As doulas, our motto is: "If you don't make a plan, one will be made for you," and unfortunately, we've seen this backfire on many clients. Many families seek doula support for their second pregnancy after their first first birth experience was not what they envisioned. Many parents even leave their experience traumatized due to feeling out of control of the situation or feeling helpless.
Sometimes, if there is a medical emergency for example, this can't be avoided. But, it saddens us to hear stories in which this is did not seem to be the case, where a bit of pre-planning, education, and support could have made a huge difference.
That all being said, as doulas we hear a lot of "we'll just see how it goes," or "I have no idea what to expect so I'm just going to take it as it comes!" And we get it. For first babies, planning can seem pointless when there are so many unknowns, but ultimately, we think this attitude comes from a place of being overwhelmed, or unsure of where to start getting information.
Still, we strongly encourage you to plan.. but we also want you to be flexible. So if you're a parent that wants to "see how it goes," we're here to say that's great! However, we want to challenge you to think about what your ideal birth looks like. It doesn't have to be super detailed: do you want to avoid surgery? Do you want to feel calm? Do you want your partner to be involved? Just think of 3-5 major things and then go through the steps below.
1. Know Your Options
A huge part of what we do as doulas is explore the MANY options you have as a birthing person. We find that most of our clients are unaware of several (if not all!) of these options. But this makes sense. Why would you need to know all this information until now? We also get that there is A LOT of information out there... where do you start? What do you trust?
First, we recommend you take a childbirth education class. We particularly recommend in-person classes because we find that families simply get more out of them. I could go on about why that is, but suffice it to say that it's just better. We also recommend an out-of-hospital class. While a lot of educators in the hospital are great, they often give you information on how to be a better patient, so we suggest that you look for a class in the community. Whether you take Hypnobirthing (which we like), Lamaze, or some other variation, you'll be in good hands.
Secondly, of course, hire a doula. As you go through your class and start to iron the details of your desires, hopes, fears, your doula can help you individualize all the information you received. No more Googling! Your doula will be able to tell you evidence based information that you can trust.
Finally, check out our checklist! This freebie is a good place to start if you want to start doing some solo research.
2. Plan for your "Not Ideal" Birth
So we know that it's impossible to plan for EVERY labor/birth scenario, but we suggest planning for the two most common variations to natural birth: trouble coping with labor and the need for a c-section.
Our checklist outlines some of the options you have for both scenarios, and your doula can help you pinpoint what makes the most sense for you. For example, are you terrified of needles? Maybe planning to use an opiate before an epidural is ideal for you. Does your partner faint at the sight of blood? Maybe your doula/support person goes into the OR instead should a c-section be necessary.
Making decisions in the moment feels overwhelming (and scary) for everyone involved - especially if there are safety concerns. It makes a huge difference if you've already thought some of these scenarios through.
3. Write It Out
Last but not least, write down your plan. You can use our template here! But there are also many other options online. We encourage you to simplify your plan to include the things that are most important to you. If you go to the hospital with a mile-long list, some of it will absolutely be missed.
We recommend that you make one note each of the following:
- Your labor/birth environment (Music? Lights?)
- Your labor (Movement? IV fluids?)
- Your goal/wishes for pain relief
- The basic outline of how you'd want a c-section to go
- Your birth (Coached pushing? Episiotomy?)
- After birth (Skin-to-skin? Delayed cord clamping)
- Newborn procedures (Eye ointment? circumcision?)
Once you have a solid plan, talk about it with your healthcare provider. Make sure all of your wishes can be honored by them/the hospital. If not, choose whether you can be flexible where they are not able to be. If you feel that something is very important to you, switch providers, or at least explore other options. Odds are that there is a healthcare provider that is willing to do their best to make sure your birth plan is followed as much as possible.
And.. that's it! Happy planning!