Planning for an Unplanned Birth Experience
There are about 4,000 different articles and checklists suggesting the best way to create the best plan for your birth. Birth professionals and parenting magazines everywhere stress the importance of a birth plan with the premise of a smooth and successful birth exactly as you want it.
Unfortunately, these blog posts and articles reserve one, short sentence (if that) to state there is no guarantee your birth will go according to plan.
I write this knowing that I will get an earful from those who push the "you can get the birth experience you want" mantra, but I truly feel more than one sentence needs to be said about this caveat and with good reason.
I often hear women tell their stories of how they were traumatized by the fact their birth did not go as planned and did not get the birth they wanted. I have no doubt they are traumatized by their experience and who could blame them? Preparing for a textbook birth only to undergo and emergency c-section is of course traumatizing. Birth is by medical definition a trauma. It is a great disservice to women to not prepare them for all the possibilities of a birth experience, and leading mothers to believe they can have their ideal birth with the help of a written out plan contributes to this trauma.
"The psychology behind developing [birth] PTSD is complicated, but it frequently has a lot to do with expectations. Mothers often don’t anticipate having a problematic birth, so when it happens, it can leave lasting psychological scars." Ilana E. Strauss, The Mother's Who Can't Escape the Trauma of Child Birth
The one thing I have learned over the years is when mother nature (or God, whatever you're preference) is involved, you really have no control over the plan.
Instead of creating a checklist for your perfect planned birth, I've created a list for a list to help prepare you for Mother's Nature's plan for your birth
Your Unplanned Birth Experience Checklist
1, Research your family birth history on both sides of yours and baby's family
While not all pregnancy conditions are hereditary, some are. By asking family members about their birth experiences, you can compile a list to go over with your healthcare professional. Additionally, find out if any relatives have any allergies to medications. Allergies or sensitivities can be inherited per Dr. Adhuna C. Mathuria, MD of StoneSprings Hospital of Allergy & Immunology.
2. Choose whether you want to deliver in a hospital, birth center, or home. Then research the facilities
Find out what they can do and what they can't. Research their policies and practices. Not all hospitals allow water births, birth photography during C-sections, or VBACs. Ask the questions that apply to your birth preferences. Do this as early as possible because this choice will impact your provider choice and possibly insurance.
3. Discuss all the possible events that can happen during your birth and the options for each situation with your healthcare provider
By learning what could happen and the solutions and treatments to delivery your baby safely, you can make an educated choice for yourself and your baby. Also ask about different drugs and medications and their side effects. These side effects or reactions can impact your trauma as well.
4. Plan for the non-labor things
Make a list for your partner or doula regarding who to notify, when to notify, and who not to notify. Create your list of people you want to visit you and who you do not. Plan for the snacks and hospital bag. Plan for what you want to eat after delivery.
5. Research pain management options - even if you want a natural birth
A lot of us have been there. We want a natural birth and then change our mind. If you research the various options, you'll be prepared to make the best choice for you should you change your mind. And again, learn their side effects.
6. Test out various relaxation techniques
See what works best for you and what doesn't. That way you pack what you need, have practiced your method, and don't waste time trying what doesn't work. You can download our 30 Free birth affirmation printables to help you focus and relax during your birth experience.
7. Plan your after-birth baby care
Decide whether or not you want circumcision, immediate skin-to-skin contact, delayed cord clamping, etc. If you research these options early, you aren't making a last minute uneducated decision. This list can be given to your nurse or midwife prior to delivery and shared with whomever needs to know. Additionally, ask your birth care provider about the steps if baby needs to go to NICU after delivery. While your birth may not be traumatic, many women experience postpartum PTSD after their baby is whisked away and unable to come home with you.
8. Compile your personal info to discuss with your birth care professionals
I'm not talking about medical info. I'm talking about your your fears, past experiences, or other information you would like your birth team to know about you and your partner. By discussing these fears and concerns with your birth team, they can work trough them with you as well as take steps to calm and prepare you.
9. Write down your cultural or traditional preferences
Your medical provider may not be familiar with the specifics of different religious or cultural practices. It's important to prepare your birth team with that information not only to educate them but to give them a clear list of these practices so there is no misunderstanding.
10. Have your partner research postpartum depression and Birth PTSD
By having your partner learn this information, they are more apt to recognize when you are having problems you wouldn't otherwise be aware of or verbalize. Your partner can then help you get help you need.
11. Remind yourself that birth is a volatile experience but you are prepared
While your body slowly grew and developed your baby over the course of nine months, your body rapid changes during the laboring process. It can be a four hour process or a 24 hour process. Birth can start completely textbook normal but turn scary in an instant. Sometimes your birth care team doesn't have time to walk you through options or there might not be any other option. By knowing the information in advance, you, your partner, and family will have a level of understanding and that knowledge can help give you a feeling of control over the situation even if you have no physical control.
You have every right to be heard during your birth experience as well as educated and informed. As mothers, we cross every T and dot every I to ensure our babies are safe, healthy, and well taken care of. We spend nine months picking the safest baby items, the softest clothing, and even the trendiest birth. Outside of prenatal healthcare, we do very little to take care of ourselves. It's important for mothers to put their mental health at an equal priority as their maternal health. Thoroughly preparing for your birth experience is the first step. Because if we don’t properly take care of ourselves, how can we properly care for our newborn baby.