10 Reasons People Need To Stop Telling Pregnant Women Their Birth Plans Don't Matter

by Sabrina Joy Stevens

I've heard doctors say it. I've heard nurses say it. I've heard people you and I would probably call raging misogynists say it, and I've heard self-professed (or perhaps I should say "alleged?") feminists say it, too. "It" is one of my biggest pet peeves and "it" needs to stop. Whether they're doing so with the best of intentions, or because they don't really respect the person they're saying it to, people need to stop telling pregnant women their birth plans don't matter.

Contrary to still-too-popular belief, women's preferences, values, and priorities don't stop mattering the moment we become pregnant. No one else will be as affected by the memory or experience of birth than the woman actually doing it, and no one cares more about the child(ren) she is birthing than she whose body created them (in that moment, at least). She has every right to do whatever she can to make the experience as positive as possible, and that's really what a birth plan is about.

Now, I’ll give most people the benefit of the doubt. When they playfully roll their eyes or laugh as a woman mentions her birth plan, or suggest that it'll go right out the window once she's in labor, they’re not usually trying to be awful. Sometimes, they're even trying to be helpful. They're not trying to be dismissive of her wishes, so much as they want to say, "What I thought giving birth would be like, versus how it actually turns out to be sometimes, are different, and I don't want you to feel as bewildered or disappointed by that as I (or someone else they've seen) was." But if that's what they intend to say, then that's what they should actually say. (Also? Supportive, empathetic responses don't typically include eye-rolls or dismissive laughter, so maybe don't do that to people you say you want to support.)

A birth plan is not a statement of, "Here's how I command birth to unfold, or else." A birth plan not about controlling birth at all. It's about reminding the people around a birthing woman that she is still a person, and that she is the only one who gets to decide what happens to her. It's a statement to her care providers, and anyone else on her birth team, letting them know her preferences and how she'd like to be treated as she does one of the most significant things humans ever do: bring a new person into the world.

If you're ever in a position to know a woman's plans for her birth, support her. Make sure she feels heard and respected (especially if you're a medical professional, since being written off and mistreated by medical professionals is pretty much why women started creating birth plans in the first place). Don't dismiss what she has to say, because:

Consent Still Matters, Even During Pregnancy And Birth

Consent always matters, period. In addition to having the right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy or not, pregnant and birthing women have the inherent right to give (or withhold) informed consent to anything that happens to our bodies. Pregnant women are people, not birth machines.

Learning About And Thinking Through Serious Things Before They Happen Is A Good Idea

Since when are people actively discouraged from engaging in advanced planning? No one rolls their eyes or laughs dismissively at someone researching and coming up with a plan for buying a new cell phone, TV, or car. How about we give women who are bringing new people into the world at least as much consideration?

Pregnant Moms Are Grown-Ass Women

If a person is physically mature enough to be pregnant and birth a baby, she's also mature enough to articulate how she wants her body to be treated. (And yes, that's true of teen moms, too, because all people are entitled to decide how they want their bodies are treated.) At its core, a birth plan is a statement about how a pregnant mom wants to be treated as she's giving birth. That matters.

Assuming They Don’t Know Plans Can Change Is Patronizing AF

A lot of times, when people discourage women who've created a birth plan (especially when those women are preparing for an unmedicated birth), their justification for that is the fact that an emergency might arise, and she should be prepared for that.

Really, people? You think a person somehow got all the way to the stage of life where they're popping out other people, without realizing that pregnancy has risks? Like we all somehow managed to miss all the cultural storytelling about women dying in childbirth or problems with babies?

Any woman who has it together enough to create a birth plan, is already fully aware that her plans may need to change if an emergency arises. One more time for the cheap seats in the back: pregnant moms are grown-ass women. How about we assume women are smart enough to know what it means to give birth, instead of talking down to us when we assert our own priorities?

There’s More To Giving Birth Than Not Dying

Unfortunate situations occasionally arise during birth, as they do in every other part of life. However, the sizable majority of things that happen during most births are not matters of life and death for a mom or her baby. Recognizing that, and recognizing that a mom will remember her birthing experience for the rest of her life, it makes all the sense in the world for her to create a birth plan she feels will not only protect her safety, but give her the best shot at having a positive experience.

Women’s Experiences Matter

[Insert petition for a moratorium on the phrase "Well, as long as you have a healthy baby, that's all that matters" here.]

Yes, having a healthy baby is very important, and mom and baby surviving childbirth is the top priority. But that's not the only thing that matters. It also matters that mothers feel safe and respected, rather than scared or abused, while birthing. It matters that mothers are heard, and our preferences for our bodies honored, while birthing. Mothers matter just as much as our children, in birth as at any other time.

Women’s Health Matters

Pregnant women create the birth plans we do because we know our own medical and psychological histories better than anyone else, and because our health matters to us more than it does anyone else. If something is in a woman's birth plan, it's because she's weighed the possibilities and has decided that that's what will give her the best shot of feeling healthy and whole during and after birth.

Women’s Emotional Well-Being Matters

Yep, females are strong as hell. However, that doesn't mean we should be subjected to unnecessary trauma, and having painful or invasive things done to us without our informed consent is traumatic. Many of us are already coming to our birth experiences with histories of trauma, including sexual abuse and assault. For us, creating our birth plans is part of steering our birth teams away from doing things we might find triggering, as well as avoiding trauma from the birth itself.

Birth Trauma Is Real

Birth trauma is real. For some people, it's an unavoidable result of bad things happening during labor and birth. For many other people, though, it's the totally avoidable result of being abused while giving birth. For a lot of women, becoming informed about birth, choosing our providers carefully, and articulating a birth plan are ways for us to avoid unnecessary birth trauma. Medical practitioners in particular need to hear and respect that.

Her Body, Her Choice, End Of Story

No one who is giving birth cares so little about their baby that they'd deliberately put them in unnecessary danger. That is flat out not a thing that happens, and it's insulting to women to talk to us as though we need to be reminded of the gravity of our decisions in birth. What's best for her baby is already a factor in her decision-making.

But what's best for her also matters, and her health and well-being don't have to be at odds with what's best for her baby. No one else is going to feel or remember the physical and emotional impact of giving birth as much as the woman doing it. In the end, pregnant women still have bodily autonomy, and it's her body doing the work here. She's the the one who gets to make the decisions about what happen to her, period. Everyone else can be supportive or be gone.