5 Reasons to take a Childbirth Class
by Kristin Maresca
When I was living and working as a doula in Houston, I almost quit. Time and time again, I would be called upon to support a woman in pregnancy and childbirth, and despite our requisite two prenatal visits and her stated desires to birth naturally, she would concede to either pharmaceutical induction or augmentation, as for her epidural, and - far too often - end up with a cesarean birth.
Please don't misunderstand: I am not unequivocally opposed to any and all interventions. I don't think Pitocin is evil. A woman isn't a failure at birthing if she decides to get an epidural for pain relief. In the seven years that I have worked as a doula, however, I have frequently seen medical professionals use these interventions without clear medical indication, and/or without true informed consent on the part of the birthing woman. Each time a woman decided to go forward with induction, even though both she and her baby looked healthy, or was clearly caught unawares by the intensity of labor and cringed with fear at each contraction, almost begging for some relief, I had to wonder if I had done enough work to prepare her. Where had I gone wrong? Hadn't we talked about why it's important to wait until mom's body and baby are both ready, provided that both were healthy? Had we not explored the intensity of labor and ways to manage contractions?
After much reflection, what became glaringly obvious is the fact that almost none of the women I worked with had taken a comprehensive childbirth course during their pregnancy. They may have signed up for the one offered by the hospital where they had chosen to birth, but when I started asking questions about the classes, I realized that they were wholly inadequate in terms of preparing women for what natural birth could potentially look and feel like, and the capability of her body to do the work. So I started requiring that all of my doula clients take a childbirth class, and if you want a natural childbirth, sign up for one that focuses on helping to prepare you for that kind of birth. If a doula client decides to take one at the hospital, I ask to review the curriculum so that I have a better idea of what additional information they may need.
Which brings me to the purpose of this blog: why take a childbirth class at all? Here are 5 reasons.
1) This is your birth, one of the most transformative experiences of your life...and one of the greatest challenges you will likely ever face. I really don't like employing over-used analogies, but it's hard to beat this one: If you were preparing for a marathon, you would train. You would work your a** off making sure you were physically and mentally prepared for the challenges ahead. Why wouldn't you do the same thing for your birth? Prepare, mamas. Make your birth a priority.
2) Childbirth courses help to empower the mother's partner. For someone who is supporting a woman in birth for the first time, s/he may have no idea what to expect on game day. If you've already been down this road, I can guarantee you that this birth will be different from previous ones. A good childbirth class helps build the confidence of both mom and her partner by providing evidence-based information and practical, hands-on comfort measures that can be used during pregnancy and birth.
3) Knowledge is POWER! Let's be honest. Unless you're a birthworker, you really don't know much about what goes on during birth. Many women go through pregnancy wanting a natural childbirth, but then, suddenly, they're being told about things that are going to be done because "something-or-another" is happening. The women and their partners don't understand the hospital/medical language being used, and there is so much that they "just don't know". Learn about the amazing changes your body is going through, mamas. Understand the process of birth and all of its normal - and not-so-normal - variations. Have a toolkit so that you and your partner are able to go through your birth with trust and confidence. In a birth culture where the normalcy of birth is all but ignored, you have the ability to claim this birth as your own, and no one else's.
4) It takes a village. One of the reasons I love teaching prenatal yoga and childbirth classes so much is the community that we create when we come together around the topic of birth. During pregnancy, we are inundated with advice, have a million decisions to make, and often feel that we bought an "unlimited rides" pass to the world's most intense emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes we just want to hear that we aren't alone on this journey. It takes a village to grow a baby on the outside...and on the inside, too.
5) Childbirth classes help you carve out time. One of the most valuable parts of a childbirth class can be the drive there and home with your partner. If you meet separately at the class location, it's the time you take, together, to process that you are indeed becoming parents. Between work, getting the house "ready" (even though yes, it's true, a baby really doesn't need that much), baby showers, and everything else, so often 9 months go by without a couple connecting deeply about what they're going through, their excitement, and their fears. Childbirth classes hold space for a woman and her partner to consider the steps they are taking on this journey.
There are a number of styles of childbirth classes, some general and others specialized, but what matters is that you feel that the curriculum will help you and your partner adequately prepare for the birth of your child. Remember, the purpose of a childbirth course isn't to teach you exactly what will happen, but to support you in asking the necessary questions and making informed decisions, regardless of how birth unfolds for you.