The Best Laid Plans

plan_pool2.jpgI had to miss a baby shower this weekend whose invitation included a request that all the guests bring the expectant mom three beads to include in a rosary-like chain she would use for calming meditation during her labor. I was supposed to assign and then explain a meaning to each bead, for example, “This one represents your patience, which is one of the reasons I think you’ll be a good mom.”

I can see that, from one angle, this is a charming and useful idea. As a carrier of a tiny plastic fawn all through kindergarten, I’m down with security objects. And, against all odds, I’m a convert to meditation. (Don’t tell anyone.)

If someone had tried to give me such a chain when I was pregnant, I would have thanked them politely. I might have even taken it to the hospital with me as a reminder of my nice friends. I also definitely would have wrapped it through another chain of beads, each representing a readily available pain killer or surgical intervention my hospital offers.

I say, do whatever works for you, and what works for me is being as close to medical assistance as possible. I regularly discover bruises of unknown provenance on my arms and legs and the door frame between the kitchen and living room knows my clavicle pretty well, so it’s reasonable to expect that beads might not cover my needs while having a baby.

One of the hundreds of things that “Prepare Yourself for Your Baby!” web sites and books recommend you do before your nine months is up is lay out a birth plan. It’s a “what I want” list from the time you arrive at the hospital door to the time you leave, hopefully 48-72 hours later. There is generally a template included with spaces for preferences ranging from the absurdly specific (overhead lighting) to the pretty basic (painkillers or not) I filled one out. It prompted me to think through the specifics of the upcoming, er, blessed event in the order they would likely happen, and that was useful.

What is less useful is attaching yourself to any of those things actually happening. And if there is anything that the principles of Buddhism have taught me and the experience of parenthood have backed up, it is that the sooner you get comfortable with this reality, the happier you will be.

I know exactly one person whose birth plan went as planned. For everyone else, including myself, things started going off-plan almost as soon as they left the starting gate. I think this is pretty common across all plans – birth, career, life, vacation – and the key to success, despite the deviation (gross or minor), is to detach from the plan almost as soon as you make it.

It’s a neat trick, that.

In my experience, the more I plan, the more attached I get to that exact plan, and the more specific my expectations become. The more specific my expectations become, the more disappointing any divergence will be, even if it’s a really nice divergence. I mean seriously, who would not want to take a two-hour detour to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine? It’s right there for Pete’s sake. Forget your plan – go already!

Of course, it’s good to start with a plan – it helps clarify your desires and helps you think through details that might otherwise be forgotten. But the process of making it often leads to getting fixed on things happening in just that way. So, after years of Type A planning ending in feeling weird and disappointed – what I (try to) do now is

Plan. Not too complicated. Think through things step by step. (Type A extravaganza!)

Re-set.

  1. Make a note of the 2-3 priorities that actually matter. (Birth plan goal? Healthy baby. Vacation plan? Get some rest. See that one play with – whaddaya call him? – Spiderman? Oh – scratch that.)
  2. Related: if the 2-3 things involve reservations, make ‘em. Also, book your flights.

Re-plan.Take the “not too complicated” part and your priorities to heart and remove half a dozen things to create some open space. (Hang gliding at 6AM? Maaaaybe…)

Settle down and get happy. Your “plan” = “desirable options.” Print it, put it in your folder and refer to it for reminders, ideas and course correction. But not self-punishment.

That’s my plan for planning. It works for me. But feel free to bead on up if that works for you. And if you just have to have a seventeen page birth plan including your own lighting system, a cooler of the sushi you haven’t been allowed to eat, and your personal umbrella holder guy, go for it. And good luck!

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2 Comments on “The Best Laid Plans”

  1. Manoel Felciano
    June 23, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    YES. Note to self note to self note to self

  2. em
    June 24, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    It sure is feast or famine over here at Displaced. No posts for ages and then so many I can’t read them all in one sitting.

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