A birth plan is important as a decision-making tool in the prenatal period and as a guide for providers at the time of birth. Now, the vast majority of nurses, doctors, and midwives know (and often expect) that a family will enter birth with a piece of paper that details their specific hopes during the different stages of labor and delivery including newborn care. Many hospitals even offer families an easy to use, and hospital specific, birth plan that goes straight into their file before birth.
This all is wonderful news for birthing families. It means that providers are interested in what families want and need during one of the most vulnerable and intimate times in life. Providers that listen to families needs are able to provide more specific and supportive care.
While I encourage everyone to write a birth plan, it can sometimes create expectations that come with any give "plan". For example, a mother’s highest priority may be to have a vaginal birth. In her Birth Plan she may write that she does not want an epidural, but at the time of labor an epidural may be what she needs to allow a vaginal birth. Both items are important in her plan, but what holds the most value?
I encourage you to take a different approach to writing your Birth Plan by creating another important document, your Birth Values. By writing your Birth Values, you can allow your personal values to play the biggest role in your birth decision-making process. The Birth Values approach allows a birthing family to ditch a Black and White Birth Plan and the sense of the "right and wrong", "good and bad" and "success and failure" that it can sometimes bring. Exploring your values goes deeper into the internal needs of the birthing woman, her partner, and the evolving family, rather than only looking at the choices available at the time of birth.
An Example - A mother may have in her Birth Plan “something” that will help her remain calm and in control. This could be a birthing tub, nitrous oxide, or an epidural. But, it isn’t so much the item on her birth plan that is important, but the underlying value- feeling calm and in control during birth.
At the time of her birth to remain calm and in control, that “something” may change. A mama that planned to be in a birthing tub may now prefer the epidural. Or, a mama planning to have nitrous oxide wants to get into a birthing tub. The item on her Birth Plan may have changed, but it still aligns with her Birth Values of being calm and in control. Her Birth Plan may only point to one of these things, but at the time of birth, another makes her feel calm and in control. Changing something on the Birth Plan shouldn’t make a mama feel like she has failed because she is still making decisions that align with her Birth Values.
Values do not start and end at the hospital. They are at the center of our very being, and they are at the heart of the new and challenging path new mothers embark on. Values are what matter.
So sweet mamas, and dear birthing partners, please do not ditch the Birth Plan. It is important, and it can act as a wonderful source for essential conversation in the prenatal period. It helps guide the mama, partner, and birth team - keeping them on the same page before labor and delivery. But, I encourage you to dig even deeper and look at your values as you bring forth new life. Write these values down and share them with your birth team, this way you can move through labor and delivery fully wrapped in those values.
By doing so, you will feel more fully heard, held, supported, honored, empowered and understood. It can also allow you to be super gentle on any decision made during birth. If there is any one thing I want for a birthing mother, it is that she feels held and supported, and that starts with first understanding her most intimate values before she ever steps foot into her place of birth.
Best to each of you on your birthing journey,
Brook Holmberg - full-time Birth Doula, a Childbirth Educator, a Lactation Counselor, co-founder of Birth Doula Centering and above all else, a value-drive mother.