Blame it on youthful optimism, but when I was pregnant with my first child, I assumed that when her lease was up and it was time for her to get the heck out, my labor would go… routinely. After 24 hours of labor and several hours of pushing, that big head my daughter inherited from her daddy was stuck; they couldn’t find her heartbeat on the monitor so I ended up with an emergency C-section.
While I couldn’t have controlled most of what happened during delivery, it still would’ve been smart to use an hour out of the nine months I had to prep for my daughter’s arrival by writing a birth plan. For the uninitiated: A birth plan essentially lays out on paper your best case scenario, your wants and non-wants, your hopes for labor and delivery. Like, are you a let’s-get-there-early-so-I-can-get-all-the-drugs person, or are you hoping to avoid medical interventions altogether? Do you want to be surrounded by as many cheering family members as the hospital will allow, or does that sound horrifying and you want to keep things perfectly private? What procedures do you want to try to avoid? What can your nurses do to make you as comfortable as possible?
I know, I know. It seems kinda… extra and maybe a little pointless. Whether it’s eating, sleeping, crying or pooping, babies are known for doing what they want when they want — and that starts with their grand entrance. But even though what happens in childbirth is not fully in our control, birth plans are not worthless.
Here’s why I think every mama-to-be should write a birth plan — even if your baby refuses to read it.
1) It helped me align my hopes with hospital policies.
I don’t remember asking my OB a single question when I was pregnant with my first. Who knows why, I was young, and maybe I wanted to pretend I already knew things. In any case, all my office visit chill dissolved into a gross display of emotion when I went into labor and my doctor wasn’t even on call. The doctor who showed up to extract my spawn didn’t know me from the next angry, panting woman in the L&D ward. Had I been more in-the-know, I’d have understood that there was only a small chance my doctor would be the one delivering my daughter, since the practice has a rotating schedule. Likewise, the birthing tub I’d seen in the brochure and gotten my mind set on was only available in a small number of deluxe birthing suites at my hospital — something my doctor would have pointed out had I shown her a birth plan that included use of a tub.
SO, during both my second and third pregnancies, I wrote out a birth plan and brought it to an appointment towards the end. My doctor reviewed it with me and helped me set reasonable expectations based on hospital guidelines. I even ended up bringing a paper copy of my birth plan to L&D and going over it with my labor team during triage.
2) It handed over some of the responsibility — and voice — to my husband.
Up until I was in active labor, my husband’s responsibilities in the baby-making process were extremely limited. He had to a) knock me up (he did a killer job with that all three times), b) rub my feet, and, c) buy me ice cream. Straightforward.
But us creating a birth plan helped empower him. Then he could do his homework so that come The Big Day, he’d know exactly without a doubt what I wanted, and could advocate for me when I wasn’t capable of doing it for myself. For example, during my C-section, I wanted to know what was going on, so if the narrative trailed off, my husband knew to ask. I also didn’t want any visitors, so he let the charge nurse know not to give out our information to those who called. And, during labor, he could save me from having to answer 600 dumb questions (What’s your blood type? Are you having a boy or girl?) as I gritted, moaned, scratching, clawed, and howled through contractions.
3) It helped me to prioritize and identify my non-negotiables.
It turns out nothing about emergency surgery is cute, as I learned with my first baby. Sure, all births are rife with fluid and blood and sometimes poop, but, still, there were things I went through that I knew I really, really, really did not pine to repeat with the next tiny human — if at all possible. In the process of writing up my birth plan, I realized I had only three non-negotiables: 1) I needed to be sure I could jam out to Queen, 2) I wanted my son within eyeshot of one of his parents at all times, and 3) I thought my medical team should know that if they tried to tie my arms down during my C-section I was going to freak out and chew my way through the straps.
Outside that short list, I realized I was willing to go with whatever recommendations the highly trained medical professionals recommended.
4) It forced me to mentally prepare for the potential outcomes.
Yes, I took a childbirth class, but I honestly feel like making my birth plan was the thing that helped me deal with my anxiety about getting my babies from their cozy waterbed into this wide, wild world. That’s because in order to write out my birth plan, I had to methodically think through what could happen to my body and my baby during what could be one of our most stressful days together. That included the good, the bad, the ugly, the adorable, and the unthinkable. Somehow, thinking through some of the distinct possibilities, writing out what we hoped would happen, and recognizing that there was probably no chance it would go 100% in our favor took the pressure off and helped me realize everyone would be doing their part to the best of their abilities given whatever circumstances transpired.
For me, simply getting to welcome my boys with Freddie Mercury crooning in my ear was worth the time it took me to write out my birth plan. And it brought me a dose if inner zen I don’t think I would have found elsewhere. A birth plan isn’t a crystal ball or voodoo magic. It won’t majorly change your labor or its ultimate trajectory, but it is an awesome tool to help you communicate with your partner, your doctor, and, maybe most of all, yourself.