Whatever you want to call them, birth plans/ preferences/ wishes, they matter and if you tell a woman that they don’t or that they are a waste of time then you’re just being an asshole. Plain and simple, a complete asshole, I know that’s a strong statement coming from me, I’m usually very gentle but that’s how I feel. It doesn’t matter who you are to this woman if you are a friend, family member, midwife, consultant or random person at a supermarket checkout. By telling a woman that her birth plan is pointless then you are telling a woman that her voice, her opinions and wishes for her birth experience don’t matter, and that is just NOT OK.
The whole reason ‘official’ birth plans where introduced in the 1980s was to create the opportunity for a line of communication to be opened up between a mother and her care providers. When a woman creates a birth plan it means that she has taken the time to think about how she wants to feel during the most important event in her life and if you are part of that experience then think of it as an honour, not a right, and that includes her sharing her birth plan with you. The act of creating the birth plan is an empowering and important exercise in itself, it can be an extension of birth education almost. Never underestimate how much thought, discussion, research and time a woman may have put into her birth plan. How many drafts, how much love and feeling. This birth plan could have been born from trauma, it may be her call to her support team “I’m afraid, please help me to feel safe”. A love letter to her baby and to her birth partner, “I wish for me and my partner to guide our baby into my arms together”. They are so much more than just a list of pain relief preferences and demands on a piece of A4 paper. “I wish for quiet immediately after delivery so that our voices are the first our baby hears” These aren’t difficult wishes to honour though one of the mothers I supported was worried that she would be deemed a ‘birthzilla’, to which I responded good! Ask for what you need and want, this is the first and only time you will get to birth this baby. You are the most important person in that room, you are the queen and the goddess of the room, not a birthzilla, own it and ask for what you need! If it isn’t possible or if it requires discussion then cool, that’s part of what the birth plan is useful for.
Of course we can only control so much during birth, there will always be variables and situations that will not align with a mothers ideal wishes, always prepare for a plot twist as one mother said! but a birth plan isn’t about uncompromising control or being a ‘birthzilla’ as some people seem to feel. Its about a mother communicating to her support team, her wishes and feelings and asking for support in making informed and empowered choices around the most momentous and emotionally charged event of her life. Some women need help and support some of the time, some plans are adjusted and some aspects of a birth plan must be altered, that’s normal but if the birthing woman has created a birth plan then she has already started an important conversation with her support team and that will inevitably have a more positive impact on her experience. ‘Changes of plan’ do not render a birth plan pointless. There are always a plan B and C, there are always choices and discussions to be had. You always have a voice and you always have the right to have it heard.
I was in a cafe sat opposite a beautiful pregnant woman and her friend. They where discussing her soon to be birth and the woman asked her friend about her birth plan, “Did you type yours or use the visual birth plan?” The friend raised her eyebrows and laughed. “Why would you bother with a birth plan? They are totally pointless. They do what they want to you anyway.” I felt like jumping up from my seat right then, I felt my whole body clench up. I didn’t do or say anything as much as I wanted to, it just didn’t feel right to get involved. The pregnant woman didn’t say much in reply to her friend, just “oh ok fair enough.” I didn’t catch much more. On my way out though I put a positive birth flyer on her handbag while she was at the till. I know the friends response was likely to have been born of her own birth trauma, she was likely carrying around some pain and some story… but still, this is a chain we just have to break, we absolutely must stop telling women that taking control of any aspect of their birth experience is pointless! We must lift each other up, support each other, embrace and empower each other, be that kind of woman and that kind of friend. My answer would have been the visual birth plan from Pinter and Martin by the way, it’s a free download from the website. In my experience midwives find them easier to read and they are fun and informative to create.
If a mother ever shares any aspect of her birth plan with you or asks for your input then see it as an honour. Simply listen and appreciate that you are being given an insight into a very special and important place in her heart and mind. Remember that birth plans matter, don’t be an asshole!