Birth Plans - Help or Hindrance?

Birth Plans - Help or Hindrance?

Recently I have been obsessed with the podcast Australian Birth Stories by Sophie Walker. Each episode goes through a different woman’s birth story. I think it is a truly great podcast and a wonderful tool, especially for women about to give birth. I recorded an episode for Sophie which will air soon.

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I find myself listening to these podcasts on my way to and from work every day. That might seem weird to others. You’re probably wondering ‘isn’t that hard to listen to other woman’s birth stories after losing your baby?’ And you know what, yes it can be. Sometimes it hurts to hear people’s stories but strangely it isn’t always the good stories that are hard to listen to, it is the ones where people over dramatize something that just isn’t a big deal. I get worked up; when I hear people talking about the ‘issues’ they had in their births, when small things are made big and something as simple as having pain relief is a ‘failure’.

I hear so many women get to the part in their birth story where drugs are used, or some other intervention is required such as a caesarean. Often the woman telling her story begins to explain away anything that isn’t seen as ‘natural’. Their voice gets a little lower and they sound ashamed. This isn’t the first time I have heard these views expressed, that an ‘ideal’ birth should be natural. But more often than not, it doesn’t seem to be what that person actually thinks. If someone else had said to them that they had drugs or a C-section, they wouldn’t criticise them or put them down, but they seem to feel that interventions for themselves aren’t ok. They feel like they have failed. Where does this idea come from?

When I was preparing to give birth to Mackenzie I did birth classes. It was a wonderfully run birth class filled with beautiful couples. In these classes we were asked what our birth plans were and about our thoughts on using drugs for pain relief. Every single woman in my class said they wanted a natural birth with no drugs. This isn’t the unusual part as, to me, this is a normal and legitimate response to the question - for ‘most’ women, it seems like this is the ultimate birth. However, when discussions went further than this, a natural birth wasn’t just ‘a nice to have’ it was a concrete goal. Whether or not drugs were used is one of the measuring sticks for success as in, the more drugs you had the more you failed. And a C-section? Well, by golly, the feeling seems to be that, if you had a C-section, you may as well hand that female card back in because you ain’t a ‘real’ woman! 

I saw this mind frame as dangerous before birth and I see it as even more dangerous now that I have had a baby.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a lover of lists and plans so I had a two-page dot point birth plan, see images. I like things to go to plan.

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You will see that in my birth plan I also hoped to have a ‘natural’, as in vaginal, birth with no drugs if possible. But I also wanted to have access to pain-relief just in case. I didn’t really want a C-section but if the circumstances required it for the baby’s sake, then my attitude was, just do it. I am lucky I went in with an open mind and an open plan because everything I wanted to happen, didn’t:  Natural? No, I was induced. Vaginal? Well close I got to 10cm and pushed for two hours but no it was a C-section. Delayed cord clamping? Nope. Straight to skin on skin? Nope.

Would I change it? Nope.

It was MY baby’s birth; it is Mackenzie’s birth story; my beautiful baby who I miss desperately why would I change it? I love that I have a permanent scar that I can see on my body, it is a scar that she made coming into the world.

Every decision that was made was made for Mackenzie’s safety and well-being. I needed my waters broken because her foetal movements had reduced (which we now know is a sign of SMA); I needed the induction drip because she had gone to the toilet which meant she was stressed; I needed an epidural because the induction meant there was no build up to the contractions – they came hard and fast; I needed a C-section because she was posterior and she had her face up.  Yes, maybe I wouldn’t have had that birth if I hadn’t had been induced but how would I have felt if her reduced foetal movements meant something was wrong. I don’t say this to explain away our decisions but to show you that her safety (and mine as well) was priority at all times, a healthy, safe baby is all that matters.

Next time, I hope for a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC). Not because I desperately want a vaginal birth but because I want my scar to remain her scar. That being said, if the next baby needs a C-section, that is what I’ll do.

I suppose my point is that it is wonderful to go into your birth with a plan, a vision of what you would like. Preparing for the birth you want is an important and nourishing act, it can give you confidence and the tools you need to have the birth you hope for, whatever that may be. Yes, it is important to use positive thinking and visualisation in what you want to happen and how but, in my opinion, it is more important to be in a good mindset, a holistic mindset that leaves you open to all options, if needed. Otherwise I believe some woman set themselves up for feeling like a failure, which can sometimes lead to some significant post-natal depression.  Giving birth can often be unpredictable and you need to be prepared because the unexpected can happen.

Let’s stop thinking that there is only one ‘correct’ way to give birth.  Next time someone tells you “I had a C-section” instead of automatically saying “sorry” or “what went wrong”, you could answer just as you would if it were a vaginal birth. If someone says they had drugs during birth, you could answer the way you would if it was drug-free. Because, in all cases, it is still a birth, a baby was born.

‘Natural’ does not mean normal. A natural birth is possible, but it isn’t always achievable. A healthy baby is all that matters.

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