When I gave birth to my daughter, I had been a doula for four years. I had seen birth in all its various permutations and combinations, from ecstatic natural birth to highly medicalized birth and everything in between. It’s a strange position to be in when you’re preparing for birth: knowing almost too much about what lay ahead.
I had seen too many women coerced into accepting interventions that provided a false sense of security about hers and her baby’s safety, only to have those interventions create more problems. I had seen too many women patronized and given skeptical raised eyebrows when they had asserted their beliefs that they could birth naturally. “We’ll see. You might want something later,” the nurses would say. “Healthy mom, healthy baby,” doctors would remind her, as though un-medicalized birth was a potentially dangerous choice.
So I went into my birth with my guard up. No one was going to tell me what to do. My birth would not be influenced by the man. There would be no unnecessary interventions for me.
My birth plan reflected my fear. It read like a menu: I’ll have this, this and this, but not that. It was demanding: you will not do this, you will do that. It was an attempt to control a process that I could not, despite my years as a doula, bring myself to accept was completely out of my control.
“I went into my birth with my guard up. No one was going to tell me what to do. My birth would not be influenced by the man. There would be no unnecessary interventions for me.”
I went on to have an incredibly powerful and empowering birth that was not, incidentally, devoid of interventions. When it became obvious that my birth was not going to go according to plan ― my water broke three weeks early and labor did not start ― I worked with my doula to explore all my options, and finally chose to have medical intervention on my timeline and on my terms.
It was the very birth experience I needed. I finally realized that empowered birth does not necessarily equate to unmedicalized birth, but rather the opportunity and ability to stand in one’s power within a system that too often robs women of choice, agency and self-determination. It changed the course of my doula practice, my mothering, and my life.
I realized that there is great power in finding the balance between surrender and desire. That going into birth kicking and screaming, railing against the system within which I was birthing rather than choosing to work with that system, was what empowered birth was actually all about.
“I finally realized that empowered birth does not necessarily equate to unmedicalized birth, but rather the opportunity and ability to stand in one’s power within a system that too often robs women of choice, agency and self-determination.”
When it came time to birth my son, I knew that a traditional birth plan couldn’t capture the nuances and complexity of my desires for my experience. Rather than creating a veritable “wish list” of desired outcomes, I chose to step back and think about the fundamental values that I had that would shape my decisions during my birth.
Rather than creating a birth plan, I created a birth principles statement ― a documentation of my beliefs and values about birth, myself and the support I desired in the process.
One snowy winter night, I curled up by the fire with a cup of red raspberry leaf tea and began to draw, write and doodle on a giant piece of paper. This is what I came up with:
I TRUST BIRTH. I KNOW MY BODY.
My decisions will be informed by my intuition, evidence, and the loving counsel of my support team.
I will do what feels right for my body and my baby, where it feels right, and when.
I WILL BIRTH WITHOUT FEAR.
I will be surrounded by positive thoughts, encouragement and support.
I trust those I’ve surrounded myself with my vulnerability and my raw, awesome power.
I WILL BIRTH STANDING FIRMLY IN MY POWER.
In loving arms with positive intention, I am ready for what this birth will bring. I own my decisions and my process. I accept the unknown; I am adaptable and prepared for my birth to unfold as it is intended.
I believe that everything is an option, and that I know I will make the best decision possible when I am informed and engaged in my own care.
This time, my declarations of intention were about me.
Not about the system, or its interventions, or anyone else.
This time, I commanded the respect, trust and reverence of my care team.
I asked for their positivity, and reminded them of their role in recognizing both my vulnerability and my power. I let go of defensive language and simply held the power that I knew I had, rather than grasping for the control which would always evade me.
Weeks later, in a pool in my bedroom, I gave birth to my son. I was surrounded by a quietly supportive team of midwives and family who simply watched my process unfold with the exquisite trust of witnesses to a powerful, deeply primal, and beautiful experience. I had surrendered the laundry list of desires I thought I had for my birth and instead focused on what I believed to be true, how I wanted to feel, and how I wanted to be supported.
By writing a birth principles statement rather than a birth plan, I truly stepped into my power as a birthing woman, and allowed this birth to transform me in the very way it was meant to.
To create your own Birth Principles Statement, download the Birth Principles Workbook here.