Nearly every childbirth educator and doula will mention and/or recommend a birth plan. There are so many amazing reasons for this, the primary being that creating a birth plan helps you to determine what kind of birth you aim to have, as well as what your preferences are.
There is, however, a growing movement against birth plans, a movement that I — a mother, doula and childbirth educator — find myself to be a part of. This movement stems from the idea that birth plans have turned into more of a defensive document stating the things a mama doesn’t want to happen in her birth, like pain meds, or coldly stating what she does want to happen, like immediate skin-to-skin contact with her baby. Rather than assist her in feeling empowered, the birth plan can further put her at the will of her care provider, positioning the care provider in such a way that some may feel as though they have the final say of what happens during a mother’s childbirth experience.
I created some fierce straight-to-the-point birth plans when I was pregnant with my two babies. “We decline this shot, thank you,” and “Don’t even mention episiotomy to me, thank you,” were some of the main bullet points on each one. I put a lot of time and effort into them, making sure I didn’t sound pushy. Handing the plans over was always intimidating because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be judged or laughed at for thinking I could actually dictate how my birth went. My body tenses up just think about it.
That being said, I was fully aware that writing birth plans didn’t guarantee that any of my specifications would be adhered to. I knew that the main point was to give my birth team a decent example of what kind of birth experience I wanted. Its purpose was also to make sure that if any questions were asked, the answer was already written down on a paper that anyone could read while I labored in peace. There’s nothing worse than making a laboring women talk when she’s in a primal state of birthing a new life…seriously, be quiet.
What I found after each birth, though, was that not once did I ever look at my birth plan, nor did anyone else look at it.
My team and I were all on the same page because we talked about my preferences, and if anyone had a question my husband or doula or mom or mother-in-law or sister answered it (yes, they were all in the room with me). My OB knew my wishes and kept trying to go against them anyway, but I stood my ground. That was cool of me to be able to do, but I was kind of annoyed by it because I shouldn’t have had to stand my ground. He had the plan, why wasn’t he following it?
So, was all of the time spent creating a birth plan worth it? Hell no.
What I wish I had done was set birth intentions and focus on what my ideal birth looked like as opposed to focusing on things that scared me or were completely unpredictable.
This doesn’t mean a pregnant mother shouldn’t concern herself with all of her options. I firmly believe that every single pregnant woman NEEDS to take a childbirth education class of some kind, and read a few key birth books. She needs to make sure she asks lots of questions in class, checks out reputable websites for even more in depth info, asks her care provider questions and trusts her gut — that mama intuition is no joke.
Essentially, you need to own your birth by preparing for it the way you would prepare for, say, your wedding day. Research, weigh your options, familiarize yourself with what could happen if you choose one option over another and talk it out with your partner and doula. With all of the time you saved by not actually writing out and printing copies of your birth plan, you can now dedicate your energy to setting your birth intentions.
Setting intentions is a lot like praying.
You state both out loud and in writing what decisions you’ve made regarding the situation at hand, and you leave it up to the Universe, God, the law of attraction etc. to guide those intentions into becoming your reality. The point of “planning” your birth in this way is that it helps you to stay positive and focus on all of the wonderful things that could happen instead of keeping you in a defensive place, fearful that no one will listen to you and that the things you are most scared of will happen anyway.
For example, instead of writing:
I prefer that an episiotomy is not performed.
My body will fully open to give birth to my baby.
Read the first one again. How does it make you feel? Are you visualizing an episiotomy and feeling (understandably) terrified?
Now read the second one. How do you feel? Are you visualizing your vagina slowly opening as your baby’s head is crowning? Are you imagining what it will be like when the rest of your baby’s body is born and you get to hold him or her on your chest?
Which do you prefer? Does one make you feel more empowered? Which makes you feel more optimistic about your birth experience? Both came from a place of knowledge (you know that your vagina needs to open wide enough for your baby to be born, and you know that you’d rather not need assistance in the form of an episiotomy), but only one keeps you in that positive state of mind, and trust me, childbirth is a lot more manageable when you’re in a positive state of mind.
To get started with setting your birth intentions, make sure you take a childbirth class and read the books you wanted to read.
Once you’ve figured out where you stand on interventions and have talked about all of your options with your partner and birth team, buy yourself a beautiful journal, grab your favorite pen, gather things that make you feel happy, light some candles and get to work putting into your words what your ideal birth looks like. Visualize it and verbalize it. Write down your favorite birth affirmations.
Set intentions regularly and add onto your written thoughts as often as you’d like. When the time comes, bring your journal to your birth place, as well as those items that make you feel happy. Making a vision board could also be of great assistance to you if you’re a visual person. The presence of your journal, beloved possessions and optional vision board will get you into that positive space once more and serve as some powerful birthing motivation.
Even though you haven’t printed out a birth plan, you won’t forget where you stand on your options. When it comes to your baby, your team will know your desires regarding what happens immediately after birth because you will have discussed it with them. In this situation, however, writing out your preferences for baby’s care is perfectly acceptable and won’t put you in a negative thinking space. Remember that things happen the way they are supposed to, and no matter what path your birth takes you will rock it in its entirety. Why? because you’re a damn strong woman.
As always when it comes to motherhood, do what’s best for you and your family.
If a birth plan makes you feel more secure, by all means write one! But do yourself a favor and keeps things positive. Your uterus will thank you later, and all of that positive thinking and mindfulness-practicing will greatly benefit you throughout all of motherhood.