Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Childbirth Mentor's observations of two childbirth classes

Dear Birth Peeps,
I was in North Carolina for a week, then home, recovering and catching up, so I have been out of touch with you. My last blog posting was on clarifying the true objectives of childbirth classes--and really asking ourselves what it is parents are learning. One of our BFW Mentors wrote me a thoughtful response about her recent observations of two childbirth classes in her area.

"One class was from a home birth perspective, the other was in the hospital. Both teachers thought, and said, that they were open to different perspectives on birth, but they clearly were not. Both teachers, in their own way, seemed to be driven by trauma around birth, and would validate only one perspective: theirs.

"One thing that was lacking in the home birth classes was preparation for when things don't go smoothly. It is important for classes to inspire parents around the beauty of birth, the great mystery of it, and the truth that birth often unfolds smoothly. . . when left alone. Not all labors are meant to be left alone; it's important for parents to feel empowered in knowing when to ask for intervention, and feel good about accepting it.

"To only briefly acknowledge the possibility of things not going so smoothly, and to immediately downplay it, may leave parents without tools to get through their labor. [I noticed] the teacher would catch herself while describing a complication, and upon sensing rising tension in the air, she would immediately say things like, 'But that is not what is going to happen with you. That is not the type of birth you’ll have. You’ll be at home and things will be fine.' And the parents would immediately agree. I understand why she did this; she wanted the parents to feel confident in their ability to give birth. And, although the parents were happy to hear her prediction that their birth would be "fine,"... I suspect their fears are still simmering just below the surface. To say that difficult things can happen, but then try to quell fear through talking about how unlikely it is, does not empower or prepare parents.

"At the hospital, the childbirth classes could hardly be called classes. You put it perfectly when you said they were “An Orientation to the Policies, Beliefs, and Attitudes of Birth in Our Hospital.“ There was a lack of important information, time spent on unnecessary information, and some downright mis-information. It was so hard to witness.

"And its funny, I’m just realizing how much time she spent “selling” herself and her classes to the parents. She told them, 'You will all do great because you will be prepared since you took these classes.'or, "When a nurse says there is a 'screamer' in room 103, I know its not one of my mommies.'(The teacher constantly referred to the babies as 'my babies' and mothers as 'my mommies,' which absolutely drove me crazy!) [Examples include:] 'My mommies know that hee-hee got you in and hee-hee will get you out,' or, advice such as, 'Don’t waste your energy screaming.' It was maddening.

"What struck me about these classes was the pure innocence of the parents. . . to watch their facial expressions, and hear what questions they asked, and what questions they didn’t ask, was really eye-opening.

". . . I wanted to take them all home with me and mentor them . . . [offer them] the opportunity to grow, look within, build confidence, widen their expectations around birth, challenge themselves, develop tools for coping, and build connections with other parents!"

It takes great discipline and self-awareness to not "sell" a desired outcome, and to be able to have dialogs about the wide spectrum of possibilities in a way that the parents are informed and self-aware.

For a teacher to call a a pregnant woman-client, "mommy," or refer to another laboring mother as "a screamer" underscores our concern that the purpose and potential of childbirth classes are undervalued in our culture. I propose that the whole model of childbirth teacher training become a discipline that includes more in-depth preparation and personal growth--in addition to acquiring a certain body of contemporary birth knowledge.


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