The term ‘birth plan’ is a little misleading to say the least. It tricks you into thinking that you’re actually the one in control, and can ‘plan’ your labour as meticulously as you would ‘plan’ your wedding day. You only have to watch an episode of One born every minute to realise that most of the time, this isn’t the case. The truth is, when it comes to giving birth, you really have very little control – your maternal body has ideas of her own and you’re just there for the show – no matter what you wrote in your birth plan.
As you approach your due date your health professionals will start to tell you that you have choices. Choices about where to have your baby (homebirth or hospital), pain relief (TENS machines, gas and air, pethidine, epidurals), preferred positions for labour (ironically they look similar to the positions that got you pregnant in the first place…) how you plan to feed your baby, whether you’d be happy for intervention to speed things up if necessary – the list goes on. These are all points that you need to consider for your birth plan, but it’s best to view them as a loose set of preference rather than as a rigid ‘plan’.
Throughout my pregnancy, I came to accept that everybody with child likes to give you advice – some of it useful, some of it obvious and some of it just plain annoying. For the most part I took it with a pinch of salt, but the best advice I was given was to not get too hung up on a birth plan. I’m usually a big fan of planning so it felt a little alien to me not to turn to Google for the lowdown on every birthing experience ever documented, but equally I wasn’t too keen on the idea of being disappointed in the delivery suite if the ‘plan’ decided to desert me in my hour(s) of need. With all of the other anxieties I was feeling about going into labour, the last thing I wanted to feel (apart from the pain of a baby pushing through my cervix) was frustration that it was ‘not going as I planned it!’. So I decided I was happy to go with the flow, with my only stipulation being that if I was in pain, then please – give me whatever I ask for.
And as it turned out, a birth plan would’ve been a complete waste of time for me. I arrived at the hospital at 10pm with not-so-frequent but strong contractions. The midwife examined me and told me that I was 4cm dilated before explaining that as this was my first she would expect me to dilate another cm with every hour – so I anticipated that I’d be giving birth around 6am. The midwife left saying that she would examine me every couple of hours. Fast forward a couple of hours and I’m thinking that perhaps I would quite like that epidural we spoke about . In fact I really want it – right now. A few dramatic moans later and in comes the midwife to examine me – I’m now 10cm dilated and there’s no way I’m having an epidural – my baby is about to be born.
I realise that I was one of the lucky ones. On the flip side I have less fortunate friends who were adamant they didn’t want pain relief (“it says it in my birth plan”) only to endure hours of labour before finally deciding that they’d had enough and needed a little help. Other labours aren’t so straightforward and may require medical intervention.
In the end, the best approach you can have is to keep an open mind and have faith that your body will do what it needs to – after all, it’s been building up to this moment for years. If unexpected situations do arise, be confident in the knowledge that your midwife will be acting in the best interests for you and your baby. Either way, ditch the plan.