Are birth plans a waste of time?

Essential Baby blogger Amity Dry
Essential Baby blogger Amity Dry 

So as the final weeks of my pregnancy creep by it's time to pack my bags and contemplate going through labour again. But this time one part of my preparations will be missing. I won't waste my time writing a birth plan. Because I know now the idea that I have any control over how my labour goes is an absolute crock.

I’m not sure when birth plans came into vogue but it seems that most books and birth classes now advise you to do one in the final weeks leading up to your baby’s birth. In your plan you can write about how you would like your labour to go, whether you would like to use drugs or not, if you’d like to utilise the bath or shower to help with labour pains, what position you’d like to deliver in, how you’d like the cord cut, whether you’d like music playing or essential oils burning and if you’d prefer a peaceful environment to give birth in. You are then advised to hand your neatly typed plan to your midwife and obstetrician during labour, while they try not to look like they too think it’s a total crock.

I’m sure it’s all part of us modern mums wanting to feel like we’re in control when it comes to our bodies and our labours. After all, we’re in control of everything else in out lives these days, so why not our deliveries? Gone are the days where we were expected to quietly do as we were instructed by our male obstetrician, putting up with the pain without complaint, while our husbands dutifully waited outside with the cigars ready. And that is undoubtedly a good thing. But have we gone so far the other way, where we think we can control something that is actually in Mother Nature’s hands?

With my first pregnancy I wrote a birth plan and had specific ideas about how I wanted to give birth. I wanted to be in the bath or shower when possible, to have candles burning and listen to my favourite music to help me focus. I even had two iPod playlists ready, Labour Relaxing and Labour Pushing. The relaxing one was to calm me during the early stages and then the pushing one was made up of inspiring songs to help motivate me when the time came. Kind of like an athlete getting pumped up before a big race.

I didn’t have a strong opinion either way about drugs, with the expectation that I would try to do it without them but was not opposed to using them if it got too hard. And of course all my plans were excellent in theory, except that here is how my actual labour went.

What I was not expecting was to go from nothing to 3 minute apart contractions, accompanied by an Oh-My-God-This-Is-Bad kind of pain

At 37 weeks, after experiencing what I thought were Braxton Hicks on and off all day, I was lying on the couch at 6.45pm (whinging about how uncomfortable and over it I was) when my waters broke in a sudden and dramatic fashion. Now, firstly, they said in the classes that it rarely happened like this, like it does in the movies. I was told that in most cases your waters will be broken in hospital after you have been in early labour for a while. Secondly, I was expecting hours and hours of early contractions, with most first labours reportedly taking at least 8 hours. Hours where my husband would rub my back, I would lie in the bath and we would excitedly anticipate the eminent birth of our child in between 15 minute apart contractions.

What I was not expecting was to go from nothing to 3 minute apart contractions, accompanied by an Oh-My-God-This-Is-Bad kind of pain. A call to the hospital confirmed that I needed to get there as quickly as possible, seemingly giving my stricken husband permission to run red lights where needed. I don’t know which was more stressful in that mercifully quick journey, the thought that I’d die from labour pains or from a car accident.

When we arrived at the hospital the contractions were coming about a minute apart and rather than heading for the bath I went straight for the toilet. The desire to stay there was so strong I would have happily given birth over the loo, which wasn’t exactly the birthing position I had planned.

After my midwife coaxed me to the bed I asked her how dilated I was, expecting that she would know by looking…in my eyes? It never occurred to me the method they would use to find out, making me feel slightly foolish in hindsight! I promptly told her that if she said I was something ridiculous like 2 centimetres I was going to kill someone. She replied that my labour had only just started so it may be a while yet. At this point my darling husband tried to insert my iPod headphones in my ear, to stimulate the calming effect I had so wisely planned. However, rather than being soothed the music annoyed me, the headphones hurt my ears and I yanked them out angrily as he tried to remind me that this was what I wanted.

All through this, my neatly typed birth plan remained in my unopened bag, along with my candles and birthing outfit that I had lovingly folded in anticipation.

Then, after my examination, things got a little crazy. My midwife proclaimed that the head was crowing to which I screamed “I TOLD YOU IT HURT” and my obstetrician rushed in just as I started pushing. By now I was screaming for an epidural, knowing full well I wouldn’t get one but feeling better for asking anyway.

Twenty minutes of pushing later, at 8.15pm my beautiful son was born. There was nothing calm about any of it, it didn’t go at all to plan, but I wouldn’t have changed a second of it.

So, this time there are a few things I know for sure.

1. My labour is likely to be quick, so be ready!

2. There is no planning in labour so it’s best to go into it with an open mind and go with the flow. There is nothing wrong with having an expectation of how you would like it to be, but it can often fall out of your control and holding on too tightly to those expectations can make the experience more stressful.

3. Trust both your body and your caregivers to know what they are doing.

4. From the moment that labour starts and for the rest of your life, you are no longer in control. It’s better to accept it now and go with it!

5. While labour will be a huge focus for you during your first pregnancy, with subsequent children you know that it is just a tiny moment in the monumental scale of their lives. And whether they arrive through a drug free birth, with an epidural or with a c-section it doesn’t really matter, no way makes you a better mother. It just matters that they are safely in your arms at the end of it.

Did you write a birth plan, and did you find it helpful or a waste of time? Comment on Amity's blog.