Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Best laid plans

When Barry and I got engaged, we both agreed we wanted the conventional style of wedding with all the trimmings. Well, pretty much all - I've never seen the point of getting a limousine or horse-drawn carriage just to deliver you to the wedding, and I was, in the event, driven to the hotel in question in the aging car of my soon-to-be-in-laws. But we both agreed that we wanted to mark our exchange of vows with a long fancy white dress that I'd never wear again, with bridesmaids, with expensive flower arrangements, with a three-course meal for the hordes of friends and family who were in attendance, with dancing the night away afterwards.

So we set out to make it happen. We spent more than a year on the planning, and more of my mother's money than I feel comfortable telling you about on the execution, and went through all the ups and downs and squabbles and how-are-we-going-to-get-everything-done panics that go along with such an endeavour. And, as we sat going over the projected timetable for the day with the assistant manager of the hotel where we were holding it, I felt increasingly nervous. Not for traditional bridal reasons - I felt nothing but delight at the prospect of committing the rest of my life to this man - but because talking as though we could plan something like this seemed, to me, to be tempting fate. Surely Fate would look down on us, attention drawn by all this uppity planning, and give us a fat ol' finger? So many things could play havoc with our big day. Barry or I could get food poisoning or appendicitis and be too ill for the ceremony, the place could burn down, or something as everyday as pelting rain could ruin the plans we had of enjoying canap├ęs and photos in the stunningly beautiful grounds. Why on earth were we being so presumptuous as to think that we could plan anything?

Because, as Barry pointed out to me when I mentioned these fears to him, it wasn't going to happen at all if we didn't plan it. (If you're a Pratchett fan, this would be an apt place to insert the joke about arranged weddings from Nanny Ogg's cookbook.) Yes, things could go wrong. But, all in all, the chance of things going wrong enough to ruin our wedding wasn't that great. And, however superstitious I might feel about it, planning the way we wanted things to go was not decreasing the chances of having them actually turn out that way. Quite the reverse, in fact.

I don't know whether many brides feel the way I did. It isn't something I've seen mentioned in any wedding magazine or wedding planner that I've read (and, believe me, I read many that year). What I do know is that nobody else ever said anything to me to indicate that they held that attitude. No-one said "Well, you can't really plan these things, you know" or "Plans? What a joke. My plan for my wedding went completely out of the window when [insert disaster here] happened" or "Look, just plan to get married to the man you love. What does the rest matter?" No-one thought there was anything strange about the fact that I preferred the idea of the day happening one way rather than another and was prepared to put a lot of effort into trying to affect the outcome of something that, ultimately, I did not have 100% control over. It was considered completely normal for me to care quite a bit about how the day went. And, while it was understood that ultimately the important thing wasn't that one day but the happiness of the marriage that would follow it, it was also understood all round that it wasn't an either-or, and wanting a great wedding day didn't indicate a lack of perspective or gratitude for the happy marriage that I ended up with.

For some reason, though, the attitude seems to change if your plans are for your labour rather than for any other important event in your life. There's been some discussion about birth-related issues in the blog world in the past week or so, and one theme that was touched on now and again in the comments was the old chestnut of birth being so essentially unplannable that anyone who uses an oxymoron like 'birth plan' is clearly a) hopelessly naive, and b) destined for the labour-from-hell of complications, technology, an eventual Caesarean and a lifetime of I-told-you-sos from the anti-birth-planning brigade.

Birth is inherently more unplannable than most other things in life, it's true. Unless your birth plan involves an elective Caesarian, you're unlikely to be able to pencil a slot into your diary. You can't plan the type of labour you get in the same way that you can plan to have a civil or religious wedding. You're more vulnerable than at other special times in your life, and you're more likely to run into complications. But births aren't in a special category of unplannableness all their own, the way people often seem to think of them. If you really couldn't care less about anything other than ending up with a baby at the end, then I'm happy for you, because your chances of getting the birth you want are excellent. But if you have preferences in the matter - whether they're for a drug-free birth or a pain-free birth, to avoid surgery or to avoid labour - then why not take steps to improve your chances of getting what you want?

Having a birth plan doesn't mean that you have delusions of grandeur concerning just what you can or can't control. It doesn't mean you think of yourself as better than other women who have different or absent birth plans or whose births just don't go according to any plan. (WTF was that about, anyway???) And it doesn't mean that some malevolent fate is going to take this as a cue to swoop in on you. It just means that you find out about your available options, put thought into considering how you might react to particular circumstances, and relay this information to other people likely to be involved in the birth.

Barry and I had the wedding day we wanted, and, fourteen and a half months later, I had the labour and birth I wanted. And, while I would never discount the role that luck played in both of those, I think it's also fair to say that neither would have happened without the planning. Things went well not in spite of the plans, but, in large part, because of them. The best laid plans of mice, men, brides and pregnant women may often go whatever the Scottish dialect is. But, more often, they come to pass as planned.


At August 29, 2005 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a wise woman.

A fan in NYC


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