If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. If you want to make a midwife laugh, tell her your birth plan. I’ve always mocked birth plans, even before having a baby myself and most certainly afterwards. “They’re ridiculous!” I railed. “Waste of paper!” I chortled. “You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment!” I insisted. So imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that I did, in fact, have plans for each of my babies without even knowing it. Which was fine, until one birth didn’t go according to my non-plan and all hell broke loose.
The realisation I was a hypocrite – and worse – began a few weeks ago when I heard an ABC radio report on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to a research team from Griffith University, 6% of Australian women go on to develop PTSD after giving birth and it’s often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as post-natal depression. The two groups of women with the highest risk of developing PTSD were those who thought their birth would be fantastic and those who thought it would be horrific.The birth itself doesn’t have to have been medically dangerous or even complicated, what matters is the mother’s experience – something often framed by her expectations.Ka-ching, I heard softly.
I’d always thought birth plans were about candles, Norah Jones CDs and breathing and were sprinkled liberally with words like ‘natural’ and ‘active’. I thought they were about trying to control the uncontrollable, predict the unpredictable, shunning ‘intervention’ and using alternative methods of pain relief. Which is why it never occurred to me that I had a plan because I wasn’t interested in any of that. My plan for each of my 3 births consisted of one word: epidural. Surely that’s not detailed enough to be a plan?
It turns out a birth plan can simply mean your expectation of something -written or otherwise. And expectations, even if they’re unspoken, can be a very bad thing to take into a birth.
While women drive the birth plan bus, men are big fans, generally. This is because it sounds a lot like a set of instructions and how handy would that be when you find yourself in a room with a bunch of people clustered around your naked partner who seems to want something from you but who has replaced her speech with animal noises.