If you’ve spent any amount of time reading birth stories, mommy blogs, or pregnancy and birth forums, you’ll see references to…
* Birth plans flying out windows
* Birth plans being thrown out windows
We all know what the mom means: the birth she planned and hoped for didn’t go as expected. There are so many reasons why this may happen, but this post isn’t about that.
See, the #1 mistake moms make when creating a birth plan isn’t related to the birth not going as hoped. It’s related to how they see the birth plan itself.
Birth Plans Don’t Have Wings. They Can’t Fly Out Windows.
The most important aspect of your birth plan isn’t getting the birth to play out how you’d like. The most important aspect of your birth plan is preparing for the birth and creating your plan.
You may say this is the same thing, but it’s not at all.
If your number one goal in creating your birth plan is getting the birth to go just as you hope, then you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Of course, you should do whatever you can to help have a healthy, happy birth. And of course you should take steps to get there – but your entire birth-plan-success shouldn’t be outcome based.
Outcome-based-birth-plans are risky (emotional) business. Things happen. Babies are born too early. Epidurals are desperately needed or unexpectedly unavailable. Cesarean sections — planned differently or originally unplanned — happen.
Planning-based-birth-plans aren’t about what happens, but about the preparation and planning you put in. Things still may happen that weren’t “part of the plan” but that doesn’t matter as much anymore. You haven’t as deeply invested in having the birth go a particular way. What you have invested in is doing the best you can, before the birth, to prepare for yourself and your baby.
And quite honestly? That’s the only thing you can control – how much you research and prepare, so you’re ready to have your baby and deal with whatever happens, for better or for worse.
Why It Matters How We View Birth Planning
You may think how you view the birth plan isn’t as important as getting the birth you want.
That’s not quite true.
How we see our birth experience is very important, and it can have a big impact on our confidence levels in early motherhood. A mom who feels she “failed” at having the birth she wanted may feel she isn’t cut out to be a good mother. This in turn can have a negative effect on breastfeeding confidence. Then, if she wanted to breastfeed, and things get difficult, this again can weigh on her confidence as a mother even more. She may give up or not reach out for help because she already sees herself or her body as “inadequate.”
Now, changing the way we see birth plans won’t make a traumatic or bad birth experience suddenly good. Of course not. But, it may allow more self-forgiveness. It may allow room to reach out for help in coping with a traumatic experience, and talking about it.
When we see a traumatic birth — or a not necessarily traumatic birth but a less-than-ideal birth — as our fault, it stands in the way of getting help. It creates shame. And when we feel ashamed, we feel unworthy of reaching out for help. We see ourselves as unable to be good mothers, instead of seeing ourselves as good moms who had a less than ideal birth – moms who did the best they could in planning and preparing.
Wishy-Washy Birth Planning vs. Well-Prepared Birth Planning
Some people may criticize this outlook towards birth. They may say I’m encouraging moms to not really care about the outcome. That if all that matters is preparing and planning, then it’ll be “too easy” to back out of more difficult birth aspirations when the going gets tough.
That’s just not so.
Look, yes, lots of moms create birth plans without really intending to follow them out, or not really knowing how to get what they want. Lots of moms create plans that are practically assured to go differently because of the doctor or midwife they choose, or the place they choose to give birth, or their total lack of preparation. That’s not what I’m encouraging here at all.
(And honestly, even this is a plan, kind of. Some moms may feel pressured to plan a certain kind of birth, and in not taking preparation seriously, they are just setting themselves up for the birth they really want to have, as opposed to the birth they think they should have… and some moms don’t really know what steps they need to take to get the birth they want. But those are topics for different blog posts.)
I’m encouraging you to have a more compassionate view of birth planning. One that takes into account that birth isn’t always going to go the way we expect it. One that takes into account that what we think the birth will be like – whether it’s our first or fifth birth – may not actually go the way we imagined. And that means we’ll need to make changes.
Birth isn’t a test. Neither is motherhood. There’s no grading system. You don’t get an A+ if you have the birth you wanted, and a D- if it goes totally wrong. You don’t get an A+ for breastfeeding, and an F for choosing or needing formula.
Birth and motherhood is complicated, so, so complicated, and unfortunately, many birth and motherhood outcomes aren’t 100% under our control. (But wouldn’t be nice if it were?) All we can do is prepare and plan. We can’t guarantee outcomes.
So why put all this pressure on ourselves – and our birth plans – and judge them as failed if they don’t go exactly as they were on paper, or as we envisioned it?
Don’t Give Up on Birth Planning and Preparation
At the same time, we shouldn’t just give up on the idea of birth planning altogether.
You should plan and prepare, for every birth. That’s what smart moms do.
Think your birth plan “flew out the window” last time? Here’s a secret: it didn’t go anywhere. All that planning and preparing stayed in your heart and mind during your beautifully imperfect birth.
Your birth plan didn’t fly out the window. You couldn’t even throw it out the window if you tried.
Your experience and knowledge stay with you, no matter what happens.
And at your next birth, should you be blessed with another child, you’ll have along with you not only your new plan and preparation, but also the experience of your last birth.
Smart moms plan and prepare for each birth. Compassionate moms do their best not to judge themselves (or other moms) when the plan doesn’t lead to a specific outcome.
Be a smart and compassionate mom when you’re planning your birth, and you will avoid the #1 mistake moms make when birth planning.
Win a Free Copy of Birth Plans for Dummies for Yourself or a Friend
This contest is over, and we have a winner! Actually, two winners! Because I’m just so nice like that. 😉
Using a random number generator, our winners have turned out to be…
Sandra and Kayleigh! Yay! Congratulations!
Thanks to everyone who played. 🙂
Would you like to win a free copy of Birth Plans for Dummies, which, despite its title, is written for smart moms, not dummies? And, most importantly of course, written by moi and my coauthor Sharon Perkins? You’ll find in it lots of information and resources to help you plan your next birth, no matter what kind of birth you hope to have. I’ll randomly choose at least one person to win a copy of Birth Plans for Dummies, which they can either have mailed to themselves or mailed to a friend. There are multiple ways to enter, so pay attention! 1) Share this blog post on your social media of choice (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.), and get one entry per social media platform entry! (In other words, share on Twitter and Google+, that’s two entries… but two shares on just Twitter are just one entry.) Use the hash tag #smartbirthplan when sharing, and I’ll retweet! 2) Sign up for newsletter updates to the blog (sign up box in the upper right, box titled “Get Updates via Email”) OR sign up to the RSS feed, and get another entry! 3) Share a link to this blog (and share your thoughts on the topic) on your own blog, and get another entry! (You may not, however, copy-paste this post into your blog. That would be stealing, and you wouldn’t want to do that… oh no, no, no.) 4) Leave a comment on this blog for an entry! (If you leave multiple comments, though, only your first comment counts towards entry… but please, participate in the conversation anyway!) Rules! 1) To have your entries count, YOU MUST LEAVE A COMMENT. In your comment, tell me which methods of entry you did. (In other words, tell me in your comment that you signed up for the newsletter and shared on Twitter. Or that you blogged about this, and share a link to your blog post. Or if you just want to enter by leaving a comment, that’s cool, too!) If you don’t leave a comment, and you don’t TELL me in that comment that you signed up for the newsletter or shared the post or whatever, I won’t have any way of counting your entries. 2) You must share your correct, working email address when you leave your comment, so I can reach you if you win. (Your email address will only be seen by me, as long as you don’t paste it into your actual comment.) 3) If it’s illegal in your state or country to participate in a contest like this, then don’t do it. Obviously. 🙂 4) If we get 20 or more participants, I will give two books away. And if we get 30 or more participants, I will give three books away. (A girl can dream, can’t she…) 5) Entries accepted until November 1st at midnight Eastern Standard Time. I’ll announce the winner on the blog on November 3rd. That’s only two weeks away, so hurry up and enter! 6) If the winner(s) don’t respond to my email requesting their address within two weeks of posting the winners, I’ll choose alternate winners. Want to leave a comment but don’t care to win a free copy of the book? (Come on, you don’t have at least one pregnant friend or relative?!) That’s okay, too. Just say in your comment that you’re not entering, but just joining the conversation. That’s cool.
Want to buy Birth Plans for Dummies now? Find the book at your online bookstore of choice, or ask for Birth Plans for Dummies at your local bookstore.
So… thoughts? (No, not on the contest… on birth plans flying out windows!) Please talk to me below, I’d love to hear from you!
CC Image Courtesy of blmurch of Flickr.