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Your Birth Plan Is Not A Wishlist

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times. I say this with all the love and respect in the world for birthworkers who are busting ass to make a difference - -  but honestly, it has to be one of the dumbest things that smart and well-intentioned people say about birth…. And it reveals just how far we have to go in breaking free of the patriarchal mindset in the childbearing year.

Ready for it? Here it is:

“Writing a birth plan is a waste of time and/or sets up unrealistic expectations. You can’t control birth, so you shouldn’t plan for birth. But hey, if you want to write a birth wish list and hope for the best that’s okay…As long as you remember that a healthy baby is the most important thing."

Really? Really?! Let’s break this down.

"Writing a birth plan is a waste of time and/or sets up unrealistic expectations"
Every person I know who has written a birth plan has done so for ONE reason: they want to feel heard and respected as an individual but are afraid they'll be lost in the shuffle. So they write down what their priorities are in a birth plan.

I’ll give you that it IS unrealistic to just write a plan, hand it over on birthing day, and expect it all to happen. If the things you've written in your birth plan are already the standard of care then you don't need to write them down at all because they're the default choice for your caregiver or birthing location. But if what you want is NOT the standard of care, writing a birth plan is not enough because you're asking them to give you something they are not accustomed to giving (and possibly are not qualified or equipped to give). You'll need to work with your caregiver in the weeks and months leading up to your birth to figure out how to make your desires possible. 

Some things will be relatively simple. If for example you want to wear your own clothes then you can decline the hospital gown but will need to bring your own appropriate clothing with you knowing that IV and epidural access should be considered and there is a possibility of having your clothes ruined. If on the other hand you want a waterbirth in a hospital with no built-in tubs and no caregiver who has ever attended a waterbirth…. That could be months of legwork and negotiations.

In either case and all the in-betweens, writing a good birth plan is about education, information, and the ability these give you to make an informed choice EVEN when things unfold unexpectedly. Writing a good birth plan is NOT a waste of time because education is never wasted.


“You can't control birth so you shouldn't plan for birth.”
I can’t control the weather, but I can still pack an umbrella when the skies look stormy.I can’t control the sun but I can still put on sunscreen before heading to the beach. I can't control what time my children fall asleep but I can create a bedtime rhythm and ritual that encourages rest. We can't “control” birth any more than we can control all the other forces of nature. But we can plan for them, to decrease the chances of being rain-soaked, sun-burned, sleep-deprived…. or traumatized by our birth process. We can look at what our goals are for birth and then create a rhythm, ritual, and environment to help us reach those goals - we can make a birth plan. Not because we think bringing an umbrella will stop the rain but because it will help us get through the storm. 


"But hey, if you want to write a birth wish list and hope for the best, that's ok..."

A wish list is generally a collection of stuff you want that you hope someone else will give to you. You don't have any say over what you'll get or  from whom you'll get it...if you get it at all. Once you've made the list it's out of your hands and out of your control. Wish lists are the domain of children anticipating Christmas and Birthdays, who have little to no income or influence to make their desires a reality, so they make a wish list and hope for the best.  Wishes are a thin thread of hope in the face of powerlessness. Your birth plan is not a wish list. You are not a child begging for a pony. You are a grown adult who is preparing for an experience that will change who you are for a lifetime! 

Treating a birth plan like a wish list infantilizes women and their needs. It assumes you don't know how to prioritize or make informed choices. It feeds into the patriarchal mindset with the assumption that the wish-granter knows better what you need and want than you do. This is your body, your baby, and your birth. You are the one who will live with the effects of your birth process for a lifetime and so YOU are the one who should be the primary powerholder. All decisions should be made with YOU and the child(ren) within at their heart. No, your birth plan is not a wish list. It's a manifesto. 

Finally we have the subtle but insidious:
“as long as you remember that a healthy baby is the most important thing”

It's the P.S. you hear on your way out the door from your caregivers office which undermines whatever ‘sweet nuthins’ they whispered in your ear about respecting your choices. It's the card that gets pulled in labour as soon as you want to nibble a cracker, walk the halls, get off the fetal monitor to pee, or decline a vaginal exam: “We need to keep doing X to make sure baby is healthy”. Far far too often it isn't about your health or safety at all but about institutional and caregiver policies and preferences. OF COURSE we all want a healthy baby. We all want a healthy mother too. But know what I want more than a mother-baby who avoid death or serious injury in childbirth? I want a mother-baby who are fully alive and WELL in body, mind, and soul.

“As long as everyone is healthy” is far too low a standard. We need to raise the bar on birth and making our needs known through a birth plan is one small way we can do that.

Writing a good birth plan is not a waste of time. 
Education is never wasted.

Writing a good birth plan isn't about trying to control the experience, 
it’s about preparing for the process.

Writing a good birth plan is not making wishes and hoping they're granted. 
A good birth plan is your personal manifesto - a declaration of your intentions, motives, and vision for an optimal birth process. 

A good birth plan is a tool that every birthing person needs in their toolbox.To learn more about writing your personal manifesto for an optimal birth, check out the following:

What About Birth Plans
Let's Talk About Risk


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