“Don’t laminate your birth plan!” Thats what we told our new antenatal class last night! A birth plan can be a really useful document, to help you think about your birth in a practical and constructive way, but you should be careful not to treat it like a room service order. If you have asked for the pancakes with berries and syrup and you end up with a bowl of Wheetabix you might feel a bit miffed, and likewise if you feel like you have ordered up the birth of your dreams and things do not go “according to plan” you may find yourself feeling very disappointed.
A week after my first son was born, a friend showed me her Birth Plan. She had written it in different coloured pens and had annotated the document with sparkles and stars and rainbows. She told me that the bit she was most excited about was the part where her husband was going to hang up all the fairy lights and start their carefully-curated play list. She would not be having an epidural or any other form of pain relief, except maybe Entonox (Gas and Air). She had 3 different essential oils that her husband would be massaging into different parts of her body at different moments during her labour. All the lights would be off, she explained, and she would be the first one to touch the baby, followed by her husband who would announce the sex of the baby and then place the baby on her chest for skin to skin.
As I read through her birth plan my first thought was “Fairy Lights? What the F*CK?!” I tried to imagine at what point in my labour my husband would have been standing on a stool hanging fairy lights around the room! I also recalled that I had my eyes closed for the majority of my labour, so I wouldn’t even have noticed a flood light let alone a fairy light! I remembered my amazing midwife suggesting my husband massage me with some oil she had, and I remember yelling “Don’t you f*cking touch me!!!” I remember my husband trying to pass me my carefully selected bikini top which I planned to wear if I had a Water Birth and me telling him to “f*ck off “ and to “pull my knickers off”.
So my friend asked me what I thought of her beautiful, multi-coloured, and well-thought-out document, that she was going to get her husband to laminate at work. I got a sick feeling in my stomach. That feeling you get when you think you might be about to let someone down. What should I say to her?
“You might be disappointed”?
“Stick it in the recycling bin”?
“Ah that’s really lovely”?
I think I went with the latter because I didn’t have the heart to say anything which might crush her dreams- and also, she could always be one of the lucky ones that gets that text book birth and the fairy lights might just be the icing on the cake for her!
The fairy lights did not make it out of the bag. Nor did the essential oils or the play list. The surgeon who performed her emergency Caesarean Section was the first person to touch her baby, and she was the third. Her husband announced to her that they had a son and she got the precious skin-to-skin time with her baby boy.
She was over the moon about her new baby son, as she had secretly wanted a boy all along! She was in awe of the whole experience and her ability to stay calm when things did not go to plan but she was sad that she did not get the Birth Plan she had laminated. She was upset about not being the first to touch her baby, she was peeved about the lights, the oils and the play list and disappointed by incision in her tummy and the spinal anaesthetic. She felt like she had failed. What a sad thing to be feeling at such a happy time.
So what is the lesson for us? Don’t bother with a Birth Plan? Don’t bother to have positive aspirations about your birth? No! We aren’t saying that. We just think that you need to have realistic expectations.
A Birth Plan can be a useful tool for helping you think about the things that may be important to you. It may help you identify things that worry you, like if you have never had a drip or an operation. Things that you feel passionate about, like skin-to-skin or cutting the cord. It can be a great way of communicating these thoughts to your partner and opening up a discussion on different scenarios and how you might cope with them. There is no harm in vocalising your ideal birth plan but please try and keep an open mind and do not fixate too heavily on aspects of the birth that you are hoping for or feel you might be “against”.
It is not possible for anyone to predict what kind of birth you will have. That is up to Mother Nature, luck and genetics. There are so many things we cannot control, like the size and position of our babies, the strength of our contractions and how our bodies deal with labour. Every birth is different and circumstances can sometimes change quickly so be prepared that things may not go exactly as you envisaged.
As for my friend, she was disappointed that she didn’t get to use the fairy lights, but they hang in her son’s nursery now! The essential oils were fab for the postnatal period, she still uses drops of them in her baths! She plays the play list when she is in the bath and it makes her smile and feel relaxed. She didn’t get to hold her son first but she holds him most of the time now and she knows that is what’s important.
For more brilliant information that you didn’t even know you needed to know, do check out our Online Antenatal Classes.