A pregnant woman approaches you with a gleam in her eye and announces that she has a BIRTH PLAN. Groan.
Is this your thinking?
Some things in life can’t be planned in detail – birth is one of them. It’s such an unpredictable event; aren’t moms setting themselves up for disappointment and putting unnecessary pressure on themselves to ‘stick to the plan’? Birth plans are most common for first-time moms who have no idea what to expect with birth, so they can be a bit unrealistic. Most have non-standardised requests and these are impractical in terms of labour unit protocols. Overall, birth plans are often seen as a nuisance – for the hospital, that is!
What about a woman’s point of view?
All of the ‘reasons’ above neglect the fact that it is the woman’s baby, body, and birth. Most first-time moms are terrified of the medical model of birth. Birth plans offer them a sense of peace because they encourage women to thoroughly research birth, consider all of their options, and list what is important to them. If treated as a list of wishes instead of demands, having compiled a birth plan will comfort most women even if things don’t go according to plan, making a midwife’s task easier. It serves as proof that she did all she could to have the best birth.
Another way to ease anxiety is by feeling a sense of control, despite surrendering to the experience, and thus not being in control, being the best for good, relaxed birth progress. A birth plan can help couples achieve this as it helps them to focus on and visualise achieving their goals, and so gets parenting off to an empowered start. What a profoundly positive effect a sense of empowerment has on birth, childrearing, and family relationships!
Birth plans allow women to be involved in their birth. Women are realising that they have the right to a very different birth experience from the one so often on offer. Surely an involved mom is an asset in the delivery room? How much more special will the birth be – for everyone involved – when the parents are passionate and enthusiastic!
Hospital economics and politics
Ultimately, the hospital is a business and has the right to set restrictions and define its services. And the financial considerations – it certainly costs the hospital more for women to have leisurely, midwife-intensive labour… But that doesn’t mean that women’s rights can be ignored! It is not okay for them to be manipulated or scared into following the hospital’s orders, or to be placated, only have their wishes ignored. After all, ethical care is part of what hospitals promise.
The next time you get approached by an eager woman with a birth plan, don’t resent her. Instead, see it as an expression of an anxious mother’s hopeful heart, and focus on empowering her and giving her and her baby the best birth possible. That sounds like a plan!