Updated: Oct 27, 2021
"What? You're planning to go to college? That would be so cool. But just remember to be flexible. Things don't always work out like you planned, and you don't want to be disappointed."
"Oh, you want to have stroganoff for dinner? Just remember that even if you buy the ingredients and do everything right, it might not taste how you thought. It's good to have a backup plan. Last time I made stroganoff, everything went great until I burned it. It could happen to you."
"You're training for a marathon? Whoa, that sounds really hard. You know, you don't have to be a hero. Why would you put yourself through that?"
WHAT IF this is the way people responded to you when you announced your plans for your life, for the weekend, or even for dinner?
Life is unpredictable. That doesn't mean we don't make plans.
When we are planning our educational or career paths, no one stops us in our tracks warning us that things might not go as planned, worrying that we will be disappointed. Even though it's true! Things fall apart sometimes! Disappointment is a part of life! We accept this, and we keep planning.
What if instead of planning for college we said, "I'm just going to go with the flow, and see what happens." Would we take the initiative to research different colleges? Apply for scholarships? Study for the SAT? Network with helpful mentors, explore areas of study, or build a portfolio? The idea is ridiculous—no one who has any hope of going to college is going to just "see what happens."
It isn't all our fault when we think this way about birth. Our society tends to view birth as dangerous and women's bodies as untrustworthy. Women tell us all the time that they aren't going to make plans for their birth because they know that birth is unpredictable, and they know they need to be accepting. Great! Being accepting and making a plan are not mutually exclusive.
Here are some things you have control over even when birth is uncontrollable:
Who will be in the room with you. Who will you choose to support you emotionally through every stage of pregnancy and birth? What family members will bring you strength and comfort? Will you hire a doula? Who will choose to support you with medical advice and, if necessary, intervention? You don't have to go with whoever your insurance covers, whoever works nearest to you, or whoever your friend recommended—hunt around for the people who are a really good fit. The people who bring you peace and confidence, who are aligned with your vision and values, and who treat you with respect.
How you prepare your body and mind. Excellent prenatal nutrition and movement cannot prevent every complication of pregnancy or birth, but they absolutely make complications less likely. Brain-training programs like Gentle Birth or Hypnobabies can change the neural pathways in your brain to be—yes—accepting, and relaxed. Learning everything you can about the birth process and about your birth options will help you make decisions confidently, and will help you "go with the flow" because you understand the flow.
How you communicate with your provider. Some women are afraid of unexpected physiologic complications in birth. Some are afraid of being pushed into unnecessary interventions. Both fears can be greatly reduced by learning how to communicate effectively with your midwife, doctor, or nurse. More posts on this in the future! We offer lots of tools for positive communication in our Intentional Birth program. The most important tool is to ask lots of questions, and to get a second opinion when something doesn't feel right.
What interventions you will receive. Many women do not realize that every decision surrounding their bodies and babies is in their hands. You legally must give your consent for a medical intervention to be performed. Sometimes care providers will carelessly use language that suggests you "have to" do something, or you "are not allowed" to do another thing. This is not true. You can remind them of your decision-making role by asking lots of questions, thanking them for their advice, and taking time with your partner to discuss what you feel is the right course of action.
So many tiny details. These might seem trivial, but when women tell us their birth stories, they often mention what they remember touching, listening to, smelling, eating, or wearing. When you are in your most primal state (ahem, birth) your senses are heightened. Plan to fill them with things that bring you comfort, familiarity, or a feeling of being loved and safe.
Going with the flow of birth is a really good idea. To us this means that you recognize your birth pattern might not be like someone else's, and that you can trust your body and your baby to work together safely. Very rarely, we are called upon to change our plan and birth in a different way or a different place. But that's okay, because we knew that could happen when we made our plan, and we were prepared for contingencies.
Going with the flow of birth is not the same as going with the flow of your particular hospital's policies, which are not always evidence-based. We aren't telling you to refuse every intervention or go against your care provider's experienced advice. What we are saying is that you deserve individualized care, and the way to get it is to learn your options, and to make a plan that reflects your values, preferences, needs, and future hopes. Because you matter.
For more on how to make a birth plan, and preparing your mind, body, and team for birth, check out our comprehensive online program, Intentional Birth.