Birthing Without: a birth plan for the plan-adverse

Guest post by Sarah
He sleeps.

It’s taken me a while to come up with a birth plan. I’m a daydreamy librarian (INFJ, Pisces, Type B — you get the picture), more at home reading a bunch of parenting and childbirth literature than actually putting any of it into practice. But since I had my first child almost five years ago, I think it’s about time I came up with something.

Unlike my first pregnancy, where each twinge sent me into an anxiety overdrive, my second one been a lesson to me in how much I’ve learned as a woman and a mother and a person over the past five years. I just don’t freak out the same way. I’m into less is more. And I’m just. so. grateful for stuff. Which is why I’ve finally developed a birth plan that’s right for me. Except that given my temperament, I’m sort of plan-adverse. In fact, I’ve made sort of an anti-plan. Instead of birthing from within, this time around I’m birthing without.

I hope to birth without:


The sociocultural marketing of childbirth is fascinating. Others may disagree, but I’ve become more convinced than ever that things that start out as opportunities to improve our society quickly devolve into choices, and choices become fodder for marketing — “options” from a menu with a lot of rhetoric behind each one. I grow dizzy with the home birth, hospital birth, medicating, not medicating, birthing suite, birthing center, birthing tub, cutting the cord at x time, eating one’s placenta in x form, what’s best, what’s new, what “the research” says, what women say. I don’t mean to imply that these parts of birth aren’t important or that women shouldn’t care about or research them. Far from it. I simply mean that, often, each has also been amped up on some steroids of commodification.

So, I’m opting out of the amplification as best I can. For me, that doesn’t mean giving birth in the wilderness or time traveling to a pre-capitalist society. In fact, I’ll be with the same OB practice, at the same hospital, where my daughter was born. But my mental state is now secretly a little Buddhist. A teensy bit Marxist. I’m resisting by simply saying to myself “I see through this. I see what’s happening. How interesting.” And I’m doing it (not always well) to preserve what I find most sacred: greeting a new life on the planet is just about as uncommodified and uncorruptible as it gets.


Since making choices in our commodified society is hard enough, it feels ironic that the more birth choices we have as women, the more we flip out and judge ourselves and each other. I’ve been guilty of this; I’ve also been on the receiving end.

I’ve started to wonder if those judgments can feel particularly painful because birth is so intimate and yet so public. Sometimes it seems odd to me that we don’t necessarily swap play-by-plays of how we lost our virginities with even our closest friends but can pull out a detailed birth story for strangers.

But I’ve been so lucky that the past few years have been challenging enough for me that I’ve built a larger reserve of tolerance and compassion for others. And it was maybe only in the past year that I started developing tolerance and compassion for myself. This is a really good road to be on for me; I hope to be able to birth the same way.


“Birthing without fear” is a long-established topic. But to me, it wouldn’t be so long-established if birth wasn’t something legitimately scary. Giving birth is straddling the worlds of life and death, of pain and joy. There are fears that have always been with us. There’s the abstract and then extremely real fear of pain. There’s the overarching existential fear of death. And then there are the fears that modern birth can bring. There’s the suffocating, anxious fear of making mistakes. And I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that these fears form some of my basis for my risk assessment of birth, no matter how much I’ve rationalized and planned and visualized ahead of time. Well, I’m finally coming clean. I’m about to give birth! Sometimes fear sneaks up on me and grips my heart! But what was so awesome for me with my first birth, and what I hope to use to soothe myself this time around, is that in the moments I acknowledged my fear as just that – an emotion called fear –it disappeared.


I learned from my first birth that, like fear, suffering has both psychological and physical dimensions. And those dimensions can combine and escalate pretty dramatically in childbirth. An unwanted intervention can take over your mind and your spirit and your sense of safety for you and your baby; so can unrelenting pain. For me, I would like us to be free not necessarily from pain, but from suffering. But I don’t know what that will mean during this labor. Maybe I’ll forego an epidural this time because I’ll remember the lame side effects. Maybe I’ll insist on one. Maybe I’ll labor in such an unexpected way, the pain and its forms will be nothing I anticipated. Maybe the baby will need a caesarean birth. Through it all, I’ll be doing my best to birth without me or baby suffering.


Wait, what? You heard me. In the five years since my pregnant-on-the-first-try baby was born to now, I have outgrown some of my naiveté, and become keenly aware (after I and other friends have struggled with infertility and loss, and as other friends have decided not to have children and face social scrutiny) that my path is just one of many to family and connectedness and joy. I hope to keep this awareness with me and avoid fetishizing a process even while remaining as fully present in it as I can.


Like many lucky daughters of feminist boomer mamas, I grew up thinking I could do anything. I am an individual. I am smart. I am strong. I am capable. I. I. I. And I approached my daughter’s birth the same way. And you know what, when push came to shove (or rather, when contraction came to push), my ego – my ME-ness –was so, so in the way of this little person trying to get out. And the only way to get her out was to get rid of me.

So I did — we all do, kind of, right? And then “I” stayed away while she was tiny and I lived for her every need. And then I needed myself back to be better at various things like — hello! — work and relationships and parenting. But this time, I’m more ready, willing, and able to surrender my ego again. The inherently unpredictable wonder of a birth and a baby demands it. And I am honored to participate.

Comments on Birthing Without: a birth plan for the plan-adverse

  1. **Happy sigh**

    Even though I’m a Type-A, Leo mama that loves a list and an action plan, I still felt so zen while reading your article. I have to imagine that your kiddos (residing both inside and outside of you!) feel that good energy too. Do you have a blog? I’d read the heck out of your blog.

  2. Thank you! The bit about judgement resonates with me particularly – everything about birth is simultaneously incredibly person and totally open to public comment. I’ve spent the past few months explaining (gently and less gently) that what kind of birth I’m planning to have and whether I’ll get an epidural and so on are things I consider private and personal and not okay subjects for workplace jokes. Your post projects just the kind of calm and rising-above-it-all that I need to embrace right now!

  3. Must be something with us librarians! When I had my first child 6 months ago, my ‘birth plan’ was very similar. I pretty much went into it thinking “I’ve never done this before, so I’m gonna see what happens. If I have pain, we’ll see if I can tolerate it. If I can’t, I’ll have an epidural. If I can breast feed, I will. If I can’t, I won’t.” My Libra self didn’t wanna rock the boat — even with my Libra self. In the end, my son’s birth was fairly normal and uncomplicated…except for the intense back labor (after 6 hours of which, I took the epidural) and my son’s Superman-like arrival (hand up by his head, he grabbed the midwife’s hand as he came out and wouldn’t let go). I had a doula present during my labor, so I felt comfortable being a little “go with the flow” — I knew she would give me any in-the-moment needed guidance. Best wishes on the arrival of #2!

  4. LOVE this! Just gave birth 10 days ago, in a way that was completely unlike what I had expected. I think that I embraced many of the principles you state here, which gave me the grace to accept the changes in plan. There is a line in one of the hypnobirthing affirmations about being prepared to meet any special circumstances that come up in birth — it ran through my head as I demanded an epidural before I even made it to L&D — and I felt comforted in remembering that no matter what course my birth took, I and my baby would be capable of doing this thing called birth. The line in your post about declining suffering really captured how I felt in my heart about that decision, and I am so grateful I came away with a birth that I did not regret despite it not going how I envisioned. thanks for this awesome piece.

  5. “I would like us to be free not necessarily from pain, but from suffering”

    F’ Yea sister. Thank you for making the distinction between pain and suffering. I love it! I love this whole article.

  6. I thought this was beautiful. The distinction between pain and suffering was so eloquent and something I had been trying to tease out in my own mind but couldn’t quite get there. Thankyou for doing the work for me – I’ve just emailed the link to my husband so he can understand what I’ve been trying to say…

  7. Thank you for such a beautiful piece of writing. My son was born 3 years ago, prematurely on the day we moved house, I had no plan or idea what to expect and is the first story I have ever read about birth and parenting that I have identified with. Thank you.

  8. I love this! 10 days before my due date, I’m combing through the offbeat family birth stories archives and this is one of THE best articles in the entire site 🙂 Just what I need to remind myself of — I’ve done the research and made the ‘plan’…but now, in this moment of anticipation, I know it’s time to let it all go, and embrace whatever happens with a bit of skepticism and zen.

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