What’s the point in writing a birth plan?

There is lots of talk in pregnancy around writing a birth plan and it stirs up lots of debate. 

On the one hand, some people feel it is most important to just “go with the flow” and be as flexible as possible and therefore feel that creating a birth plan is incongruent with that philosophy.

On the other hand, some people believe that the very action of writing a plan fixates a particular birth in that person’s head and if it deviates at all from their “plan” then it can set them up for a feeling of failure or even trauma from that.

In fact, even if the birth maps perfectly on to the plan that is no guarantee that the person will experience the birth they want.

Both of these views are completely valid to me. And yet I have a different opinion to offer.

Plan or preference?

For me, the debate starts around the use of the word “plan” as I feel that this in itself is something that is impossible to apply to the process of labour and birth simply because it is a complex process that can have many different versions of normal, let alone before it strays into paths requiring intervention.

So from the start let’s rephrase it to “birth preferences” as to me this immediately represents a different thing to a plan – less rigid, more fluid and more about what I would LIKE to happen rather than I feel what MUST happen.

Just let that roll around on your tongue for a while and notice the differences in the way this phrase makes you feel.

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Have you thought about…?

The next part of the debate for me is not to question whether we SHOULD be creating birth preferences, but rather asking – what are we hoping to achieve by creating them?

When we start to look at this question we begin to understand why such great stock is placed in creating birth preferences.

When we start to explore our birth preferences we are forced to think forward and put ourself in the position of being in labour, and what we may or may not want to happen.

There is a huge amount to consider:

  • what the environment of the room is like
  • who is in the room with us and what their roles are
  • what is open to us in terms of helping us cope with the sensations of labour (eg pain relief choices)
  • what might happen if things don’t go according to plan and assistance or intervention is chosen or required
  • what things are offered to us
  • what way are you treated in labour
  • what happens to your baby as soon as it is born, 5 minutes later, 1 hour later, etc.

What is clear to me is that there is a lot of consider.

Clear ideas

We may well feel that we have very strong ideas and opinions about what should or should not happen to us or our baby during labour and birth.

For example, we may not want to even be offered pain relief so we are not even tempted yo use it, or we may want to utilise all pain relief choices at the earliest opportunity. 

Or it could be that you don’t really have a strong opinion at all and in fact, you don’t really fully grasps what choices you have and what those choices mean.

This makes me circle back to the question of what are we hoping to achieve with creating birth preferences?

Research and learning

For me, the action of investigating what we might include in our birth preferences is the point.

The fact of asking yourself, ‘what is my opinion on this?’ and taking the time to do research around subjects that you don’t know much about, in discussing them with your partner and finding out what their views are, of seeing how it sits with you and whether you feel this is something you are on board with or really reject, or feel ambivalent about.

THAT is the purpose.

And yes, as a result, maybe you will come out with a really fantastic set of birth preferences. 

But what is way more important is the PROCESS OF LEARNING AND EDUCATION AND DISCUSSION that comes through their creation.

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Informed choice

Ultimately, even if your birth follows your preferences to the letter, birth will undoubtedly be completely different to how you imagined it. 

And if you end up unexpectedly choosing pain relief or having interventions, then knowing what they were, and making a choice to have them (or perhaps even having them imposed upon you) but nevertheless making that choice or decision based on a position of KNOWLEDGE makes a huge difference to feeling that you are IN CONTOL in your birth and that you are an ACTIVE PARTICIPANT in what is going on, rather than it happening to you and someone else making all the decisions.

It’s the journey, not the destination

So you see creating birth preferences is about the journey you are going on in their creation. 

It is the things you are considering and debating and having an opinion about.

It is about exploring works and phrases and procedures that you don’t fully understand and making damn sure you understand what the choice is.

It is about being on the same page as your birth partner – or at least understanding their views about it.

It is not really anything about the document that comes out of it (although I do think it is a valuable thing to write and all the midwives I know are very respectful of written birth preferences).

Birth preferences are a tool to make yourself as informed as you can possibly be.

Knowledge is power

And when you are informed, you feel empowered.

And when you feel empowered, you feel in control.

And when you feel in control you feel calm and relaxed and at ease.

And sure we all want to feel that in our labour and birth?

Birth Preferences: a useful tool for labour with template

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Eleanor Hayes

Antenatal educator, yoga instructor, coach and author

I founded Birthzang after having an incredible birth experience that enlightened me that with the right tools and skills at her fingertips, any woman can have a positive birth experience.

I discovered my passion for providing parents with practical and non-fluffy information in my online antenatal workshops and classes about how to cope with pregnancy, labour, birth, and parenthood.

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