Not “not” […or “be positive”]

When writing a birth plan, one of the things that may help keep the doctors and nurses on your side is to keep things phrased positively, rather than negatively. For instance, instead of “I don’t want to stay in bed,” you could say, “I want to be allowed freedom of movement.” Instead of “I don’t want continuous fetal monitoring,” you could say, “I prefer to have the baby’s heartbeat monitored intermittently.

Sometimes, though, it will be much easier and quicker, as well as a lot plainer, to use the negative. Think of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not steal” — no muss, no fuss, plain and simple. I’ve tried to think of how to phrase that positively, and it gets quite convoluted, and usually ends in a negative: “Don’t take things that don’t belong to you.”

But as you go through your birth plan, and think about what things are important to you while you’re in labor and giving birth, try to phrase each point as positively as possible, and keep the number of “thou shalt nots” to a minimum.

I remember watching somebody on a TV newsmagazine years ago (I think it was Primetime or 20/20), in which some child psychologist or somebody was promoting his way of dealing with toddlers and young children, and he used this line of thinking — say what you want them to do, rather than what you want them not to do. The example he used to the reporter who was interviewing him was as follows:

If I say to you, “Don’t kick elephants,” what are you thinking? Of course, your mind jumps to kicking elephants, even if it wasn’t anywhere on the radar before. You think of it, picture it in your mind, before you even know you’re doing it. Now, you wouldn’t do it, because you’re an adult and have good impulse control; but a child will have his mind directed towards the thing you just told him not to do and be consumed by it. Instead, tell the child what you want him to do: “walk quietly” (not “don’t run”), “get into the car” (not “don’t run away” or “don’t climb into the trunk”), etc.

In a similar way, if you come in with a 3-page birth plan with every line or bulleted point saying, “I do not want this” or “I do not want that,” then it is those things that are going to be foremost in the minds of whoever reads the birth plan. [Assuming they will read the birth plan — some doctors and nurses act as if birth plans are stupid or even dangerous, and will refuse to read, much less heed them. Which can be frustrating to the mom, since she has almost certainly placed a lot of time and effort into crafting the plan, and telling them what her wishes are and how she wants to be treated.] Staying in the negative will make you seem like a negative person, who is recalcitrant and inflexible. The nurses may refer to you as “the patient who won’t…” rather than, “the patient who wants…”

Phrasing things negatively can rub people the wrong way unnecessarily. Some people may get irritated by any birth plan more in-depth or thought-out than “Go to hospital; have baby.” You can try to get them on your side, but there’s only so much you can do. No point in unnecessarily antagonizing them, though. Telling all your doctors and nurses, “Don’t kick elephants,” will get them thinking about kicking elephants, and they may even start thinking on a subconscious level about how to go about kicking your elephant — just because we humans don’t like being told what we can or cannot do.


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