You might be reading this post as you research Birth Plans and contemplate what’s ahead, or you might just be interested in our journey and how we approached it.
To be completely honest, at no point did I expect to have a plan that we would follow - let’s be real, nothing in my life has really been like that so why change it now. I’m much more of a list maker. I make list for lists and so naturally I approached the concept of a Birth Plan as more of a list of suggestions and ideals for the labor and delivery. I think this is more realistic and really worked for us.
So whether you have a Birth Plan or a list of ideals, here’s what we had on our list - just typed up on my phone (and printed for the hospital bag).
Language barriers | As I would be giving birth here in Iceland (I don’t speak enough Icelandic to labor in it) my main concern was that everything would be said in Icelandic and so I wouldn’t be able to completely follow what was happening, and that could potentially get stressful. Without sounding rude and obnoxious, my ideal solution was for medical staff to speak English to me, where possible, but confirm any important changes or information in Icelandic with Ingimar to avoid any mistranslation. All staff spoke English and this wasn’t an issue at all.
Prenatal meetings | We felt pretty organised (well, as much as we could be for our first child) and had attended a ‘Birth in Iceland’ seminar at Bjorkin - which I highly recommend if you live in Iceland. I wanted to do this course mainly to set my mind at ease and make sure we knew what to expect.
Laboring, from home to hospital | We used the Pregnancy+ App to help us keep track and count contractions. I wanted to labor at home for as long as I could, as recommended by our midwife. In this time Ingimar was to call the hospital and let them know my labor had started, and to request a room with a birthing pool. When we were ready, we would head to the hospital, that way they would be expecting us as we had pre-registered.
Midwifes names | It was important to me that we learned the midwifes names straight away, especially as some Icelandic names can be difficult for me.
What to avoid | The last thing I wanted for the actual delivery was a room full of people. I discussed this with Ingimar a few weeks prior so he knew I wanted (ideally) just myself, Ingimar and the midwife delivering baby, unless otherwise advised.
Massage | key to comfort and distraction. I found that gentle hand massage on my lower back was good at the start but I think it just annoyed me as labor progressed - I probably got annoying too so I don’t think it lasted long.
Move around | help labor progress naturally. This was something that made absolute sense to me and I wanted to do as soon as my waters broke to get the labor going and progress faster BUT when my waters broke, I got back into bed where I laboured for a couple of hours before I actually got up again. Once I was in the hospital however, I paced the floor, back and forth, for hours and hours which I believe really helped me and my body to progress and cope.
Assist standing & squatting | I didn’t do much in early labor other than sit on the toilet for a while as my waters slowly broke. In labor, Ingimar was really good at this. He helped me move around, stretch my back out, take the weight as I needed and suggest different positions to try for comfort and progression.
No Dad jokes, please | This was an early agreed rule with Ingimar - king of the bad Dad jokes. I rarely find them all that funny so I knew I didn’t want to hear them in labor. Pick a different time and place, or just save them for a few weeks later, please.
Dim lights | My water broke early morning and I went into labor on mid summers day (21st June) which, here in Iceland, meant 22hours of daylight so dimming the lights wasn’t really something anyone thought of. When we got into the delivery room I saw that there was a building site opposite so I closed the curtains but it was an overcast day anyway. The room was nice but it wasn’t a cosy atmosphere, it was very sterile. In hindsight, I don’t think this would have been something that had helped me much, I was very much in my own head and had my eyes closed for a lot of labor.
Smells, oils & spray | I had them all packed in my hospital bag - that sat on a chair, unopened, in the corner of the room. I was definitely one of those first time Mums that overpacked and didn’t use anything from my hospital bag.
Music | I meant to make a birth playlist of music from our wedding and stuff but I never got round to it. We brought a mini travel speaker, it wasn’t used. We didn’t listen to anything the entire time we were at the hospital.
“Breathe the baby down” | relax as much as your body will let you. In between each contraction, try to talk and even smile. Relax your jaw. Breathe. Open you hands so that you aren’t holding onto any tension. No fits. Relax the lower part of your body, this will help relax your cervix.
I used this method of breathing, it really worked for me in my natural labour Breathe colours.
Don’t fight contractions | relax into them. Breathe and let your body do that it knows to do.
Walk, count steps, distract mind | Being active is a great way to help progress labor. A gentle walk or climbing the stairs can do wonders - I know, it might be the last thing you want to do but it can really help. It works as a great distraction for the mind, count steps and focus on that.
‘happy place’ | some people think up a happy place in their heads and go there when they are in labor, some think about places they have been or even have heard about. My mind took me back to a trip I’d taken with my sister to Bath a few years back - I haven’t thought about it for a while so it was completely random but I am very close to my sister and she also has a baby so I think I was already thinking about her. Focus the mind on this place but in detail. Really distract your mind. You don’t need to say anything out loud, in can be stronger just kept in your head. A happy place will help encourage oxytocin, the happy hormone, and that helps progress labor.
Each contraction is a step closer to baby | it’s true, wether you feel like it or not, baby is on their way - you got this.
Stamp out adrenaline | this didn’t happen to me but maybe that’s because I was walking for most of my labor. If you feel adrenaline coming on then stamp it out, it can act as the opposite of oxytocin and actually slow things down.
Bring on the Oxytocin | this is the happy hormone that will help labor progress and so it is important to relax and try to increase this hormone by feeling good - smile, listen to your favourite music, retell happy stories, talk about baby and how excited you are for this new family life, etc. Be excited about baby coming.
Hot / cold compress | have both packed and ready. A cold gel compress is handy in the fridge and is great for helping with post-birth recovery and when your milk comes in. Grab a hot water bottle and cover too, this can be good for the start of labor (often it feels like period pains and so this can be comforting) and you might want to use a hot water bottle wrapped in something to ease discomfort for when your milk comes in too.
Massage balls | pack some tennis balls in the hospital bag. They might stay in there but you might fancy having them rolled in a circular motion on your lower back.
Sit on the loo | possibly the most natural position to labor in and sadly not one we often end up in. Squatting is a great position and one your partner can help with. Sitting on the loo supports you but you might be a little embarrassed to try it in front of your partner and midwife - trust me though, you won’t feel embarrassed about much after the birth.
Chant | This isn’t for everyone, and I’m not one for chanting but in my second trimester I went to prenatal yoga and the meditating chant was quite relaxing (well, compared to trying to do yoga with a bump). I didn’t continue it but instead swapped for prenatal aqua fit which I loved, but the chant often came into my head and was quite relaxing and meditative. Ingimar claims to be Buddhist, definitely not practicing but he goes to meditation meetings and often chants. He would, on occasion, ask if he could chant “Om na mor, guru dev na mor” to bump but we didn’t do any of this in labor. He might have, I honestly wouldn’t have know.
Move around, try different positions | I watched lots of videos on positions for labor on YouTube, and then picked one for Ingimar to watch with me so he had seen some of the positions and could hopefully remember and make suggestions on things to try. We didn’t really do any other than the standing with my arms around him to help take some of the weight off me.
Use the exercise ball (or peanut ball to keep hips open) | This was brought to me in labor and I tried it once before pretty much kicking it across the room - it felt like the bounce has moved baby back up the birth canal and so I certainly didn’t want that. I didn’t use it again and didn’t need the peanut ball. I hardly used mine throughout pregnancy, I sat on it a few times when I had Braxton Hicks contractions.
Gas & Air, Epidural if needed (not straight away) | I got my wish but thinking back, I’m not sure how I managed on just Gas and Air. I think it all comes down to being a first time Mum and not knowing what the heck you are in for and how much you can take / how bad it’s going to actually get. The pure magic of hormones and time means I don’t actually remember how bad it got but I know there was only one stage where I asked what other pain management they could offer and that was when I was 10cm - it was too late. I’m happy and proud of myself, and my body, that I managed on just Gas and Air. I feel it was best for baby and that was important for me.
SECOND STAGE: DELIVERY
No episiotomy (unless absolutely necessary) | it obviously was and I had clearly had a valid worry about having one. In that moment, I didn’t feel anything, I just wanted baby out and safe so of course I didn’t question it. The cut was made and baby was delivered. After birth and the afterbirth, I was stitched back up which took almost 2 hours and a number of people. This worried me a little but I didn’t know if that was normal. It was not pleasant at all. I felt some of the stitches and was concerned by how many people were involved in it. I don’t want to worry or scare you, it was the best thing for Mia and of course I’d do it again for her safe delivery, but those first few hours with her on me weren’t the magical experience I had hoped for.
Natural placenta delivery (preferred) | This is all a blur now but I semi recall the midwife telling me that I should push on the next contraction and the placenta would be deliver. It was very straight forward and easy in comparison. I asked them to check if the placenta was in tact and they showed me it, I was kind of grossed out.
Umbilical Cord | It was important to us that the umbilical cord be left uncut until it had stopped pulsating so Mia could get all of the nutrients from it before Dad cut the cord. It’s not really a magical moment like in the movies or something, it’s all kind of a blur - Dad is told to cut, you are holding your newborn and about to be stitched back up.
Skin to skin | the ahhh moment every Mum imagines as the end goal - right after all that pushing, breathing, panting, contracting and pure butt kicking that labor and delivery is. I really wanted to have skin to skin straight away, uninterrupted, pure baby bliss. Those first few moments with baby after delivery are so important for bonding but also for all the hormones, the babies latch and so on. It was lovely and we did get our kind of uninterrupted skin to skin but they also started on my stitches so I was in pain and worried about my recovery. I guess having her on me helped me deal with that but I worried for a long time if she could feel my pain and discomfort.
Dad got skin to skin with Mia once I was all sorted and he also slept with her on his chest for the first night.
Don’t take baby away | Clearly I’ve watched too many movies but I wanted to make sure that if Mia was to be taken somewhere for any reason, that Ingimar would be there with her. Not for fear of the wrong baby being brought back but more that I didn’t want Mia to be alone.
Breastfeeding | I hoped we would be lucky enough to get to breastfeed and that Mia would latch on. In Iceland, it is very much encouraged to have your baby to latch on right away. I alway planned to try breastfeeding and am so happy it worked out for us but I don’t think I was ever asked if I wanted to breastfeed, I was just told to try it. As a first time mum, I don’t know if this is the norm everywhere but I think it’s great. It helped baby, it helped me and it made everything so much more real. Mia knew what to do straight away and it felt so natural having her on the boob.
Photographs | remember to take some. I had looked up newborn, delivery photography and had all these ideas in my head of the kind of pictures I wanted to take BUT in reality, I certainly didn’t feel like having my picture taken as I lay there all stitched up and very uncomfortable. My baby was and is beautiful, the first few moments were very raw and real, we did take some pictures and I’m glad we did but the pictures I love were taken that first night or upon leaving the hospital.
I’m glad I captured a little bit of the start of labor and then when we were on the recovery ward for the vlog but I honestly don’t know how people vlog their birth experience - we never planned to and I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about that and could just be fully present in it all.
*notes For Dads / birthing partners:
Be patient | I can’t imagine what it’s like for the Dad or birthing partner. First off you can’t really do all that much to help, you have to watch your loved one in pain, you have to wait patiently for hours and then boom, out pops a baby and you’re instantly a parent. For us, we have had 9+ months getting used to the idea of a baby and being a Mum. We are tying to be in control of our labor and ourselves. We might say somethings we regret, we might tell you we can’t do it, we might throw the Birth Plan out the window in the first stage of labor. Stay strong, listen to your partner, remind them of their birth wishes. Do not, at any point, say you’re tired or have a headache or something equally stupid. Keep perspective.
Tell us if you’re leaving the room | I knew I would be in the zone and so I wanted to know I could call on Ingimar at any point and he’d be right there, unless he had said so. He was amazing about this and only left my side to run downstairs and grab some food after asking me if I was absolutely sure - he must have demolished the food as he was back at my side only a few contractions later. I was more nervous about this before labor than in it.
How to help | Massage is one of the best things you can do in the early stages of labor. Get some tennis balls and roll them in circles on the lower part of our back or wherever is best. Aside from that, help change positions and remind us of different positions for comfort and to help baby progress. Offer the birthing ball or whatever is availible. Be polite and friendly with staff, but direct when and if needed.
Offer us stuff | Offer sips of water, keep us hydrated, especially if on Gas and Air. It might sound rude but we are probably in the zone and so only know what we want that very second. Yes, we need you to be mind readers. To be super helpful, try different things (anything you think might help) and keep trying them until you feel is right - i.e, don’t just ask if we want a drink of water but instead hold a cup of water with a straw in it out to us and we will either take a sip or not. We might say no or shake our head, or even ignore you - remember we are in labor so don’t take it personally.
The hospital bag | Know what’s in the hospital bag and use some of it to help out. Offer lip balm - hand it to us open and ready to use. If we say no, that’s ok, keep thinking of things we might need or want every now and then. To be honest, we aren’t thinking of anything but getting from one contraction to the next.
Hold sick bag | what a lovely job you do get. Holding sick bags, helping us on and off the toilet, or in and out the birthing pool. But we need you and we sure appreciate your strength as we wrap our arms around you and bear down on your shoulders as another contraction hits.
Don’t take frustration / irritability personally | This is real. The transition phase is when some woman get really irritated or frustrated and - in the movies - is when they scream that they’re never having kids again or something. Be aware of this stage in labor, it’s short and is usually right before your bundle of joy appears but it’s a tough one. At this point I was pushing and groaning as I gave it everything I had so Ingimar said to me that he would groan and loudly moan with me, and he did. Be supportive.
Install car seat | make sure it is in place and you know how to use it. If you don’t have it in place, the midwifes won’t let you take baby home.