Birth planning is vital if you have a specific birth you want to bring to life. It’s equally important if there are situations you want to actively avoid too.
Without planning for birth we are simply hoping, and there is so much more we can do! Preparing for the birth we want makes it the most likely thing to happen.
It helps us realise what’s in our control and what’s not. It shows us where our power lies, where misconceptions lurk, and where obstacles are.
Birth planning brings to light all our options ahead of time so we can put our thinking brain to good use, so that on the big day we can switch it off and open up fully to the moment, knowing we are safe and can surrender completely.
We all bring things to the birth space: preconceptions, prior experiences, past traumas, and views shaped by a lifetime of the media undermining our bodies, abilities and self worth. All of us.
There’s only one person we can see into and know how much work they have done to unpack all of that, and it’s ourselves. We simply cannot know what others are bringing into a birth space, and how their attitudes and actions might be consciously or unconsciously affected.
What should I put in my birth plan?
So in comes the birth plan. Writing it is a process, with love for yourself and your baby at its core. Thinking about what’s important to you helps you put boundaries in place to protect your birth space, and results in a written summary of your wishes that any birth partners will have on hand to refer to. It is your voice, giving instructions for how you expect to be treated, what is essential, what you categorically do not consent to – you are laying down your terms for anyone who you wish to be present.
We know how scary that can be. We know the idea of being assertive in your birth plan can feel uncomfortable at first. But it comes back to protecting your fierce and fragile birthing self – if you stick up for yourself now by drawing clear boundaries you won’t have to at the time, when it’s way more difficult to do.
NB: If you are considering inviting people to your birth who you feel you must be protected against, think about why and how this might impede your labour. If you think about the risks and benefits to you and the benefits win out, consider who will protect you and your space well.
NBB: No one, and we mean absolutely no one, has the right to be with you at your birth.
I’m having an xyz birth, do I really need a birth plan?
When something is important to us, like a birthday party or a wedding, we do not leave those things up to chance. We do not go with the flow. We don’t see what happens. We don’t hope for the best. We don’t leave the big decisions in the hands of people who don’t know us, because those big decisions are the most personal, and their consequences don’t affect them.
(The best birthday parties and weddings do flow, and that’s because those in charge of planning made that possible ahead of time, and made sure that it was their flow others were following, not the other way around.)
On the other hand, birth planning is not like an event. In an event there are set times, and you have to make your plan fit within others’ parameters. The point of a birth plan is to set those parameters yourself and to broadcast that anyone there is entirely on your time, and damn privileged to be.
Women have been socialised to be quiet, deferential, to put others before ourselves, to override our senses and emotions, and to do all of the above while coming across as nice. You may be starting to realise how shit that is now, and that’s awesome: it will serve you and your children for the rest of your lives.
But don’t underestimate how deep it goes, and how vulnerable that tender new attitude is. Instead of relying on that new version of yourself to speak up in a pressured scenario, protect her from being in it in the first place.
Are we a good fit for you?
This is a good question to ask of any source of information and support. Everyone has biases, whether they acknowledge them or not. The first page of Google results for “birth plan” are for medicalised births, coming from slightly different angles. If you are planning a birth free of medical interventions shoehorning your beliefs into one of these isn’t going to work.
We will not lie to you. We have no agenda, bar wanting to see the birth you want come to light.
We believe that birth is a normal and magical bodily function, and that all of the things you need for it to go smoothly are in your control to put in place.
Every labour that starts spontaneously begins as a freebirth, so this is our starting point. Women considering interventions such as inviting midwives into their home, or leaving their home to give birth elsewhere, can still gain something from thinking of the part of their birth which will be at home, with the freedom to do anything she pleases.
How will I know what I’ll need on the day I give birth?
Giving birth is as normal as every other bodily function. It has more inherent similarities with orgasm and sleep than anything else. It’s an involuntary process, so why do we even need to plan for it? Because others who don’t believe it’s an involuntary process will try to help us, which hinders us! Because their fear can restrict our needs and wants, and can affect how we feel and therefore the course of our birth.
All of our bodily functions are normal and signs of our bodies working well, but certain criteria must be met in order for them to go smoothly. Think about what you need to fall asleep. We all sleep, but can we do it anywhere, any time? How about going to the toilet? How about having an orgasm? Vomiting? How different does menstruation feel when our needs are met and we have taken care of ourselves throughout our cycle? Our bodies are awesome at getting out what needs to come out (birth is beautiful and amazing, but it’s also an excretory process!) but in healthy bodies it’s not random. It’s the same with birth.
Birth is a hormonal event and the hormones needed are oxytocin and melatonin, which are incredibly shy and need dark, quiet, warmth and a complete sense of inhibition to release and flow. They do not like to be interrupted, so being undisturbed is not a nice to have, it’s essential.
The biggest interruptions come from the waking of the neocortex, or our thinking brain. This part of our brain can be enormously helpful in day to day life, but not when it comes to birth. That’s the part that needs to get out of the way so our limbic system can take over and stay in control.
Things that alert the neocortex are light, sound (particularly speech and especially questions), eye contact, cold, and fear. In the presence of any of these adrenaline is released, which cancels out any oxytocin and prepares us to fight or flee. (Our wise bodies obviously put labouring on hold until we find a safe and private place to start things up again.)
Fear is probably the biggest potential disturbance, as it’s the only neocortex-activator that can be felt by another and directly experienced by us. Far from being a weakness, we developed the skill of wordlessly picking up on dangers perceived by others over millennia, and I’m sure it’s saved our skins many many times. But in labour this fear response can be triggered by all sorts of things, by all sorts of people. Whether it’s trivial or life and death, we automatically pick up on others’ fears, and our own systems cannot distinguish whether it’s a founded fear or not – we just feel and respond to their fear and to our bodies it’s exactly the same as us being afraid.
Thankfully oxytocin is also contagious. We feel it in a cosy hug. We feel it when we sing with others. We feel it when we do a task with repetitive motion, like knitting. And we feel it when others feel it. We feel it because they feel it.
So birth planning really comes down to: how will you ensure your needs can be met? How can you ensure you will not be disturbed? How will you keep fear out of your birth space?
Who is birth planning for?
This is a holistic service that takes into account human rights, all options, and real life barriers, including what maternity services are like in theory and in practice.
In order to be realistic about your birth planning it’s essential to consider who you are because you birth as you live, and what resources you have.
Women who want to plan not just their births but their pregnancies too. We’re big fans of working backwards, and in believing it’s never too early to start planning.
Some women choose to give birth out of the home, and it’s much more difficult to get your needs met there as facilities are not designed to make birth go smoothly. Some might say it’s even more important to plan an out of home birth because of this reason, but we can see how it’s also ultimately pointless. We aren’t going to lie to you and say that because you’ve written it in your birth plan it will happen. There are many situations in life where our rights are not upheld, and those responsible are unaware or uncaring that we have any to uphold.
How can we help?
As doulas we have been providing birth planning support for years, and it makes sense to offer it to any woman who wants to plan her birth, whether we are her doulas or not, to complement her existing maternity care.
A good place to start is a Holding Space session to tell us where you’re at and what you need. These sessions can be used for absolutely anything, but in the context of birth planning we can:
- send you a birth plan template as a starting point
- go through your existing birth plan to go through it together to highlight any inconsistencies, woolly phrasing, or missing parts
- support you to write a postpartum plan
- help you with a post-term pregnancy plan
- connect you with other mothers who are where you are or who have been where you are and got the outcome they wanted
Afterwards we will send you a follow up to go over what we talked about and send you any links that might be useful. If you want to send us a draft of your birth plan we can make notes on it and send it back to you.
The cost of each session and follow up is £75. We have funding to make this service available to those who need it to be partially funded or completely free of charge.
We also provide pregnancy/birth/post term pregnancy/post partum planning as part of our With Woman and Pregnancy Support plans.
As ever, if you want to talk about this offering or anything else, you can contact us for a chat.