Archive | April 2012

Best Prenatal Classes Ever!

I’m awake at 3 in the morning writing improvements to the lesson plans for my upcoming prenatal classes in May. I’m so excited I can’t sleep. These are going to be the best prenatal classes EVER! Muah hahahah!

In my page on Birth Stories, I talk about the experience that led me to becoming a doula – a positive experience. But what led me to becoming a Prenatal Teacher was the negative experience I had as a first time pregnant mum in the health unit’s prenatal class series. The teacher was nice enough – a retired nurse who cracked lots of jokes. The other parents-to-be in the class were nice enough, although we didn’t get much time to really interact or bond, as I had hoped. And I guess the teacher covered all the topics she was supposed to. Yet, when all the classes were over, I had a clear and distinct feeling that they were a total waste of time. And that we were left pretty much as unprepared for labour as when we had started.

The fact is, I had already read everything the teacher had said in pregnancy books, which incidentally, also did not leave me feeling prepared for labour. I managed to find a few books, at the time mostly by Sheila Kitzinger, that included several birth stories written by actual mothers. That I found infinitely more useful than the regular pregnancy textbooks. I really can’t understand how textbooks can be of any use to people about to give birth since labour is not a written test you’re going to take.

Anyway back to the classes. I asked a few other moms to be what they thought of their prenatal classes, to which they replied, “Well, it wasn’t that useful to me. But I wanted my husband to take it so he could learn.” Then I asked the husbands what they thought of the classes, and they said, “I didn’t learn anything useful.”

Great. So why the heck would people take prenatal classes if they were totally useless?!

I wondered for a long time about what would make classes more relevant to real mums in real birth. And the journey has been fascinating. Ok, truth be told, I find everything about birth fascinating cos I’m a birth junkie, that’s why I do what I do. But it brought me to questions of, who decides what is taught in prenatal classes, the history childbirth education, and the history of pregnancy books as well.

There is a range of types of prenatal classes available out there. On the one side is the “hospital-type class” which teaches people what to expect when expecting and what to expect when in labour and so on. That’s the kind of class I took in my first pregnancy, not cos I actively chose it, but because it was the cheapest kind and all I could manage at the time. These classes are typically taught by nurses based on their years of experience as a nurse.

Then there are the classes which try to promote theories on what helps women have a more natural birth. Childbirth preparation classes were first introduced by Grantley Dick-Read, author of the Book Childbirth Without Fear. He was so surprised when he witnessed a painless birth while attending a homebirth as an obstetrician, that he pioneered the “groundbreaking” concept that birth is a normal event. This was during the 1940’s when women in labour were routinely given general anesthesia and had their babies removed by forceps and other pleasant things. Then in the 50’s, Dr Fernand Lamaze, a French obstetrician, developed the Lamaze method based on what he had witnessed in Russia. It was Elisabeth Bing who then popularized it in America. At around the same time, Robert Bradley developed the Bradley Method “husband-coached childbirth”. Wow! husbands in the delivery room? Shocking!

I don’t know about you, but most of these founders of childbirth education classes seem suspiciously like men. I would hazard a guess that maybe they’ve never actually given birth before. Just saying. But they’ve seen birth, right? That counts. And yes, they’ve done a great service to improving the field of birth. But what about these women who were actually doing the birthing that the “experts” observed. I wonder what kind of classes they’d come up with if we got them into a room together and asked them to brainstorm up some classes. Would they be similar to the types of classes we currently have, or dramatically different?

I’m sure you can figure that one out.

Of course, over time, those techniques, those very old techniques, have been modified and improved upon. And there have also been some significantly new models of childbirth education such as Hypnobirthing and Birthing From Within. Birthing From Within was actually developed by a woman, Pam England, who actually gave birth. Unbelievable!

I quite like the little write up about the paradigm of prenatal classes that is developed out of the experience from the perspective of mothers themselves – Birthing From Within. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Hypnobirthing was also developed by a woman, Michelle Leclaire. Ok, by now you probably have a lot more information about childbirth classes than you’d care to have. So let’s get to the point.

Basically, birth is not a cognitive process. It is an instinctive process. And anything that involves learning a bunch of new information and trying to remember it in labour, is probably not going to be of much use. What is useful, however, is reconnecting with the instinctual part of ourselves and deepening an understanding of the experience of the natural process of birth as well as how to avoid factors that make it go awry. Of course all that is what I cover in my classes, duh.

I’ve developed the content of my classes over several years and included useful elements of many of the above schools of thought, as well as the knowledge I’ve gleaned from talking to hundreds of mums and dads and of course, from my own experiences of giving birth and supporting women in labour. So far the feedback has been great. Even people taking the refresher class who had already taken prenatal classes elsewhere before are so thrilled with my classes.

So that’s been encouraging for me to keep making more improvements in the direction of what works for real women in real life birth.

I have a deep hope to make classes a life-changing event, and to improve the world one birth at a time. So back to work on my class plans, and Have an Awesome Day!

ps. If you don’t live in Surrey or Langley and can’t make it to the group classes, I offer private classes anywhere in the Lower Mainland, BC, Canada. See Prenatal Class Schedules. And if you live somewhere else entirely, do your research and find a class that suits your birth preferences. I also do birth plan consultations over the phone for far away people. For more info check out Birth Plan Consultations.

 

 

Love In The Delivery Room – Memoirs of a Doula part 2

You wouldn’t expect labour and delivery rooms in hospitals to be places of great romance, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Much has been written about the love between mothers and their newborns. Sometimes it’s a quiet, gentle love, and sometimes it’s an overwhelming, life changing love. But the kind I’m talking about right now is the love between the mom and the dad in labour.

The media has solidified an image of the interaction between moms and dads in the delivery room revolving around the mom swearing profanities at the dad, and the dad being mostly clueless and bumbling. I honestly don’t know how representative that is of most labours because I don’t see most labours. I only see the ones I’m doulaing for. And what I see is the deeply moving culmination of the romance and bond of the two people who have worked so hard and put so much of themselves into bringing forth a new life.

I see men who love and care for their wives and newborn children with so much strength and intensity. I am profoundly touched every time I see a dad wrapping his arms around his wife’s shoulders, putting his forehead against hers, supporting her through contractions, loving her with every fibre of his being. Every time a dad goes hours, tirelessly massaging his wife’s back to take the edge of each contraction, or holds her under the shoulders to support her weight if she’s more comfortable in an upright position but is too tired to support her own weight.

I see the look in their eyes as they look at their wives with awe of her strength and beauty through the whole amazing process of birth. The worry and concern they have if their wife is having a hard time. I see women holding on to their partners for solace, or resting their heads against their partners chest to help them relax. I see dad watch mom’s every move, anticipating when she might need a sip of water or a cold cloth to wipe her brow. The sweet whisperings of encouragement and love. I see the tears of joy or beams of radiance when dads hold their newborns for the first time. It’s such a well deserved high for both the mom and dad who’ve worked so hard together.

I see men who will be forever changed by the experience of being so helpful and supportive of their wives through labour. It deeply strengthens their relationship and connection to their partners and their children.

I don’t know what dads are like at births I’ve not been at. I imagine some men are naturally great at supporting their partners in labour, and some are not because they are feeling unsure, overwhelmed or disconnected. I know some parents-to-be, when considering if they want to have a doula with them at their birth, are concerned that the doula will take over the dads role. I can understand that concern, but actually, it’s quite the opposite.

I don’t ever take over the dad’s role. That is the primary relationship that the doula can never replace. The dad is so helpful in the delivery room just by being there and loving his partner. I always recognize and support their relationship. I’m just there for a short period of their lives, but they are the ones who are going to be raising their child together for years, so I try to enhance their connection during this intense experience of labour and birth.

For the men who are unsure about what to do in the delivery room, they quickly gain more confidence by watching what I’m doing and figuring out how they can support their wives. Quite often dad and I tag team to provide massage, counter pressure or hip squeezes to mom for hours on end. If dad has any concerns, I am immediately there to answer all his questions as best I can. The dads never feel overwhelmed that too much responsibility is on their shoulders.

Occasionally I meet a dad at the prenatal visit who really does not want to be in the delivery room. If the mom doesn’t want him there, then it’s fine. But if she does, then I want to make sure I address his fears and make it clear that he can participate as much as he’s comfortable with since I will be there too. If he’s still not convinced, I talk to him about something extremely difficult he’s experienced or witnessed in his life. Then I get him to imagine the difference between having people to support him through it versus doing it totally alone. That’s always enough to flip the switch and motivate the dad to commit to being there no matter what.

Sometimes a dad will have a strong emotional reaction and it helps to have someone there to share it with instead of keeping it to themselves. One dad was really worried for his wife when she became sick with an infection in labour. He felt relieved after talking to me about his fears. Another dad took me aside after the birth to talk to me. The intensity of the experience brought up memories of their previous child who was stillborn. He recounted his last experience and said that him and his wife had no one to support them through that. They felt so alone. In contrast, this time, they felt so supported. He thanked me for, “caring for his wife better than her mother could have.” I was so moved by this man’s love for his wife, the strength of their bond through their shared experiences and the deep healing of the past hurt.

I am confident that these couples will go on with their lives with more love and connection than before their birth experience. I know the dads will continue to express their profound love beyond the delivery room in practical ways – caring for their newborn, waking up in the middle of the night to rock a crying baby or change a diaper, working extra hours to provide for their families.

 

Romance in the delivery room is such a special thing and I am so grateful to be able to witness it. What are your thoughts and experiences? Leave your comments below.

Memoirs of A Doula part 1 – Why I do What I do

Many people say to me when they find out I’m a doula, “What a great job! It must be so nice to be able to hold so many newborn babies!”

But in reality, I am not a doula because I like newborns, although they are fantastically amazing, miraculous, fascinating people newborns are. I do it because of the MOMS. I do it because I know the simple things I do can and will have a life changing impact, not only on the women and their birth experience, but because it changes lives. I do it because when I focus all of my attention on caring for moms at one of the most important, challenging and vulnerable times of their lives, they are better able to care for themselves, their babies, their children and their families. I take care of the emotional needs of the dads as well in that critical period, so that the couple’s memories of the start of their child’s life is that of love, care, pride and strength. Not that of stress, anxiety desperation and disempowerment.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if what I’m doing is making a difference, because pregnancy, birth and the post-partum time can still be fraught with challenges. But the moms and dads make it clear how important it was to have someone there they could always call day or night if they were worried about anything, how it important it was for someone to be only focused on what they were thinking, how they were feeling, and doing all the little things to help them feel good.

In the big picture, I do it because I believe that each family who starts out with love and care, will raise more loving and caring people. And doulas the world over are helping to change the world one birth at a time.