Thursday, June 15, 2006

What to expect when you're in childbirth preparation classes and feeling overwhelmed and grossed out

Wednesday, June 14:

It's the second childbirth prep class. JP and I have left the pillow at home. We come in a little bit late, so we end up sitting in the back row. Throughout the class, I keep staring at the tattoo on the back shoulder of the woman in front of me: a hibiscus with the words Divinity, Beauty, Truth, Balance and Passion labeled next to each of the flower's five petals.

I look around at what the other women are wearing. Lots of tank tops and camisoles -- the temperatures are getting warmer. Some women are wearing fancy tops with handkerchief hems and carrying glittering handbags. No kidding. The attorney/newscaster/CEO woman has dressed down a bit for the class this time, but still looks like she could be at work. I am wearing maternity jeans (which are still a bit too big) and an athletic top with a tie-front shrug. With flip-flops. And no cool tattoo.

We practice breathing for contractions. JP is still making lame wisecracks, like how he's going to be in charge of the TV remote while I'm having contractions and other stupid stuff. I ask him, "Do you want me to toss you out of the delivery room?" It's all fun and games until someone has to push out a baby.

The nurse teacher shows us a poster depicting the different stages of labor. Each stage shows a woman, smiley-face style, with the woman's expression turning to what looks like rage by the last stage of labor. I think we could do without that little visual aid.

Then we watch another birth video. It is graphic. It is the most disgusting and the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I squirm in my chair and clench my fists. There is no crying this time. It's just uncomfortable to watch. I can't figure out why it's different from Monday night's video.

I will be a bad patient.

A neonatalogist comes in to tell us about how great the facilities are at the hospital. We get to ask questions. But he isn't there that long. Basically, none of us hopes we ever have to see him.

After he leaves, we ask the nurse teacher more questions. When she brings up the subject of being hooked up to an IV and a fetal monitor, I ask, "How will we be able to move around if we have these lines and wires attached?"

"The IV line is very long. You can take it with you and walk the halls or do whatever you want to do."

"What if you're using a birth ball or doing yoga-type movements?" Not that I have used a ball. But the videos she has shown our class have women swaying, squatting and leaning forward on a chair, not tethered to a bed. And a couple of the books I have enjoyed reading recommend moving around and keeping an upright position rather than lying down so gravity works with you and the baby.

"The line will stretch. You can be on a ball and have an IV with no problem. At the very least, everyone will get the site started for an IV just in case you need one attached."

"But what about the monitor?"

"Well, we have this invisible patient. We want to see how they're doing, right?"

Which doesn't really answer my question.

I haven't mentioned it before, but I'm listening to birth hypnosis CDs -- Hypbirth -- after reading about the practice in a pregnancy magazine. They CDs seemed really weird at first. But they have taught me how to really relax. And even the nurse teacher has said how important it is to relax during labor. I like the positive visualizations and the Hypbirth coach's soothing voice that tells you how strong you are and how giving birth is going to be easy if you can just relax.

However, I also like the active birth approach. I'm an active person. I like the idea of being upright and not looking like an invalid. I like the idea of gravity (for the most part).

These two philosophies don't seem to go together, I know. How can you be "as limp and loose as a rag doll," as the Hypbirth CDs want you to be, if you are squatting or hanging onto your partner? Maybe there's some way I can combine the two approaches.

When you think about it, it's really the Ob/Gyns who should be offering these classes, not the hospital. Because even though the hospital offers certain options, the doctors may not. For example, Star told me our doctor practice won't do water births, something she is interested in, even though the hospital has a birthing tub. And if the hospital is going to insist I be strapped to a monitor, well then, I've just wasted a lot of time reading about active birth and practicing positions, haven't I? I'm also getting the picture that the doctor isn't even going to be there for most of the labor, only when the baby is about to emerge. So what difference is it to her the way I labor?

Going to the class is still a good idea, though. Each class is a reinforcement of the idea we are going to give birth. Every time we go, the dads get gentle tips from the nurse teacher about how they can be good coaches and how they can tolerate us. The class helps us to know a little better what to expect.

There are just so many different options, approaches and philosophies and different people telling you different things about labor and birth that it makes my head swim. I would like to give birth with Divinity, Beauty, Truth, Balance and Passion. In the end, though, I fear I might just end up being squashed under the medical establishment's thumb. Is that dramatic enough for ya?!


Blogger Julie Carobini said...

Thanks for stopping by my site today, Damselfly!

And have you heard the one about making a wish list of what kind of delivery you'd like and then passing around copies to the hospital staff? We actually did that for baby #1...and you never SAW so many eyes rolling.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Margie said...

My kids are teenagers now (well, the oldest is 21), but I've been enjoying reading your blog, and remembering those days.

My advice would be to continue to do what you're doing, that is read whatever you can, but mostly whatever appeals to you about labor and delivery. It is OK to pick and choose what ideas you think you'd like, but also to realize that when the time comes, you may find that certain things you thought you'd like don't work, or aren't comfortable, etc.

Remember that childbirth is NOT a medical illness, but a normal bodily function. We choose to give birth in hospitals not because there's anything wrong, but so that we can be near medical help IN CASE something goes wrong. Well that's how I look at it, anyway.

What we did, and I know this is fairly common these days, is prepare a BIRTH PLAN. Even though you know it's likely that things won't go according to plan, it helps to have your desires all spelled out in writing (you've probably seen books with examples of birth plans). This would be a document your doctor (or the medical practise you're going to for prenatal care) has on file, and you'd discuss your plan with them at a few prenatal visits in order to hone any fine points. But you'd have a copy in the bag/suitcase you intend to bring, and also submit one in advance to the hospital.

When I gave birth, the hospital had my birth plan, and I remember the nurse looking at it and actually honoring my wishes.

Sometimes I think those childbirth prep classes are more valuable for the dads than for the moms. By the time we went, I'd already read so much that nothing came as a surprise. But for the dads, it started to hit home that they were soon going to have an infant to take care of--and most of them hadn't given much thought to what labor and delivery would be like, so it was good for them to have some idea of what was in store.

Lamaze, and many of the other techniques they may teach seemed to me to be a means of distraction, of having you focus on something to get your mind of the discomfort, to have something to do or think about in between contractions, etc. Certainly it's a lot of work, and learning to breathe, rather than hold your breath, is essential so that you have oxygen available for exerting yourself, and there may be times when shallow breating is preferable, but in the end, I think the best things you can do are what you're already doing--learning as much as you can, and realizing that there really is no one "right" way to go about this, that the unexpected may happen, and you just have to be prepared to let go, if that makes any sense.

Another thing I haven't seen you mention much is exercise. Pregnancy isn't a good time to take up a new sport, but it's very important to try to stay in good physical condition, so that you're able to endure a long labor (if that's in the cards). Plus a fit body "bounces back" from the stress of childbirth so much better than one that isn't. Walking, swimming, whatever you're already used to doing, is something to keep doing, even if eventually you decrease the intensity and duration.

Best wishes! Hope some of this was useful to you.


5:06 PM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

Thanks for all the tips!

I actually do work out on a regular basis -- unless I am having one of my "tired" days.

7:29 PM  

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