About a month ago, as I was flipping through a file I’ve kept of pregnancy/birth-related information, I found the birth plan I wrote for Lily. A few things on it surprised me. There were the things my doctor had crossed out, refusing to agree to despite the hours I had spent researching, reading, and thinking about what went into that birth plan. Then in the middle was one little line that brought back a flood of memories: “Immediate skin-to-skin contact and nursing after birth.”
My memories of Lily’s birth are that the nurses were great. One remained in the room with us at all times, but out of the way, quietly observing while I laboured (after they’d asked their long list of questions). They were the ones who caught Lily, because the doctor who was on call (not the doctor who’d disagreed with my birth plan, thankfully) didn’t make it to the hospital until after she was born. But one of my clearest memories is the two nurses scrubbing my purple, screaming baby with rough white towels while I begged them, “Let me hold her! Let me hold her!”
In Birthing From Within, Pamela England says, “The idea of planning a birth is naive; labor and birth are not events conducive to being planned.” As I compare my first two labours and look forward to the next, I see the truth in her words. I like being in control; I like planning and knowing what to expect. In Lily’s case, because of the shortage of doctors and the hospital policies in our small town, I felt completely out of control. I was stressed out and scared that my desires for a natural birth would not be respected.
Pam explains that “the need to write a birth plan invariably comes from:
- anxiety and/or mistrust of the people who will be attending you
- A natural fear of the unknown. …
- Lack of confidence in self and/or birth-partner’s ability to express and assert what is needed in the moment.”
Check, check, check for the reasons I wrote Lily’s birth plan. I didn’t write a birth plan for Sunshine or for this baby; I simply talked with my midwives about the options available to me in birth and felt confident they knew what I wanted and I knew how they could help me. With this pregnancy, I’ve continued to read and research birth because I still like to be prepared, but this time I know I can trust my midwives and my body to do what needs to be done when this baby decides to come.
Pam adds, “There are no unique birth plans. While your birth plan is unique to you, it won’t seem that way to your hospital or doctor. All women ask for the same thing: respect, dignity, support to birth naturally with minimal routine intervention and no unnecessary separation from baby.” A friend of mine showed me her birth plan, having also recently discovered it (her daughter now babysits mine), and I smiled as I saw the similarities between what we wanted. Her plan was much more detailed than mine, but we both basically asked for the same thing.
Should you write a birth plan? I think that depends on your personality and situation. Pam’s words resonated with me, but at the time of Lily’s birth, I had no other options—I couldn’t switch care providers because there weren’t any other doctors or midwives available. My birth plan was my only way to try to work with my doctor for the birth I wanted. It also allowed me to visualize what I wanted and didn’t want in birth.
Pam talks about using birth art and imagination to prepare yourself for the work of labour; I tend to write, rather than draw, so as I explored my concerns and thoughts about birth, it came out in words, whether that was a birth plan or a blog post or a journal entry. If that is helpful to you, or helps you to discuss your birth ideas with your care providers, by all means, do it. If creating your birth plan makes you more fearful about birth, then I recommend some of Pam’s other suggestions for thinking more positively about birth and exploring those fears before labour begins.
Did you write a birth plan? If so, what did you think of the experience? If not, why not?