Are birth plans a waste of the paper they're written on?

Are birth plans a waste of the paper they're written on?

Are birth plans a waste of the paper they're written on? Mia Freedman starts thinking about what she's going to do in the delivery room this time around...

So, I go to my obstetrician for my regular monthly check-up. We're getting towards the business end of this pregnancy - the final trimester - so it's time to talk birth.

What's that expression... 'How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans' 

"What's the plan?" he asks.
"Epidural" I say, so fast that I almost spit the word out onto his desk.
"Right," he says, looking down at my notes to trigger his memory of my last birth: short labour, no drugs. "You know you could do it without an epidural if you wanted to."
At this point, my husband (who is there with me) and I speak at the same time.
Me: "But I don't WANT to do it without an epidural!"
Husband: "Please, no, I couldn't bear to hear about it for the next ten years if she has to give birth again without an epidural."

Some back-story. For my first birth, I didn't really have a plan except that I knew I wanted an epidural. I just didn't see any reason not to. I'm not big on pain or heroics. It's not like I go to the dentist with a plan to have extensive drill work without pain relief. Why suffer?

Yes, yes, I know women have given birth for thousands of years without epidurals but do you think if you time-travelled back and asked all those women "Hey, what if you could do this without any pain? Interested?"

WHAT DO YOU RECKON THEY WOULD SAY?

I've never subscribed to the idea that "whoever does it without drugs is the winner in the Mother-Martyr Olympics". Before you start writing angry comments about your wonderful drug-free births, hold fire.

I do not really care whether you choose pain relief or not. That is your choice. But I will say this. I know many women who have had very fixed ideas about how their births will be. They've planned for birth centres, oil burners, hypnotherapy, special breathing techniques and all manner of other things. Drugs were the enemy.

But when things don't go according to their expectations and they need pain relief or surgery, I've noticed how shocked and disappointed these women are.

For modern women who are used to being able to control most things, it can be hard to accept that some things are out of our control.

What's that expression…'How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans…'

Never were truer words spoken about birth. Because for many (not all but MANY) women, things don't go according to plan. That's why labour bags full of oil burners and soothing CDs and massage oil and stress balls are often left unpacked in a corner of the delivery suite when the labouring woman discovers she needs something a bit more heavy duty.

Sometimes, it's nature who has other plans, throwing a curve ball into the mix with a cervix that won't dilate or a baby who gets into distress and requires urgent medical intervention.

What's sad about having such fixed preconceptions about how your birth will go, is that if it doesn't go that way, you can be left feeling bewildered, cheated or like you've failed.

I know this because it has happened to me. The first time I gave birth, I knew I'd want an epidural. And about halfway through the labour I got one. I was stoked about that. It was a great birth and I loved it (after the epidural kicked in).

So the next time around, I assumed things would go the same way.

They didn't. I was at a public hospital, they had a shortage of staff, it was the early hours of Sunday morning and no anaesthetist was available.

Despite my increasingly desperate cries, THE EPIDURAL NEVER CAME. I was very bitter about this because it had never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to have one. I still think I'm a bit traumatised by it.

So it's ironic really. Whether you plan for drugs or you plan for no drugs, you may not get your wish.

Some people asked me afterwards if I felt especially proud that I'd done it without drugs. "Absolutely not," I replied. "I'm bitter."
Of course I was joking but only half. What I was bitter about was that my expectations had not been met, my plans had not worked out.

And the last thing I wanted was to be drafted into that most annoying of clubs: Women Who Have Given Birth Without Drugs And Somehow Feel This Makes Them Superior To Mothers Who Haven't.

I get cross about the use of the term 'natural' birth for the same reason. What does it even mean? Does it mean vaginal or without drugs? I resent the idea of any woman being made to feel that her birth was "unnatural".

To me, every woman who gives birth is a hero. And every baby who is born is a miracle.

Did you have a birth plan and did it work out? And if you've given birth more than once, how did your approach to the birth change? Discuss this blog here