These days, every self-respecting birth educator recommends writing a birth plan and many hospital patient notes now contain a birth plan (or more diplomatic ‘birth preferences’ document) in which mothers can record their wishes.
Yet mothers are warned not to fixate on these plans. After all, who plans that their waters will rupture prematurely? It happens in 8% of cases. Who plans to be induced? 1 in 4 – that’s 162,500 women begin labour in this way. And what about the approximate 163,000 who experience a c-section? In most cases, that wasn’t in the plan either.
But, despite plans often going awry, the notion of the birth plan, is, in my view, extremely important – especially when approached mindfully.
After all, hospitals are strange places, peopled by uniformed agents who speak in code. Parents, especially first time parents in the midst of the dramatic and mysterious experience of labour, often find themselves reduced to a child-like state unable to think, or even speak up for themselves, persuaded, coerced and intimidated into situations they do not understand, did not want, and sometimes go on to regret. In some small way the birth plan protects against this outcome.
I believe intention is what is missing from much birth-planning today
During my own first Home Birth After Caesarean (HBAC) eleven years ago, I had a real lack of confidence in my body’s ability to birth. After all, it had failed the first time. I also had a lot of fear around childbirth. But my intention was crystal-clear, I wanted no intervention in the normal birth of my second child. But the NHS were very heavy on intervening in Vaginal Births After Caesarean (VBACs) at that time so, I decided, to maximise my chances of an intervention-free birth, I would birth my baby at home.
My NHS Obstetrician would not support me in this plan. In fact he vehemently opposed it calling me irresponsible and selfish, scaring me with possible death scenarios, so I opted to go privately. My intention to VBAC was so strong, everything seemed to just re-arrange itself around it and my second child was born safely and naturally at home.
I believe intention is what is missing from much birth-planning today. Writing a birth plan could be so much more than a case of reading a book or two, watching One Born Every Minute and then writing a list of preferences. Instead, I see the ideal birth plan as the end result of a process of physical and psychological preparation that includes body-work, examining your beliefs, discovering your resources and understanding your rights in a way that is mindful of your intentions and your own connection with your Self and your baby.
Here are my five tips for achieving a mindful birth plan:
Conscious birthing starts with intention. The Yogis call it San Kalpa, (Kalpa means vow or promise) the hypnotherapists and psychologists call it affirmation. The essential difference between the affirmation and the yogic resolve is that the yogis work with just one single resolve. This intention is a heartfelt impulse of consciousness of the birth you wish to create, ie, a home birth, a natural birth, a positive birth, an empowered birth. (I am not including a safe birth because that is a given). The language of this intentions should be simple and direct and formed in the present tense as if it is already happening.
Cultivate the ideal body-mind state for planting that intention
Once you have chosen your resolve, then, like a real seed, you plant it into the fertile depths of your consciousness (either under hypnosis, or in the deep open awareness that constitutes the Yogic or meditative state). This is crucial to its effectiveness as it will settle deep into the subconscious if the mind is calm and uncluttered. Whether working with yoga, hypnotherapy or Mindfulness – or even all three, choose a practice that encourages you to work on yourself.
Do whatever you need to do to bring about that intention
This means getting informed. Know and enforce your rights, know the maternity guidelines of your local unit, prepare your support team so that they really will be able to support you but most of all prepare your self. We do not embark on a summit expedition, or run a marathon without intense mind/body preparation. Nor should we embark on the childbirth journey without the same.
Write your birth plan
Once your intentions are set, whispered to your baby, written down in the fibres of your body and shouted from the rooftops, it is time to start writing your birth plan. One page long, succinct and polite. What matters is the power behind it.
Detach from the outcome
Another given in mindful birthing is non-attachment to outcome. Childbirth is unpredictable. We know what we wish for but we also understand deeply that we do not control the situation. So you begin your incredible, arduous and uncertain birth journey, prepared to the best of your ability but with an open mind and heart. The Birth Plan document is the final result of this journey of preparation. It says: I am as ready as I will ever be. Your plan may or may not be what manifests but the planning will have been invaluable.
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