protect you from disappointment either. And through doing the hard work of learning and knowing what you want, you might have an amazing birth that you wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t taken the time to prepare for it now. You are the person who is most invested in your baby. Your hopes for birth, your hopes for how your baby is welcomed into the world, and your hopes for those first moments with your baby matter. Don’t be afraid to know what you want and go for it.