The visual birth plan has surged in popularity in recent times. Many sources are offering free icons to use or inspire and there are apps to help you generate one. Birth plans have a bad rap, with many articles claiming birthzillas of any who write one, or declaring them as inflexible. Click here for common mistakes made in writing a birth plan. The rise of the visual birth plan meant more women were aware of their options and seemed to be considering birth plans worthwhile.
As with any birth plan, the visual birth plan is only powerful if it is backed by informed birth preparation. You can present your plan however you like, but make sure it is informed. If your plan does not contain the three critical pathways, AND has not been made in conjunction with your care providers, you could be setting yourself up for a thrown out plan, no matter how pretty or icon filled it is.
In the Member Area I have an example of a visual Birth Map. This visual presentation is a one page summary of the informed decisions relevant to the care provider.
As with any birth plan, relying on a visual birth plan alone to voice your needs is folly. Your support person should be familiar with and confident in the plan and able to advocate for you. Your care provider should be familiar and supportive, and respect the plan. No matter how it is presented.
That said, my thoughts about visual birth plan go deeper. Is the visual birth plan a game changer: the way of the future, or is it a fad? or is it indeed the same shit rolled in glitter?
The name visual implies it is better than a ‘non-visual’ birth plan, suggesting it will actually be seen. Focusing on the decorations without considering the more important details does not make your plan better or more likely to be seen, or adhered to.
The visual birth plan is promoted as midwife/care provider friendly, in that they can quickly scan it in their time pressured work day. However, many of these icons, available freely, are ambiguous. If they are scanned quickly they could be misread. This is particularly problematic if the plan is not made over time in conjunction with the care provider.
A visual birth plan does not negate the need to work with your care provider to create it. Working in conjunction with the care providers can ‘flush out’ the unsupportive care providers and allow a switch or change in tactics. You should NOT be fighting for, explaining or justifying your plan whilst in labour.
Creating a plan, visual or otherwise, without substance is one of the main errors commonly made.
Going even deeper, I am concerned the visual plan plays to the infantilisation of women in pregnancy and labour. It ‘dumbs down’ the process, rather than simplifying it. Words are powerful. And whilst a picture may say a thousand words, pictures are open to interpretation. The language of the plan needs to be clear and concise, assertive and well structured.
The birth plan is your also support person’s document. They can use it to advocate for you. They are active, not passive. The hospital staff may never read the plan. That is ok. Because your support person is the embodiment of the plan. The best visual birth plan is your support person. They are visual AND vocal. They are Powerful and Supportive.
If you have continuity in care, your midwife will also be familiar with the plan, so the written/visual document serves as a reminder only and may not need to be referred to, especially if your support person embodies it.
It is in the absence of continuity of care that your birth plan becomes critical.
How you present your Informed Decisions it is up to you, but remember these key points:
It is the preparation, not the presentation, that goes into a birth plan that makes the difference.
Be informed, supported and confident with birth mapping. Get the book here and boldly go where no birth plan has gone before.
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