By Nancy Ripton
My mother had a birth plan: one day prior to her due date she packed an overnight bag. When contractions commenced (11 days late), she called my father and went to the hospital. That was it. Nowadays, women are bombarded with increasing choices in all areas of their life, so why should giving birth be any different?
A birth plan is a document for your doctor or midwife that outlines your ideal delivery. “It provides an informative discussion,” says Dr. Vyta Senikas, associate executive vice-president of The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC). It helps open the lines of communication between patient and health-care provider, and encourages you to bring up topics you may have otherwise forgotten until labour begins — when it can be too late. “If I get the impression a patient has special requests, I will ask her to write them down,” says Dr. Dan Hodges, an Edmonton, Alberta-based OB/GYN. “I sign the paper so my colleagues know I have reviewed it with my patient, in case I am not on call when she delivers.”
A birth plan can be as simple or as detailed as you wish. You can write a few key considerations on a piece of paper such as “I don’t want an epidural to help deal with pain.” Or, you may choose to follow online templates that allow you to “build-a-birth.” “I would like a birthing bar to aid in pushing.” Check. “My partner will call out the sex of the baby.” Check.
“A birth plan is a good idea so a woman can voice her preferences surrounding birth,” says Kristina House, a Toronto-based doula and mother of two. “Having a birth plan was about me being in control,” says Merydth Holte-McKenzie, a new mom in Kemptville, Ont. “It allowed me to thoroughly discuss the implications of different outcomes with my husband and midwife, so if there should be a deviation from our best-case scenario plan, we were on the same page to make new decisions.”
Health-care providers are usually open to discussing a birth plan. “Most doctors want what their patient wants,” says Dr. Hodges. “Once, I somewhat resented birth plans as a non-confidence vote, but I have changed my tune and now find them an efficient way of communicating to give the best experience, and to review the risks and alterations that may come up.” If your care provider is resistant, keep the plan simple and the language positive. House suggests having two birth plans: a more detailed one to review with your support staff that includes medical and non-medical considerations, such as using a birthing ball during contractions, and a shorter, basic plan (pain control preference, etc.) with medical-only concerns for health-care providers to review. It’s also a good idea to bring a copy of your birth plan with you at the time of labour/delivery. “It will be in your doctor’s file, but papers can get misplaced,” says Dr. Senikas.
For some women, their birth plan may be to have no plan at all. “I know I get upset when things don’t work out according to my vision, so I didn’t write down anything,” says Beth-Anne Jones, a Toronto mom of two. “The best advice my OB/GYN gave me was to be open to everything and embrace the experience for what it is, not what I want it to be.”
Nancy Ripton used birth plans with the deliveries of her two sons. Keep reading to find her template.
“Giving birth is like going on a vacation,” says Dr. Senikas. “You can plan everything in detail, but you only know what it will truly be like after you get back.” Here are some considerations for a birth that doesn’t go according to plan: 1 Be prepared to be flexible. “The mother’s experience, while important, falls second to the health and welfare of mom and baby,” says Dr. Hodges. 2 Keep it simple. “The more complex the birth plan, the more likely there is to be deviation from it,” says Dr. Hodges. 3 Deal with changes. “It’s okay to feel disappointed and sad if your birth didn’t go the way you wanted,” says House. Talk about your feelings with family, friends and other new moms.