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August 23, 2016

Writing your own birth plan: laissez-faire or overprepared?

Women's Health Katie's Baby
Katie_Gagnon_BirthPlan Ryan Gagnon/for PhillyVoice

Katie and her husband recently developed a birth plan that outlines their preferences for labor and delivery, while keeping in mind that they should be flexible and expect the unexpected on the big day. At 36 weeks pregnant, Katie is keeping calm and staying cool by hanging out in her aunt and uncle's pool.

I like to be prepared. I would not go as far as to call myself a control freak, but my husband probably would. My predisposition for control has fueled my desire to read and research my way through my first pregnancy. I have been attempting to learn as much as possible so I am as prepared as possible for this new unknown of becoming a mother and caring for my baby boy.

Early in my pregnancy, a good friend gave me some great advice for labor and delivery: expect the unexpected. After giving birth to two beautiful children, she encouraged me to understand that try as I might, there really is no way to be totally prepped on what will happen on the big day. Some women never dilate; some women need to be induced; some women want to deliver naturally but unforeseen complications result in an unplanned C-section; while some women desire a home birth but need to be rushed to a hospital. For all the expecting mothers who deal with the unexpected, there are just as many women who have the labor and delivery experience they have envisioned and hoped for. But you never really know which way things will go until it is happening.

My new pregnancy mantra of “expect the unexpected” would be a little scary for me, except that I have total trust in the hospital where I will deliver. I keep telling myself that women give birth successfully every day and with the help of my obstetrician, nurses and my husband, so will I. Though it goes against my nature, relinquishing control of what exactly will happen in the days and hours leading to meeting my son has actually provided me with some relief. I am not an OB/GYN, a midwife, a nurse or a doula. And I have never given birth before. Rather than put the pressure on myself to plan for every possibility, I am putting my faith in my team of medical professionals.

My new laissez-faire attitude about labor and delivery has continued to be coupled with reading and research, and lots of questions to my doctors. I also talk to a lot of mothers and pregnant women to learn from their experiences. It was one of these conversations that recently compelled me to put together a birth plan.

A great friend and amazing mother from Hawaii told me about her birth plan. She researched and wrote it with input from her obstetrician and doula, and her husband distributed copies to all of the staff who helped her through labor and delivery. Some of the things that were important to her, like waiting at least a minute to clamp and cut the umbilical cord , are not always common practices at hospitals. Rather than trying to remember to say these preferences while in the throes of labor and delivery, she felt it was better to have everything printed for easy reference. She encouraged my husband and me to write our own birth plan, which we are now doing.

I found some sample birth plans online, which are helping to guide the one we are creating. Ours is still in draft form, but some of the things we are including are my desire to have a natural birth and to be able to walk freely and change positions throughout labor. I want our baby boy to be placed on my chest immediately after delivery and we do not want the umbilical cord to be clamped and cut until after it stops pulsating. Postpartum, our son will room-in with us and all procedures, including circumcision, will be done at my bedside.

My obstetrician is supportive of our personalized birth plan but has also cautioned that I retain my “expect-the-unexpected” mantra. Sometimes a birth plan needs to be altered for the health and safety of mother and baby and mothers can become distraught that things are not going exactly the way they planned. Adding this kind of stress to an already highly emotional situation is counterintuitive to what doctors and nurses recommend for a healthy labor and delivery.

I am still working on my birth plan, so if you have any recommendations or ideas, I would appreciate hearing them. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or tweet me at @thephillyvoice and @KathleenEGagnon.

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