Lessons in Humility (Part 3: The Birth Plan)

Parts One and Two of my Lessons in Humility.

I was/am one of those mothers Mia Freedman railed against when she coined the term ‘Birthzilla’, although I tend to agree with Andie Fox, author of Blue Milk blog, who has written extensively on what she calls birth activism. It’s something I have felt strongly about for a long time – even before Emma came along – and now she’s here and I was the one who got her here, my opinions haven’t changed at all.

I had a plan, carefully crafted after months of reading, a weekend spent at Calmbirth, a viewing of the Face of Birth, and discussions with Toby, our GP/OB and the midwives at the hospital where Emma was born. I spoke to a few people who had also had babies, although not in any great detail. While I was happy to take and act on recommendations for books and classes (as well as the hospital and doctor), mostly I figured the experience would be so different for everyone that hearing everyone else’s stories wouldn’t necessarily help. I also didn’t want anyone to freak me out with their horror story, or make me too blase with their “oh she just walked out” story.

My plan was basically intervention and drug free. I had great faith in my body’s ability to give birth. I had faith (not as great) that my mind would be able to support my body – doing the Calmbirth course was what gave me that faith. Toby was completely on board with the plan and, having suffered from anxiety and panic attacks in the past which he’d coached me through, I knew he’d be a great support. Queanbeyan Hospital is a low-risk, low-intervention place, mostly run by midwives with the GP/OBs sticking their head in for the business end. I had faith in the location we’d chosen and the people who worked there.

Everyone agrees that a birth plan is just a best case scenario. It is not a blueprint for the future. I completely understood this. But, to me it made sense to have a strategy for how I was going to cope with the physical and mental strain of labour, and what I would need from others to make that happen. We also had wishes with regards to different kinds of medical intervention, for me and the baby, and it made sense for these to be known by everyone involved. Just writing the plan out was an important exercise for me as part of my preparations. I was worried that in the stress of the moment I would agree to anything anyone said, that I’d forget everything I’d read, that I’d feel pressured to make quick decisions unnecessarily. Writing things out has always helped me remember them – like doing cheat sheets for uni exams. So that was another positive.

When discussing the plan with the GP/OB, he said: “Plan A is you do all the work, the midwives help and I watch. Plan B is we do what we have to.”

I loved his take on it. So much of the time, his Plan B is presented as everyone’s Plan A. Like there is no point thinking about the kind of birth you want, preparing for it. Like there is almost no point in putting that faith in yourself because at the end of the day you are at the mercy of nature, and of our modern hospital system. But there is a point. Yes, a healthy mum and healthy baby are the ultimate goals. But how they get there matters too. Saying it doesn’t is like telling a soldier or crime victim with PTSD that they shouldn’t have PTSD because they’re fine now, and that’s what matters. It’s unhelpful, and untrue.

In the end, as life tends to do, things didn’t go quite according to plan and our long labour ended in a vacuum extraction with as many interventions as that required (still no drugs though). I was disappointed, not so much because the plan didn’t happen, but because it wasn’t quite the low-intervention experience I’d hoped for. A bit like planning a fantastic holiday that’s mostly great but maybe your luggage gets lost on the way home, or a similar analogy. But I wasn’t disappointed in myself, or Toby, or the midwives. At the end of it all, I was fine if sore and tired, and we had the healthy baby we’d been waiting for. I was still glad I had the plan, partly because it gave the hospital staff a way to talk to me about things. “We know you wanted to do X, but things are going differently so we’re going to have to do Y. Is that okay?” It gave us a framework to approach things and make decisions as the long labour progressed, and I appreciated that.

In hindsight I’m not sure how a plan might work in a different setting, with less supportive staff, or with a labour or birth that was truly disastrous or traumatic. Some women take years to recover from those experiences – if they ever do – and I’m not sure how a plan would fit into that. But given none of us know going into it, I would still recommend having a plan. The way you’d have a plan if you were visiting Paris for the first time – things you really really want to see, things you’d like to fit in if you have time, things you won’t bother with. But know that even if you miss out on your top three, even if you end up waiting in line at the wrong side of the museum, if you get food poisoning from the crepe fromage, even if your luggage gets lost – you’ve been to Paris. And the memories of the long queues or stomach cramps will fade.


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