Don’t leave your birth plans to chance

Lately in the UK (or in the group of parents to be and parents that I know anyway), there has been a shift away from planning your birth experience. A lot of mums-to-be especially have said to me that there’s “No point planning for what you can’t control” or that “If I don’t make a plan, I can’t be disappointed”. I should mention a deeper interest here: I teach parents to be about birth for a living – but I’m also a parent and even before I had learnt more about care during labour, I still felt strongly that being engaged in the process would lead to a better outcome.

I would urge any expectant parents to plan for their birth as carefully as possible. After all, many parents spend a lot of time choosing items for their baby’s nursery or their pushchair. I would argue that birth plans are just as good a use of that time.

Whatever you choose to call this plan, it’s worth it

When I teach, I have to be realistic. Not every mother is the same, not every baby will behave as expected, not every birth will follow a particular path. We’re all individuals with different medical backgrounds, different hopes and different bodies. That’s fine. Wonderful even. Conformity is not the point.

I try very much to help parents reach a point where they understand that the birth experience they have, as long as they feel like they understand what happened and why certain choices were made, will absolutely be the right one for them. I would argue that engaging with your caregivers and the information they are giving you so that you can make decisions from a position of focus and knowledge is much more likely to help you feel happy with your birth.

It’s absolutely correct to not be overly attached to your original wishes. They can add an extra layer of stress and tension to what can already feel like a fairly pressurised situation. This shouldn’t stop us from trying for what we hoped for though so use the words that feel right. Birth plan, birth preferences, birth proposal – what really matters is that you’re expressing your wishes.

Making plans together is critical

One of the major benefits of couples taking antenatal classes together and then reflecting on the information afterwards, is that they do it together. This might sound obvious but it’s often not that straightforward. For a birth partner to defer to his partner’s wishes might sound like the ideal but actually, this birth partner might need to be able to explain these choices, to advocate for them and to protect the mum’s birth space. To do this well, it’s essential that both of the couple are as equally well informed and know how the other feels about the choices made.

Mum might want to make sure that not too many people are in the room; the birth partner might not want to cut the umbilical cord. To get a chance to know this about each other, they will need to talk about making a plan and potentially consider the options available. Again, this sounds obvious but it’s a weight off mum’s shoulders to know that the choices are understood then can be protected by someone else and hopefully the birth partner will feel empowered to take a more active role in the birth.

Your caregivers will know what you want

This sounds so simple when I say it but it’s true. If you don’t make a plan and let people know what you’d like to happen, how will they know?

Birth professionals like midwives and obstetrics doctors meet a lot of parents and deliver a lot of babies. Although it would be great if they remembered all of us individually, it’s not likely even if you were definitely going to see the same carers the whole way through. By not making your plans clear, you’re leaving a lot to chance. And why would you want to do that?

Step off the standard pathway

All medical institutions have what are known as standard pathways of care. They are planned out by the heads of the obstetrics and midwifery departments and they follow the principles of defensive medicine. Defensive medicine is exactly what you imagine it to be – assuming the worst case scenario and planning to mitigate that. While there is merit in this approach when something is actually going wrong, if you’re a mum who isn’t likely to need any medical interventions or assistance, the care you are offered can contradict your own plans.

If you don’t express your wishes, you’ll receive standard care and a much more negative approach. In fact, put the bits that matter most to you at the top of your plan, especially if they deviate from the norm.

Consider that you might need a back up plan

Having said all I have, as much as I believe in positivity and an open minded approach to care, I also believe in being informed.

Despite the fact that I was hoping for a home birth in a pool using hypnobirthing, my little girl was running late. She was also in a fairly unusual position for a baby who was looking like they wanted to make a break for it in the near future. By the time I was 9 days over, we were talking about c-sections – probably my very worst nightmare (although as Amy Poehler says “Good for her! Not for me!”) – and I was updating my birth plan to include my preference for a gentle c-section.

As much as I hoped for and visualised my ideal scenario, I found it easier to put aside my fear knowing that I’d covered all eventualities. It calmed me.

Our bodies are amazing and the power of our minds over them can have a profound effect. If you can take the time to plan, be true to your heart and set your worrying 4am mind at ease, you can write the kind of birth plan that any caregiver will be delighted to receive. After all, they’re in their job to support parents at this most incredible time. Make the most of your chance to have things your way – it literally is your moment of magic.

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This post was written for and first appeared on The Natural Parent Magazine.

Sue

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Photo credit: Tim Wright

Sue and I spent 7 years talking. I was allocated to her randomly, but as I’ve always believed, life has a way of bringing you the people you need.

We spoke by arrangement, every week at least, in a room that was cosy and dim in the winter, sticky and dim in the summer.

At first, I didn’t lie on the couch. I could only sit on the chair, avoiding eye contact as much as possible, trying to not let my foot jiggle, trying to to not flick my hair, touch my face constantly.

Together we unpicked the knots I held on to and found the dark spaces I hid in. Sometimes we said almost nothing. Other weeks conversation flowed freely. Over time she came to know my habits, remember the names of my sisters, notice the things I omitted. I noticed when she’d had her hair cut or was wearing a new pair of shoes but never said anything. It wasn’t really like that.

Patiently and lovingly, she sat with me, came to find me when I needed her to and pointed out the flaws in my thinking.

She had tears in her eyes the first time I visited the room after getting out of hospital. Things had been looking up. We’d thought the work was almost done. Instead, it just got more intense.

I told her when we began to try for a baby and I think we both knew it was the beginning of the end for our arrangement. She was wise enough to say it; I was too afraid to admit it. She laughed a kind of ironic laugh just three weeks later when I told her I was pregnant. Typically, it happened the first month we tried.

Our sessions finished by mutual agreement when I was 36 weeks pregnant and my feet were too swollen for me to travel anymore. I tried not to cry all the way home, wondering if I really could think for myself, in the way she had taught me, when there was no straightforward answer.

We had set just one goal for me, for once I became a mother. It’s simple to say, much harder to do. Most of all, I hoped to be able to hold on to reality. To be able to see and know what was true and what wasn’t.

Night time meditations

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This week, for the first time in 18 months, I’ve slept through the night. This, of course, means that my daughter has slept through the night.

When I was heavily pregnant, I couldn’t sleep through the night. Little kicks would come from within at 3am, sometimes nudging, sometimes pounding me awake. And then I would lie there wondering how my life was about to change in ways I couldn’t yet understand. Or just lie there wishing my hip didn’t hurt.

Now during the night I sit, in a kind of silent vigil, holding, soothing, willing my little human to sleep. I sit as my mind wanders, watching her face. The smooth, soft plumpness of her cheeks, the sweet crescent shape of her eyelashes, the fervent sucking of the dummy I wish I’d never given her.

Sleep has always been a challenge for me. I used to experience bouts of terrible insomnia, the kind where your body has to just give in to the weird ride, believing it must actually be travel induced jet lag. At night I wonder if I’ve passed my inability to sleep on to her and blame myself when I can be bothered to think about it.

In her first few days she slept like a dream – we told ourselves we were lucky and it would be ok. Then came the reflux; the grunting, retching, snuffling noises that made her sound like a tiny dinosaur. I would feed her in the night and hold her upright for half an hour at least to let the milk digest before I could lay her down. Then came the 4 month regression, the 8, the 12.

Surprisingly, I began to cherish those night time cuddles. Now she’s older, she’s too busy to stop for a hug. And they gave me time alone in the quiet dark. Sometimes I couldn’t sit still, I was so fed up of being constantly touched, constantly needed.

Others I would sit there a little longer than I needed to, perhaps for 10 minutes after her little fingers had released their grip on my hand and curled peacefully away, to savour the smell of her hair and the sound of her breath, knowing that all to soon, these moments will be gone.

Photo by Paul Volkmer on Unsplash