It wasn't that long ago that we heard stories of men chaining themselves to their wives to be allowed to stay in the delivery room for the birth of their baby. Many brave pioneers changed the way maternity ward rules were written, by speaking up and saying, "We want our husbands with us!" Now it's nearly standard to have your family and friends with you during every phase of labor and birth.
What hasn't changed is the fact that we have rights, and we have options. More and more women and their families realize this and try to make changes within the system to ensure a more positive and safe birth experience. Some examples of topics of positive changes might be:
- The right to have a support person with you during the placement of an epidural or surgical birth (cesarean section)
- The right to keep your baby in your room as opposed to the nursery
- The right to have immediate access to your healthy newborn
- The right to breastfeed in the Labor, Delivery and Recovery Room
- The right to choose alternative birth settings (Birth Centers, Home Births)
- The right to choose alternative practitioners (Family Practice Doctors, Certified Nurse Midwives, Direct Entry Midwives)
Birth plans are great ways to express your opinions and desires for your birth experience. It is not a contract or script, but merely a listing of things you'd prefer to standard procedure. Many times a birth plan signed by your doctor or midwife and your baby's doctor is sufficient to receive the type of care you want.
Things Commonly Addressed in a Birth Plan:
- Fetal monitoring issues
- Medication use or desire for no medication
- Positioning for labor and birth
- Newborn Care and Issues about rooming
- Complications such as emergencies or sick babies
- Breastfeeding or Bottle Feeding Issues
- Who you would like to have with you and when
Changing a Policy
Recently a dad wrote and explained that his wife was scheduled to have a cesarean section. The hospital policy was that no one could be with her during surgery. After discussing and researching his options, he approached the doctor and hospital about their policy. In a little more than an hour, his point of view prevailed. Not only was he there for his wife and witnessed the birth of their child, but he also set policy for all fathers after him.
Policies aren't always so easy to change, but stranger things have happened! If you find that your birth plan is unacceptable and you must go around a policy already in place, first start by talking to your practitioner. If he or she is unable to help you, ask to speak to someone at the hospital or birth center. Going into the discussion well prepared. Do your research beforehand.
Some questions you might answer are "Do other places provide what you're asking? What are the benefits of your plan? What are the risks?" Think of how you can address their concerns.
If they are unable or unwilling to accommodate you, you still have options. You can stay where you are or look into other alternatives. Sometimes one hospital will have a policy that you're not fond of, but a neighboring hospital will be fine with helping you in your request. Shopping around for a hospital or practitioner is perfectly acceptable. Changing practitioners or place of birth, even late in pregnancy, can be difficult, but moms who have done it are usually quite pleased with the results.
Whether you're advocating globally or locally, there are some organizations that can help you take your goals one step closer to reality.
Look to see if you have a local birth network.
The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS--pronounced "kims") is an organization who is trying to help women and their families have the births they want. They are the initiators of the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative.
The International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) focuses on education about cesarean section and vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).
La Leche League International provides "an international, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization dedicated to providing education, information, support, and encouragement to women who want to breastfeed."
Believe it or not there are also groups out there making fun of the efforts of many. Recently, a hoax was initiated for a group supposedly called Citizens Against Breast-Feeding. Our Urban Legends Guide, David Emery, has the details in his article: Citizens Against Breast-Feeding.
In the end, the basic rule is that you have many rights. Be sure to know what your rights are and be able to exercise them.