The first time I read about drafting a birth plan, I thought, “Geez. Anal-retentive much?” (Don’t get me started on how inappropriate and ironic that statement is. It has dawned on me since.) Birth plans, as it turns out, are tremendously in vogue. They are the done thing in my day and age, part and parcel of the whole pregnancy shebang. Like an internet plan with a new home, so is a birth plan with a new pregnancy. What? Your house didn’t come with ethernet ports and fibre to the premise? Get with the programme, dah-link.
Except, I still don’t quite get it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen the templates and the samples, and I can see how some of it can useful. But the biggest thing that’s doing my head in is the fact we’re encouraged to think we can control what’s going to happen, when it happens, how it happens, and why. Some of the birth plans I’ve come across read like Hollywood scripts. The baby emerges with a lusty cry after a natural, calm birth, minimum tearing and no episiotomy. Mother and child bond at once with skin to skin contact. Breastfeeding ensues. Exchange of lovey dovey looks with birth partner. End scene.
But birth plans I’ve come across seldom include the following scenarios:
- very early arrivals
- very late arrivals
- babies in distress
- mothers in distress
- birth partner out of action (late, still trying to park the darn car, fainted on the floor)
- emergency c-sections
- “no room at the inn” (overcrowding at birth centre, private ward)
- complete and utter exhaustion coupled with zero physical strength after XXth hour
and most importantly,
- crazy changes of the mind, because you’re in the most gawdawful and intense pain you’ve ever known in your thus-far sheltered life.
Are we in danger of setting ourselves up for a huge disappointment – and literally a world of pain – if it all goes to crap? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we can control almost every moment of our child’s birth? Every older woman I talk to almost snorts in derision whenever they hear the words ‘birth plan’. “Yeah,” they chortle. “Good luck.” (The polite ones mock you only with their eyes.) I can see why they’re sceptical. The birth stories I’ve heard so far have all to do with reacting to the moment and doing whatever works, and hardly resemble anything the mother envisioned or articulated beforehand.
After a bit of scrounging around, I learnt that the whole birth-plan idea emerged around the 1990s with the return-to-natural-birth movement. Great. I actually like the idea of NOT being confined to the bed, on my back, whimpering softly and breathing like a choo-choo train (hee-hee-hoo!). I think there’s much to be said about birth positions that capitalise on the laws of gravity, and I’m all for involving Tony as much as possible in this tremendous journey. But as with anything the world comes up with, I am inundated with conflicting messages.
On the one hand, we’re told that we are each entitled to a natural birth, that having a baby vaginally is within our control, and that we can each facilitate a less painful birth if only we knew how.
On the other hand, we’re told that natural birth is all about losing control and letting go. Wanna have your while baby squatting on one leg and bellowing the Haka? Whatever works, hon! Wanna have your baby in the bath while the lullaby rendition of Rocky’s theme is playing softly in the background? Whatever floats your boat, ma’am. Take off ALL your clothes while you’re at it. None of us are strangers here. (Except, the doctor, the midwives, the anesthetist…)
So… wrest control and lose control. Got it?
I’ve heard of birth plans referred to as birth wishlists. In some ways, that’s even worse. My wishlist would involve any of the painless births I’ve had in my dreams – with no tearing, no pushing, and midwives in my bathtub with 1950s showercaps on. It might also result in birthing a cuddly black labrador puppy instead of a healthy baby. (Don’t ask. I don’t even want to know where my subsconscious got that bit of inspiration.)
So, where to from here?
As much as I want to bag out the whole birth plan idea, I think there’s merit in visualising success before entering into any challenge. And perhaps our birth plan can help Tony and I scenario-test the less desirable situations and talk about what worries us and what helps us cope. Hope and pray for the best, prepare for the worst. Pray for strength regardless.
As for my preliminary list, here’s a few nuggets.
- not to swear like a sailor, no matter how painful things get.
This is actually harder than you think, because I can get pretty potty-mouthed like the best of them when under crazy-stress. And this will be crazy-stress.
- not to take my pain out on Tony through verbal abuse and blame.
The whole “Deees eees YOUR FAULT!” may be tempting – and practically a given in Hollywood births – but is unfair to the poor chap. And I know he’ll try his hardest to be there for me on the day. It’s going to be a special kind of hell for him while his wife is baying like a wounded animal and he cannot do much about much. He’s going to hate that.
- to trust that things will work out.
Am I nervous? Oh yes. We had an antenatal class this week where they passed around the epidural needle and my hair was already standing from that. But I am holding on to the promise that we will not be tried beyond what we cannot bear. So meanwhile, I’ll try not to rule anything out and enjoy as much of it as humanly possible.
And you know I’ll keep you guys posted. :)
22 May 2011 at 11:17 pm
Ok so here’s my thoughts on things :) I prefer to think of them as birth PREFERENCES. Its not so much about planning out a step by step plan as an opportunity to before the ‘big day’ to think through various scenarios and what you think, what you want and what you prefer in places where your preference can and should be considered. I think they really evolved out of the idea that birth is not something that just happens “to” a woman – like, you are a mindless gestating animal, you front up to hospital, you do what you’re told (and where and how), they pass you a baby at the end, thats it! :) A birthing mama is intelligent and these days often VERY informed – it doesnt mean you disregard the medical advice, but at the same time, your feelings/priorities/preferences can and should be considered – and can make a difference, for example if the staff know in advance that immediate skin-to-skin contact w baby is important to you, they might be less likely to whisk bub away for non-urgent weighing and measuring right after birth- but if bub is having trouble breathing?? well of COURSE you wont be there shouting about your *PLAN* for skin to skin contact! Like you said, I found writing out my ‘birth preferences’ before Lily came along was a chance to discuss options and preferences and how important various things were BEFORE things got messy! And also to make sure my midwife also knew how I felt abotu various things – always open to change of course but better stated than not. I too have seen mothers distraught over a false sense of control and movie-script birth plans… but then Ive also seen many more mothers distraught over feeling uninformed about various scenarios and also feeling like their wishes and ideas were not respected and heard. I think the control/no control thing with birth is much like life w an actual baby…. we certainly cannot control or predict everything… but we can be informed, prepared and try to create the best possible scenario to enable what we want (and letting go of the ability to control and predict 100% is part of that!) – then just accept whatever comes, knowing we did our best!. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst – yeah Im like that too!! Sorry to ramble… anyway at the end of the day, whether its written down formally or not, you already have many of your birth preferences in mind and im sure you will have a beautiful birth! x k
23 May 2011 at 10:24 am
A friend of mine got so scared from other women’s birth stories that she was totally overprepared. When the actual moment came, she kept thinking ‘oh, it will be much worse than this’, and then the baby was already there. No swearing involved. :-) So wishing you one of those births.
27 May 2011 at 8:22 pm
See, I want to be able to do that – sufficiently scare myself until it actually turns out heaps better than what I ever imagined. So I’m hanging on to this story! :)