A commenter on my first birth plans post helped me illuminate much of what I find so frustrating about the birth plan discussion and attitudes towards birth plans in our culture. She didn’t mean anything by it, but she tacked on the end of her comment:
You read Tulpen @ Bad Words right? If anyone can tell you that the first lesson in motherhood is that we do [what] it takes, it’s certainly her.
Again, in her comment this was totally fine and I’m pulling it out of context, nothing at all against her, but it helped me clarify for myself a sentiment that many people do say, obviously or not, to mothers who exhibit an interest in a birth plan.
“Don’t be too rigid, you don’t know what birth will be like!”
“You can’t plan your birth, you have no idea what you’ll be getting into!”
“I just want the doctors to do whatever is necessary for a healthy baby.”
Do you see that? The implication there?
It’s that mothers who make birth plans are selfish, caring about themselves above their babies, that they wouldn’t want the doctors to help them ensure a healthy baby.
(The same is often said of mothers who birth out of hospital with trained midwives, but that’s another story).
It’s that mothers who make birth plans are unreasonable, and unwilling to accept whatever sacrifices are necessary for the good of their child.
(Ironic, since most mothers with birth plans want to deny induction and pain meds, which have been proven to be sacrifices which make things safer for the child that mothers are often derided for making).
It’s that mothers who make birth plans are control freaks, refusing to submit to whatever may happen.
(Also ironic, since most mothers with birth plans want a more natural, going with the flow type birth as opposed to a more managed one).
It’s that mothers who make birth plans are trying to stop doctors from helping their child if it is needed.
I don’t think that is the case for most people who want a birth plan.
They just want to be a part of the birth. They want to have a voice. They want to be treated with respect and dignity.
If I put in my birth plan, “Please do not cut an episiotomy without gaining verbal consent, and only offer it in the case of a true emergency,” that does not mean that if my baby was in distress and needed to get out now I would stop the doctor from cutting an episiotomy. It just means I don’t want to end up like my cousin, whose doctor after one push while she screamed, “Don’t cut me!!!” cut an episiotomy in order to hurry things along (no respect of her shown there). It also means I am not like some women, who might prefer an episiotomy being cut in order to shorten the pushing phase. It is not unreasonable, it is a completely legitimate preference in the face of all things being OK.
If I put in my birth plan, “I do not wish to have any type of narcotic, epidural, or other medical pain management during my birth. I will be very disappointed if I end up accepting it. Please do not offer it to me unless I ask; I am aware that it is available,” it does not mean that if I have a 36 hour labor (that is somehow allowed to happen in a hospital) and am exhausted and unable to continue, or if I am too nervous and shaken by the pain and it is stopping me from progressing, I will not request pain meds. It just means that when I am feeling vulnerable at the height of a contraction I do not want a nurse to look at me and say, “You know, I could just make this all go away,” as one did to my mother in law, or to say, “Don’t be a martyr, just accept the epidural,” as countless women have heard. There are many ways to have a successful birth. Pain medication certainly does not increase my chances of a healthy, alert baby in most cases. And I would rather be supported in my completely legitimate decision to try to forgo pain meds than to have something I know about but do not want offered to me when my will is weakest. Think of it this way, if you were on a diet and had cut down on your number of calories, and one day after having to rush out the door and miss breakfast and then being held up and not getting to lunch until late leaving you starving someone offered you a big slice of chocolate cake with more calories in it than you were trying to eat in a day, would you thank them for it a few hours later? It depends how strongly you felt about your diet. For some, it would be extremely demoralizing, especially if they had been struggling with weight for awhile. For those people it’s a lot easier if their friends know not to offer that piece of chocolate cake when they’re starving. Is it being unreasonable to let them know you’re seriously trying to avoid dessert? No. So why is it unreasonable to make similar requests in labor?
I guess I just resent the implications that people with birth plans are selfish and unreasonable and don’t care about their children. Typically these women are very reasonable, and will accept and be happy with deviations from their original birth plans as long as they felt they were an informed, respected part of the decision making process for where to depart.