Updated December 02, 2014.
When I first heard about the concept of a birth plan, it sounded simple and wonderful. You have so many moving parts on the day you give birth, doesn’t it makes sense to try to keep some of your thoughts together. This is particularly true when you’ve got to go through this with potentially many other families at the exact same time. After all, a waiter writes down your order; a florist does too; your wedding planner has tons of notes about what you want and has gone over contingency plans with you – why wouldn’t you do the same thing when it came to giving birth?
During my childbirth class one night when we were working on birth planning individually, I noticed one couple who normally was really into everything we did, was just sort of not into it. I offered assistance and this is what she said: “We don’t want to plan our birth because we’re afraid to be disappointed.”
I was completely shocked. It had never occurred to me to think about a birth plan in that manner. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made to me, until I started realizing that people put unrealistic expectations on a birth plan. That’s when I started talking about it as I talk about the above scenarios. I mean you wouldn’t just say: “Let’s not plan the wedding, we’ll just see how it goes or see what the wedding planner feels like that day.” Your birth also deserves that forethought, with these six things in mind:
- Know what you can’t control. There is a lot you can’t control about birth. This is a hard less of parenting in general and a good lesson to get under your belt. Things that fall into this category are wide and random, from, under most circumstances, when you labor or how long you labor, or if you labor to whether or not you give birth when you have the flu.
- Know what you can control. There are some things that you can control. You can control how prepared you are for labor. You can even sort of control how much rest you’ve had in general leading up to your big day. You can control what you bring to help you through your labor and birth. And don’t laugh, but you control the thermostat in the room. (Trust me this one is important!)
- Choose your provider. While things can happen, you can choose a provider who, along with their backup practitioners, have a philosophy of birth that matches yours. You might not have your baby when your favorite doctor or midwife is available, but you can certainly ensure that you have chosen a practice that meets your personal needs. Nothing can be as disappointing as expecting pop music at your wedding, only to find out that you hired a classical band. (Click here to find out how to hire the right doctor or midwife.)
- Choose your team. The people that you have as your support team will help cocoon you while you do the hard work of labor. You can control where you will you’re your baby, and whom you invite to be with you (your partner, family, friends, and doula). These invitations are important because they will help you as you labor. The comfort that you get from familiar faces will help you as you face the important decisions of labor.
- Have communication skills. You’ve prepared, you’ve assembled your team, you’re ready to do this labor! Now, how do you let your wishes be known. Certainly a birth plan helps, but there is also the conversations that have happened before, from your first prenatal meeting to your hospital tour, and even with every contraction. Sometimes labor takes longer and you need to make adjustments to your original plan, good communication before, during and after your birth will help this be a smooth transition.
- Have a positive attitude. Going in with a “fighting” attitude is not good for anyone, particularly you. If you are that worried that your preferences won’t be heard or respected, try to talk to your team early on. See what changes can be made, what compromises can be worked out – where can you meet on solid, comfortable ground for everyone involved. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and change is best – the earlier the better, labor is not the time nor place to be hashing it out. Going in knowing you’ve done the pre-work, and now it’s just a matter of living it – that’s a good feeling. Hopefully you feel energized at the thought of putting your ideas into action.
When things change, and they will, you’ll be free to make changes because you’re knowledgeable and well supported. You will know that your team knows what your preferences are and they ask for your guidance to keep the spirit of the plan, even when the letter of the plan isn’t the right one for your birth. This flexibility and comfort can help prevent disappointment with a salve of respect.