Is that a nice controversial blog post title? Well, it got your attention, right? Right. Okay, so birth plans might not be entirely a waste of time. But I think first-time mums in particular should be warned that they very well might be.
You see, when I was pregnant with my first child, nobody told me that a birth plan wasn’t really a plan. It’s more like a sort of wish list. To me the word plan connotes something that I have control over. If I plan to go to work tomorrow, then there is a 99% chance that I’m going to go. There are some conceivable events that could stop me from going, but in all likelihood, it will be purely up to me as to whether I follow through on my plan.
But when it comes to birthing babies, we have very little control as to how things are going to pan out. That is the truth that nobody told little old me. My birth plan was written on my heart. It had the following points:
- I wanted to deliver at a midwife-led centre instead of in hospital
- I wanted a water birth with only gas & air for pain relief
- No induction
- No epidural
- No continuous monitoring
- I was going to have a beautiful, calm, natural birth
I was so certain that these were the things that were needed to help me cope with the delivery. I also thought they were the best and safest options for me and my baby. However, at 10 days overdue I was showing meconium-stained waters with no other signs of going into labour. So this is the birth I got:
- Birth in hospital instead of the midwife-led centre
- I didn’t even go anywhere near a water birthing pool
- I was induced
- I had an epidural
- I laid on my back the whole time, being continuously monitored
- I screamed and cried and swore and was absolutely terrified and NOT CALM the entire time
- I had an emergency c-section
It was the polar opposite of what I had wanted.
And I was absolutely heartbroken about it. I had spent so much time thinking about how it was all going to go down, and researching what the best things to do were. When I didn’t get to do any of those things, I saw myself as a failure. For me, failing to have the “natural” (read vaginal) birth I’d planned was like failing at something I thought I was born to do. I’d been gallivanting around telling my friends that my body was built to give birth. And it was. Just not the way I had intended.
I just wish that someone – anyone – had taken the pregnant me aside and told me just how unpredictable giving birth can be. And that at the end of the day, all that matters is that you deliver a healthy baby. So if you’re pregnant now or recently gave birth and are feeling disappointed by the experience, here are a few things that I think need to be said:
- Remember that there is a possibility that all plans, wishes and expectations will go completely out the window on the big day. Accept that and don’t dwell too much on a future you can’t predict.
- A lot of advice I was given from various sources made me think that I would need to “advocate” for myself during the birth. I would need to keep those doctors and midwives in line by making sure they knew my birthing desires at all times. But when it came down to it, I was too scared and in too much pain to argue about anything. I just did exactly what they told me to. And that was probably the right thing to do, but the earlier advice made me feel as though I’d failed myself by not pushing my agenda.
- There is no nobility in facing unbearable pain. If you want the drugs, take the drugs! There is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about if you use every single pain relief method available to you.
- It doesn’t matter how the baby comes out. You will give birth in the best way you can, be it vaginally, via a caesarean or with other assistance.
So in my humble opinion, the best birth plan is a plan to go with the flow. How can you plan something that is different every time it happens, even for the same person? But if you think it helpful to write down your wishes with regard to your birth – of course go ahead. Just be prepared that when you’re actually in labour, you may want to crumple it up and throw it at someone – probably your partner.
And if, like me, you are unhappy about how your birth went, then talk to someone about it. Many hospitals offer a postnatal debriefing or counselling service where they go through your delivery notes and explain why things happened the way they did. I took advantage of this service myself and it made me feel so much better about my birth. I stopped blaming myself for it not going the way I wanted.
Before I had the counselling, I was afraid to ever give birth again in case it was equally awful. But the counselling showed me that every birth is different. When I did eventually have a second baby, everything went exactly to plan. Because I didn’t have one!