After reading another writer’s post on birthing classes recently (Birthing Classes: A Colossal Waste of Time), I thought, I just have to share my story!
I might have agreed, once. And for certain women, I completely get that line of thought. Because, let’s be honest. If you know going in that you’re going to have a scheduled c-section, or that you want the epidural as soon as you might be in labor…yeah, they’re probably a waste of time. But under other circumstances? Don’t skip them. You might just be sorry.
I skipped them the first time and I sure was sorry. I had a bunch of online friends then, all of us in a “young and pregnant” forum. We were due between August ’07 and April ’08 (I was due in January ’08). So I asked one of my friends, after her baby came (August ’07): “Were the birthing classes really worth it? Should I do it? I just don’t know.” She told me to skip them, so I did.
Little did I realize we had entirely different birthing philosophies! She was definitely one of the “give the epidural, now!” type of women, whereas I was really hoping to go naturally. I shouldn’t have been asking someone like that for advice. For her, the classes really didn’t make any difference because she had no intention of needing any of that information anyway. But I did need it. And I didn’t have it.
Labor hit at 39 weeks and suddenly I freaked out. I had no idea what to do, and my husband had no idea how to help me. I laid on my left side in bed (now, as I know, one of the worst things to do, pain-wise) and whimpered. By the time we were at the hospital and I’d had every-two-minute contractions for 5 hours, I begged them for the epidural. I was disappointed. But we’d just been so unprepared.
I determined that I would take birthing classes the second time around!
I was the only second-time mom in the whole class. Which actually gave me an interesting perspective; I was able to share my birth story with the class and the teacher used me (and my husband) as a type of resource. The teacher had only had home births, while I’d experienced hospital births, so it kind of worked out.
During class, we had lots of great discussions. They showed us how a baby is normally born and had us practice “catching” the baby (out of a giant, funny-looking vagina-bucket…LOL). They explained the stages of labor and how each is supposed to go. They talked about some pain coping techniques and explained that sitting up on a birthing ball or walking can really help. They explained how using different birthing positions could help avoid tearing (which I had, the first time…and it was the worst part of my recovery!).
Suddenly a lot of stuff made sense. And I felt like, if something crazy happened and I went into labor alone, I’d at least know what to do, and so would my husband (if the midwives didn’t get to us). That didn’t happen, of course, but I felt reassured knowing that I could handle it if it did. I felt that I knew my body and what to expect a lot better, too.
The birthing videos were empowering to me. The women were so calm and relaxed — definitely intense — but just immersed in this whole birth experience. They showed some awesome coping techniques (grabbing onto rope, low vocalizing, walking and staring into your partner’s eyes, and so on). They showed water births where the whole family was present to watch and the tubs were clear so you could see the baby come. They may have been calming because they were all birthing center or home birth videos, and even a few outdoor sea waterbirths!
And, despite this being a naturally-focused class, they talked about the risks and benefits of pain management, reasons for hospital transfer, ways to avoid hospital transfer (assuming you were going for exhaustion, pain relief, or mild dehydration, NOT emergency), writing a birth plan, and so on. This, to me, was crucial, especially for after the baby came. I had learned the hard way that unless you’re very specific and vocal, they will put your baby through all the standard newborn procedures. Just because that’s their job and they’re used to doing it, they don’t “mean anything” by it. (So, I informed all the women…”write down exactly what you want and make sure everyone has a copy!!”) If you’re cool with the “standard” stuff it’s not that important, but I wasn’t.
The bottom line? If you’re looking for a natural birth, want to understand how your body gives birth and how to help the process along, you need a birthing class. If you’re a bit non-mainstream (like me!), yes, you definitely need it.
You might want to seek a class privately rather than in a hospital (look for a specific Lamaze, Bradley, or other method class — may or may not be offered in your local hospital), because that might be a better fit for you. Birthing classes are not one-size-fits-all! Talk to like-minded friends to see what classes they enjoyed and would recommend, and ask your doctor or midwife, too.
So, did you take a birthing class? Why or why not?
Top image by philcampbell