Most of our lives are incredibly scheduled these days and many of us have become accustomed to mapping out our days, weeks, and months right down to the minute. Preparing for motherhood is really no different. For some, it may just happen. But for others, getting pregnant requires significant planning – paying attention to ovulation, coordinating schedules with our partners, changing our diet, and even modifying our workouts. And since we put so much time, effort, and precision into how we get pregnant and our pregnancy journey, we should give our labor and delivery similar consideration.
A birth plan does just that. It is essentially a map of how you want your labor to go. It is an actual document that outlines everything from who you want in the room with you to how you want to manage pain to the delivery positions you want to use (or specifically do not want to use) when giving birth. Your plan can share your setting preferences, your desired interventions (or the ways the doctor will step in to assist delivery,) who you want by your side, and how you want your baby handled after birth. Additionally, this document will clearly state any of your preexisting health conditions or allergies that should be considered during labor, so that your safety remains the priority.
As Black women, there is no denying that we are up against medical biases that directly impact the care we receive during and after our pregnancies. Statistically, we are more likely to be misdiagnosed, have complications overlooked, or complaints ignored by our providers. For many of us, this document has the power to speak for us at a time when we may otherwise not be heard.
As a first-time mom, I didn’t feel like I had much control. I knew I could ask for an epidural if I was in pain, but other than that, I felt like many of the decisions would be made for me by my doctor. I had a doula which helped me understand my options. She also helped prepare me for the fact that my own doctor, who knew my history and had supported my entire pregnancy, may not be the doctor who would deliver my baby. Knowing I may be meeting this person for the first time, during the most important time, made creating a birth plan even more important.
Nationally, we are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than our white peers and while we know our bodies, our medical history, and our goals, we are not always heard when we speak about them. A birth plan can be our megaphone.
There are a number of things to consider when creating a birth plan and every aspect is very personal, but for me, here are a few reasons I’m so grateful I had one when I went into labor.
My birth plan:
Allowed me to set the scene
I choose my playlist, brought my own speakers, and set the mood. Lighting was dimmed and I was able to create the somewhat serene setting I had hoped for. I knew that the way the room felt would help me best prepare mentally. And during a shift change, when a new nurse entered my room and abruptly turned those fluorescent lights back on, it was with the support of that document (and my doula,) that we were able to quickly reset the tone.
Communicated my pain management goals
I entered delivery anticipating how I wanted to manage my labor pain and this was clearly stated in the document. Depending on your pain management goals, you can use your birth plan to state all of your wishes. You may also have no idea what those wishes are or they may change drastically once labor starts. All of this is ok and it can be as important to state what you are not sure about, as it is to state what you know you want.
Outlined my medical history
Many Black pregnancies are considered high risk for a number of reasons and mine was no different. My birth plan put my medical conditions that needed to be considered during labor in writing, providing me with peace of mind and a documented layer of protection. I also wanted to avoid as many interventions as possible and this document allowed me to clearly state which interventions, if necessary, I preferred and in what order.
Stated who I wanted by my side
I delivered pre-Covid but now, hospitals and doctors have restrictions on who is present and when. If you can’t have your whole support team at once, your birth plan will allow you to communicate who you want with you during different stages of labor.
Shared how I wanted my baby handled after delivery
A lot happens in those first precious moments after your baby arrives. I remember thinking how quickly everyone was moving – I was being tended to, my son was being wiped and weighed and measured and all I wanted was to feel him on me. The fact is, you have to make some pretty quick choices after you deliver and your birth plan can state your preferences so that you can instead focus on meeting your little one.
The bottom line…
Your health and the health of your baby should be the top priority for your care team. Your doctor or midwife, nurse, and doula will make the final decisions necessary to ensure both of you are safe. But this is your pregnancy, your labor, and your delivery, and you have power in this journey. Always remember that you have choices and the right to advocate for yourself in hopes of making this moment as uniquely special in as safe a way as possible. A birth plan can be a great tool to help you achieve this goal.
If you’re not sure where to start, take our Birth Plan Quiz! Whether it’s birth plan or doula support or questions about pregnancy symptoms, Mae is here for you every step of the way.