By midwife Julie Watson (UB Academy)
Imagine a society where birth is celebrated as the normal, physiological process it is.
Imagine if all birth environments offered calm, made the couple feel safe, encouraged couples to make it their own.
Imagine that time was no object and midwives had as much time as the woman needed to discuss and impart the information she desired.
Imagine being supported by a team who know you, understand you and what’s important to you?
If this was the world we lived and birthed in then my advice to women would be different, in fact during my time as a caseload midwife I never talked about birth plans, WHY?? Because I knew the
women, I had been there with them from the moment they referred themselves to my team, I became part of their team, I knew what was important to them and we had spent hours discussing the different paths their labour and birth may take, above all and most importantly they knew that either me or my buddy would be there, supporting them, guiding them and caring for them.
If this were the case for all women regardless of where they lived, the birth they may choose, the birth environment that they decide on, then birth plans may be unnecessary, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. So, as long as this isn’t available for all, then my personal opinion would be to have a ‘Birth Plan’.
For some reason birth plans evoke strong feelings in healthcare professionals, there are very opposed views, some will say they are a waste of time and will roll their eyes at the mention of them. Some will vehemently defend their place for all women, almost feeling aggrieved if there isn’t one to refer to. In my opinion neither of these stances are right or helpful, like everything else I strongly believe the decision to put pen to paper lies firmly in the woman’s hands.
I am not a great fan of the word ‘plan’ for me it paints a picture of a changeless route, a prescriptive journey, neither of which I would use to describe the journey of birth. But I don’t want to be pedantic, it could be ‘birth wishes’, ‘birth preferences’ or even something as simple as ‘what matters to me’. I have always felt that the power is not in the writing of the plan, although some women find it incredibly powerful, but the power lies in the process of becoming versed in the process of birth, gathering the information that will be at the centre of the plan and finding out and understanding all the options that are available.
Many will compare their wedding day and birth and talk about them as being the same, its true they should both be momentous days in your life’s novel but they are two very different chapters that require different approaches.
Your wedding day will have an itinerary, hair and makeup at 10, cars at 12.30, followed by your walk to meet your partner at 1.15 sharp, and so on. Birth does not come with an itinerary, it cannot be planned, but you can prepare for it and writing down your wishes and desires can be integral to that preparation.
Birth is an unpredictable event but those unpredictable twists and turns needn’t be a surprise. If women are faced with an unpredictable scenario and they are taken aback by its arrival. Very often the scenario they find themselves in is accompanied by feelings of fear, guilt, anxiety which will obstruct and hinder their birth journey.
See your birth plan as a way of communicating your ideal to those who are taking that journey with you, your birth partner, midwife, obstetrician, don’t be afraid to let people know what is important to you. A birth plan does not need to be lengthy; it can be a group of sentences or images, it is unique to you and should portray your honest feelings about what you have envisaged for yourself, but it is not an essential. All that is essential is that you are able to gather the information to make the decisions that feel right for you and that when you are faced with decisions in labour and birth you or your birth partner are able to articulate what is important.
As a healthcare professional, when meeting a woman who had taken the time to document her wants and wishes I would see the document as a way of ensuring I could support her and be her advocate, but if I could have one request to all women, it would be to write down the things that will allow me to meet the you, the woman, to allow it to be a window into your mind and your heart.