I looked at the sample birth plan my midwife had handed to us with a furrowed brow.
It was six pages long and had questions I hadn’t even known I needed to consider on it. Things like what position(s) I’d like to be in during active labour, or whether I planned to wear my own clothing during labour and delivery.
All I could think was, how the hell am I supposed to know that?
My husband and I had taken a weekend-long birthing class. We’d gone on the hospital tour.
We were tired and, frankly, overwhelmed by all of the decisions it seemed we needed to make for what we thought was a pretty simple and natural process that people have been doing since humans arrived on this planet: giving birth.
And the even weirder thing was that everyone seemed to be asking me what was on our birth plan. I didn’t know this was a thing people talked about outside their care provider’s office. I didn’t expect to be having coffee with my friend and have her look at me and say, “So, have you written your birth plan yet? What’s it like?”
I imagined those parents who walk into the hospital or birthing center or even their living room with a list of wants and demands as long as their arm. That may work for some people, but that’s not me.
At the same time, I knew it was important for us to be our own advocates, particularly in a hospital setting where doctors could easily take over and not listen to what we wanted.
I had no idea how to find a happy medium.
At the end of the day, we thought we were prepared — but the truth is, there’s no real way to fully prepare, because each labor and delivery is different.
We worked on our birth plan over the course of a weekend, deciding what was most important to us and only including those things.
We wanted to be sure to let the hospital know that this plan was in the case of a complication-free delivery; if life-saving interventions needed to be implemented, we understood.
At the end of it, we had a plan that was about three-quarters of a page long and included items like:
- Ask me three times if I’m sure about getting an epidural before giving one.
- Please avoid controlled substances for pain relief because I am in recovery from drug addiction.
- Wait to cut the umbilical cord until it stops pulsing.
- I want to do an hour of skin-to-skin immediately after birth.
- We plan to breastfeed — so no formula, please.
Even with what we thought was a low-key plan, you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
I got to the hospital at five centimeters dilated and wanted an epidural, screw asking me three times, just please for the love of god give me some pain relief.
The anesthesiologist spent an hour trying to talk me into having Fentanyl in my epidural, despite my request for no opiates, requiring both the nurse and my husband to fight for me to get what I needed while I puked from pain and didn’t actually get the relief I needed until I was almost at nine centimeters.
And it turned out I had preeclampsia. My fever spiked to 104.6 right after delivery, so my precious baby was placed on my chest for about four minutes and then handed over to my husband while doctors worked to make sure I didn’t have a stroke.
At the end of the day, we thought we were prepared — but the truth is, there’s no real way to fully prepare, because each labour and delivery is different.
There’s no way to know what’s going to happen until you’re actually in it and, by then, it doesn’t seem to matter so much.
Monique Bowley, Mia Freedman and Kate de Brito discuss the choice to have a 'natural' birth. Post continues below.
Of course, that being said, as we prepare for baby number two, we’re taking some of the things we learned from our last experience and using them this time. Our birth plan will likely look similar to the first time, but now we know to have an anesthesiology consult beforehand so the entire staff knows what my pain management plan for an epidural is.
Aside from that, as second-time parents, we’re much less worried about what it will be like — because now we know that with something as unpredictable as birth, there’s no real way to know until it happens.
The other thing I learned? My birth plan is no one else’s business.
While people asking about our plan likely have good intentions, the conversation opens you up to so much judgment about how you’re planning to give birth.
Oh, you’re not having a “natural” birth? You’re going to a hospital instead of a birthing center? I see.
Birth plans are personal, between parents and their care provider. We all make choices for our families that we feel are best, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.
As parents, we’re judged enough as it is: Breast versus bottle. Co-sleeping versus sleep training. Whether or not we feed our child(ren) organic food, how much screen time they get. And on and on and on.
The last thing we need is one more thing to feel inadequate about, one more thing to feel like we’re doing “wrong” when it comes to having a baby.
Pushing a baby out of your vagina (or having it removed through an incision in your belly) is hard enough as it is, without judgment or commentary about how you decide to do it.
At the end of the day, the results are the same: There’s a baby.
So this time, when someone asks what my birth plan looks like, I’m just going to respond with, “It looks like having a baby — thanks for asking!”