Let's Stop Writing Birth Plans

Last night I tuned into the #positivebirthhour on twitter, a fabulous forum for birth inspiration and the topic was ‘birth plans’. I got stuck in (in between mouthfuls of noodle soup) with full gusto and found myself debating in the esteemed company of Sheena Byrom (@SagefemmeSB), Milli Hill (@millihill), Tracey Cooper (@drtraceyc) and Shawn Walker (@SisterShawnRM). These are all heroes of mine, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with these women… they are positive birth power houses. Go check them out!

The debate was so engaging for me, that I woke up at 4am this morning, with a blog bubbling around my brain.

So here it is…

As a hypnobirthing teacher and midwife I encourage my clients to be deeply informed, and confidently know their options as they approach their births.

However I don’t encourage ‘birth plans’. And this is why….

The word ‘plan’ has powerful semantic connotations. Once you have a plan, the general intonation is that you should stick with it but what if you don’t? I have walked into many homes, meeting a postnatal mother for the first time, and had her break down in my arms. Why? Because her plan ‘went wrong’, and she felt like a failure. Like her body let her down and she wasn’t good enough.

So I incorporate this experience when I teach my hypnobirthing families.

Now let me be clear. I teach complete positivity, complete faith in the birth process and complete trust in your body. I spend hours releasing reservoirs of deep fear and building immense confidence.

But I am medically trained, scientifically minded and honest with my clients.

I teach what you can control, which is perhaps 75% of you birth or more. There is so very much that you can do, to take control of your birth and ensure that it is empowering and positive. I planned and enjoyed a homebirth with my first daughter, with no hospital bag packed ‘just in case’.

I teach what you can influence by making informed choices about the options available. I teach you to think outside the box and question the options that are presented by your care providers. Yes you CAN decline vaginal examinations, yes you CAN decline inductions of labour, yes you CAN birth out of the guidelines.

I also teach what you can’t control. And give you the confidence to acknowledge and let this go. I go through birth scenarios, so that if a highly unlikely but possible emergency occurs, you are prepared, calm and confident in the face of the storm. And I must be honest, I have had a hypnobirthing client who had a crash emergency section (one which must be performed immediately to save baby’s life). And this is what she said about it

'My mum (ex-midwife, pre-hypnobirthing era) was with Paul and I throughout and she couldn't believe how calm I was during the entire labour...even at the hospital when it became an emergency. I'm so glad I experienced contractions and some of 'labour' - it was the most exciting/spaced-out couple of days ever and I don't recall any pain. Pressure/energy, yes, but it really wasn't pain like I'd expected. Everything you taught was exactly how we experienced it and I couldn't have got through it without your knowledge and techniques. So thank you. Beatrice is a chilled-out easy-going little chick and smiles all day long.'

It’s a fine balance between empowering women and not acknowledging that birth is at times unpredictable.

So let’s stop writing birth plans and start writing fully informed birth preferences. Or plan A and plan B.