pregnancy and parenthood

The one-liner that I vow to stop saying to expectant mothers

Before crossing from expectant mother to new mother, I was busy working on my birth plan. Yet, many mamas often told me some form of “Forget your birth plan. Honey, you can’t plan your labor. You’ll just be upset when things don’t go according to plan.” 

I understood that. But I also didn’t find that to be a productive comment. I wanted to go into labor actually understanding all my options, even if most of them were minor details to the whole experience – or even if most of them wouldn’t end up being options at all under the necessity of medical intervention.

Formalizing my birth plan was more than just figuring out if I wanted pain meds or not. I wanted to understand why both cases had their ups and downs. And, what about newborn care? What is erythromycin ointment, and why is Hep B being offered as a vaccine to my one-day old? What is vernix, and why would I want to let my newborn stay covered in it? If I have to get a C-section, what is this term “family-centered C-section?” Shouldn’t they all be family-centered?

Suddenly this birth plan that many people were telling me was not important turned into my study guide in the weeks up to labor. I learned so much. It made it easier to actually envision my labor, which you’re encouraged to do as part of the power of positive thinking.

Of course, I did not end up sticking to my birth plan like everyone cautioned, but I didn’t regret or envy my plan.

It was never about having some sort of picture-perfect birth. It was a tangible starting point that helped me be an active participant in my son’s birth. My birth plan helped me labor through unexpected turbulence so that when I needed to abandon Plan A, I could gracefully do so because I was also prepared for what Plans B and C entailed.

And yet, I recently caught myself jumping on the bandwagon of echoing: “Be prepared for your birth plan to go out the window!”

This is wrapped in pessimism. As if her plans are useless. As if she shouldn’t try to be in control of what is going to happen to her baby and her body. As if changing plans is inherently bad.

No. No. No.

I am done offering this as “wisdom” because to do that diminishes an expectant mom’s journey towards knowledge. If an expectant mom is in search of information, I will not tell her to un-prepare under the umbrella of “less is more.” Instead I will promote knowledge as empowering with the only warning being that she take time to understand the benefits of all options, not just the first ones she is drawn to. Changing course is not made easier by ignorance. Changing course is made easier by having an open mind.

Having an open mind is not just beneficial for getting through our labors, it is beneficial in motherhood. The ability to be flexible will prove to be one of the most important survival tools when that baby comes home from the hospital. The ability to unapologetically navigate conflicting advice from outsiders will prove to be an ongoing challenge to a mother’s voice. The ability to abandon parenting preferences that looked better on paper than in real life will be a recurring bout of necessary trial and error.

Birth plans are ironically foreshadowing of how we learn to balance science and nature, wisdom and instinct. They are excellent practice for how to be informed without becoming rigid. If we can’t handle the unwritten flexibility that is asked of us with birth plans, then we will have one hell of an awakening as new parents.

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