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How Not to Write a Birth Plan

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I'm a planner by nature. I've got a family meal plan mapped out for the next two months. I bought my first Christmas gift in July. And I've already put some serious thought into our 2014 summer vacation. So when it came to writing a birth plan for my first child, you'd think I'd be all over that, right? Well, imagine my surprise when I found myself 35 weeks pregnant and avoiding it like a Trader Joe's parking lot on a Sunday night.

I was stressing. You've got to have one, right? I mean, if you don't hand the L&D registration nurse a five-page, single-spaced document detailing every step of your birth, you're sure to become one of the horror stories you read about online: a completely unnecessary C-section, after which evil nurses whisk your baby away for hours and pump him full of poisonous formula. They might even give him ... the eye goop.

The truth is, I had no problem with a C-section if needed. Or formula, for that matter. And despite exhaustive research, I just couldn't find it in me to get worked up about something referred to as "eye goop." Yet it felt irresponsible to go without a thorough birth plan. So, why was I having so much trouble writing one?

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I was still futzing with the plan when my water broke a week-and-a-half early. With the birth of my son imminent, I came up with a new (non) plan on our way to the hospital: safe delivery, healthy baby, healthy mama.

Good thing, because I had a number of complications that would have made the old plan completely irrelevant. Being flexible was liberating. Despite the interventions, I still feel good about my son's birth.

For those of you banging your heads against your laptops at 35 weeks, don't feel like you have to force it. For me, keeping these more general ideas in mind helped make giving birth a positive experience.

The fact is that Googling and talking to my sister-in-law about her induction does not give me the same skills and training as a professional.

Choose your team wisely, and respect their expertise. For my money, this is where planning (and research) really pays off, no matter if you choose a hospital, birthing center or home birth. The best decision I made in preparing for birth was selecting a like-minded doctor who was also forthright about possible complications and how they'd be handled. Once you've chosen someone, I think it's important to respect her expertise, just as you want her to respect your wishes. We should all be well-informed, but the fact is that Googling and talking to my sister-in-law about her induction does not give me the same skills and training as a professional—whether that's a doctor, nurse, midwife or support staff.

There's no "right" way to give birth. By clinging to a stringent birth plan, we risk setting ourselves up for disappointment or worse—feelings of failure—should the unexpected arise. There are many ways to deliver a baby, and there's no prize for doing it one way versus another. Giving birth can be an empowering experience, but the ultimate purpose is to get the baby out. Too often we make it a reflection of ourselves, as if it's our first "act" of motherhood and defines the type of mother we'll be for the rest of our lives. Well, it's not and it doesn't.

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Let yourself off the hook. No matter how hard you try, you can't control everything that happens during a birth (is it designed this way to prepare us for the unpredictability of parenthood? I'm thinking yes). The last thing we want to do is get so caught up in how things "should" go that we miss out on the joy of welcoming our children into the world.

As for my inclination to plan ahead ... well, I'm not totally reformed. My son's first birthday party is still eight months away and I've already picked out the invitation.

Did you have a birth plan? Did it happen?

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