*For women who have existing or antenatal mental health issues.
I found any sort of planning related to Squidge very difficult as I was struggling to accept the pregnancy and the reality of becoming a mum. I really didn’t want to make any plans about my pregnancy, the inevitable birth and the fact that I would be faced with having to look after an actual baby. I knew that there were some things that I would have to prepare for so that Squidge and I were both safe and I was equipped to care for him in the early days.
It is the ‘norm’ these days to make a birth plan and an appointment with your midwife, about four weeks before your due date is allocated for you to write the plan together.
A birth plan can be as basic or as detailed as you like but ideally it should name your advocate (who will act in your best interests if you are unable to) and your preferences for pain relief. My very understanding midwife managed to convince me that it would be in my best interests to write a birth plan and as anxiety-inducing as the process was, once we’d written it I felt a bit more in control about what was going to happen to me and my body.
I was booked for an elective c-section but, as she pointed out, just because I wasn’t planning on going into labour didn’t mean that I had any less right to make a birth plan so that the healthcare team knew what I wanted and what was important to me.
Yes I was having a baby but that didn’t make me any less important as a person or negated my right for the delivery to proceed as I wanted.
My midwife and I discussed my birth plan on several occasions and made sure that the plan clearly communicated the things that were most important to me. We focused on the most important point in the whole birth plan as it absolutely non-negotiable and was the main reason that I agreed to make a plan in the first place.
I was adamant that when Squidge was delivered and had been weighed etc, unless I explicitly said otherwise I wanted him to be given to the Northern One first. In order to be able to even begin to picture having a baby I needed to know that I would be able to have some time to adjust to not being pregnant before I was thrust into the difficult and emotional world of being a mum. I had to know that I would be given the opportunity to adjust without people (well-meaning or otherwise) trying to get me to do skin-to-skin, start breast feeding or insisting that I needed to start bonding with my baby straight away.
As it turned out most of my birth plan was fairly useless for Squidge’s actual delivery as he decided not to wait until my c-section date and I went into natural labour three weeks before he was due. The Northern One was there but my Mum (who I wanted with me) didn’t know I was in labour until Squidge had actually been born and we’d recovered sufficiently to make phone calls. Squidge also decided that the best time to arrive was on a Sunday when people such as my specialist mental health midwife (who I also wanted with me) weren’t actually in.
However, because I’d written a birth plan and discussed it at length with the Northern One he knew that I wanted Squidge to go to him first. So when a well-meaning nurse from the neonatal unit (Squidge needed some resuscitation following delivery) tried to give him to me, the Northern One knew to step in and take him from her. My birth plan meant that, if nothing else, I got my adjustment period and I held Squidge when I was ready to without having to explain myself to anyone or be pushed into doing anything I didn’t want.
Even though making a birth plan was in my best interests it didn’t make the planning process any less scary or stressful. In particular I found making preparations for Squidge’s first days at home the most frightening and anxiety-inducing but I was lucky to have support from several very understanding people who helped to make planning as easy as possible.
These are are the things that I learned from making my own birth plan and from making preparations at home.
Birth Planning –
A birth plan should be more about your preferences as opposed to set things that you want to happen. My Mum’s birth plan for when she had my brother stated that she’d like to just use Entonox for pain relief, she was happy to have an epidural if necessary but she didn’t want to be given Pethidine because it makes her feel sick and not in control of what was happening to her.
Be realistic and try to keep things simple.
Remember that no matter how thoroughly you plan, your delivery may not go as you want. Try not to think about this too much until you’ve had time to recover and adjust to your new baby and being a mum. So long as you are safe and your baby arrives safely, everything else can be rationalised in time.
Don’t agree to anything you’re not happy with and don’t be bullied with words like ‘bonding.’ If I’d listened to some of the healthcare professionals I met antenatally I would have been convinced that I needed immediate skin-to-skin with Squidge if I was going to have any chance of bonding with him. Instead I stuck to what I needed and the Northern One held Squidge for the first ten minutes or so after he was delivered. It hasn’t affected our bond at all and being persuaded to do something I didn’t want to may well have had a negative effect,
If there’s something particularly important, make sure the midwife understands why it is so important so you can both work together to make sure that your needs are met.
Ask where the plan will be kept and who will be able to access it.
Make sure you read the final copy of the plan before it’s give to the midwives and remember that it’s ok to change your mind at any time, even after the plan has been written. Just because something is in your birth plan it doesn’t mean that you have to do it.
Preparing for a Baby –
Take your time and don’t force yourself to do things that you’re not ready for. It doesn’t matter if you start buying things months, weeks or days before the baby is born. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks, do what’s right for you.
If you can, have someone in mind who understands how you’re feeling an would be happy to go shopping for you. I knew that if I really didn’t feel able to go out and buy baby clothes the Northern One and my mum would be able to go for me.
If you do want to try and shop yourself (like I did) try going to a big supermarket. Going to Sainsbury’s meant that I could pretend to myself that we were just going food shopping and that there wasn’t any pressure to be in ‘mum mode’. I’d have a quick trip down the baby aisle and then go to the bakery counter for a well deserved treat.
A newborn baby needs a cot and a couple of sheets, one of two blankets, six or seven vests and sleepsuits, one or two hats, a pack of muslins (useful for lots of things), nappies, wipes, a snowsuit or similar (for the journey home) and a carseat (unless you plan to go home in a black taxi as you can legally carry a babe in arms). If you’re planning to formula feed then you need some litre bottles of ready-made formula milk and three or four bottles. You might find a pram or sling, a changing mat, a baby bath and the like useful but babies don’t need anything else for the first few weeks so don’t worry about buying lots of things.
Make use of the newborn packs of baby clothes and multi-packs of basic vests and sleepsuits. You can buy them just about anywhere that sells baby clothes and they contain the essentials needed for baby’s first few days. They tend to come in pink, blue and white and are really useful if you want to get everything in one go.
Don’t worry about preparing a nursery if it’s something you can’t face doing. I actually had Squidge’s nursery painted quite early on in the pregnancy because it did help me to adjust but Squidge didn’t sleep in there until he was six months old. So long as baby has somewhere safe to sleep and you’ve got somewhere to stores nappies, wipes and clothes you don’t need to do anything else until they’re several months old.
Most importantly, remember that you are still a person in your own right and that, so long as your plans are safe, the most important person in the whole process is you.
Not the baby.