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.