What do you believe about birth? My story of finding more meaning in birth planning.
Five years ago, I created a birth plan that was more steeped in fear than in the ink with which it was written.
At the time of my daughter’s birth, I had been a doula for four years. I had seen birth at its most magically mundane, most physiologically “normal,” and I had also witnessed deeply traumatizing birth experiences that I wore, unprocessed, like a dark cloak over my pregnant body.
My birth plan reflected these experiences, and, like those of so many other birthing women I’ve supported, read like a laundry list of “musts,” “do not’s,” “will nots,” and other non-negotiables. “You will not touch me with a needle; do not talk to me about pain medication; use only positive language when you speak to me; I will eat / drink / move / and do what I want.”
I can only see that fear that underlies these statements now; at the time I felt as though my birth plan, carefully folded in half and tucked in my purse, was filled with strong statements about my preferences for my care.
My birth plan was filled with strong statements about my preferences for my care, but they were statements about what I was moving away from, what I would not allow or accept, rather than what I wanted. I was moving away from a fear of being consumed by an overculture and an institution that was inherently distrustful of my ability to birth.
I didn’t know what I was moving towards until after my daughter’s birth.
That birth plan, like so many others I’ve witnessed the careful creation of, went right out the window.
I can see now that it read like a list of outcomes that I wanted or didn’t want, that it was grasping at control over something that I simply could never have control over.
That fear of loss of control, I have come to believe, is both the challenge and the great opportunity of what it means to step into the unknown of birth. It is the fire through which we walk to become initiated into motherhood on the other side.
And though that birth didn’t result in many of the outcomes I had desired, I felt deeply respected, heard, trusted, and supported through the entire process of that birth.
It was then that I realized that those feelings were what I was moving towards.
My deepest desires for my birth were not necessarily about medications or bathtubs or vaginal exams, but about feeling
I came to realize that in the wild and unpredictable nature of birth, those feelings were much more within my purview of control than the outcomes I thought I desired.
When I was preparing for the birth of my son two years ago, I knew that a birth plan wasn’t going to encompass my desires, and that I wanted to express my intentions for my birth in a different way. Though I had done the important work I needed to do to make informed decisions for my care, I was more interested in expressing my deepest beliefs about birth. What I truly wanted for my experience, what I wanted to ask of those who supported me. How I wanted to feel, what I trusted, how I wanted to be treated.
So I sat down by a roaring fire one dark winter night with a large blank sheet of paper and some markers. What flowed from me were what I have come to know as Birth Principles – my fundamental principles or inherent beliefs about my birth and my ability to birth:
I TRUST BIRTH. I KNOW MY BODY.
My decisions will be informed by my intuition, evidence, and the loving counsel of my support team.
I will do what feels right for my body and my baby, where it feels right, and when.
I WILL BIRTH WITHOUT FEAR.
I will be surrounded by positive thoughts, encouragement and support.
I trust those I’ve surrounded myself with my vulnerability and my raw, awesome power.
I WILL BIRTH STANDING FIRMLY IN MY POWER.
In loving arms with positive intention, I am ready for what this birth will bring. I own my decisions and my process. I accept the unknown; I am adaptable and prepared for my birth to unfold as it is intended.
I believe that everything is an option, and that I know I will make the best decision possible when I am informed and engaged in my own care.
This time, my declarations of intention were about me.
Not about the system, or its interventions, or anyone else.
This time, I commanded the respect, trust and reverence of my care team.
I asked for their positivity, and reminded them of their role in recognizing both my vulnerability and my power. I let go of defensive language and simply held the power that I knew I had, rather than grasping for the control which would always evade me.
Weeks later, in a pool in my bedroom, I gave birth to my son. I was surrounded by a quietly supportive team of midwives and family who simply watched my process unfold with the exquisite trust of witnesses to a powerful, deeply primal, and beautiful experience. I had surrendered the laundry list of desires I thought I had for my birth, and instead focused on what I believed to be true, how I wanted to feel, and how I wanted to be supported.
In doing this, I truly stepped into my power as a birthing woman, and allowed this birth to transform me in the very way it was meant to.
The way that I support birthing women now is rooted in this work. My experience birthing my son inspired me to create a Birth Principles Workbook, which allows other women to write their own, deeply meaningful, birth principles statements. In this shift in thinking about birth planning, I have witnessed nothing less than a tiny but significant revolution in the way women approach birth and how they are treated as they transition into motherhood.