Thursday, August 25, 2011

Musings on Childbirth Education

Sometimes when I think about it, just the idea of chilbirth education classes is kind of interesting. It says a great deal about the culture we live in. We so value knowledge. But yet, what happens to the wisdom?

When I was a young woman expecting my first baby in 1973-74 childbirth classes weren't even available in my community. Everythinmg I really needed to know had come from my mother, my grandmother and my aunts. They all had their birth stories, and whenever they shared, there was kind of a glow in their voices and in their eyes. Even the more difficult births were discussed with smiles of great satisfaction. Each discussion ended with a statement that giving birth was the most amazing, or beautiful, or satisfying thing a woman would ever experience.

I have always enjoyed reading, and during my pregnancies I read everything pertaining to natural childbirth that I could get my hands on. While the goal was to learn, in retrospect I think that the reading was more about the energy. The energy of connecting with my baby. The energy of doing this for and with my baby. The energy of love for being pregnant.

The over-all message was that birth is normal. If you just relax and have a positive attitude it's very do-able.

And until the 1940s - 1950s the way women learned about birth was from their community of women, especially women relatives. It was seen as a normal part of life. Advice was shared, little mysteries were shared. But really, the concept was that babies come out. How much did you really need to know about the nuts and bolts, the science, the engineering side of it?

As childbirth moved into hospitals and became a medicalized ptocedure, it became surrounded with more fear. The prevailing attitude was that women needed drugs so that they could be rescued from the pain and shame of childbirth. And that women were too frail to withstand the rigors of birth. With birth now taking place in medical institutions, infection rates increased and the message of fear took a very strong hold on American women.

So, soon we had a few pioneers in the field who recognized that fear was our enemy when it comes to birthing our babies. It's ofen said that knowledge is power. And it's clearly true that women have the right to understand how our bodies work. And so, mostly due to the work of Fernand Lamaze, Marjorie Karmel and Henci Goer,( who formalized The Lamaze Method)we now have Childbirth Education Classes.

For most of my career as a midwife, I have had objections to the mainstream childbirth education methods. First of all, the idea that there is one actual "method" that could work for all birthing women kind of offends me. Each woman will find her unique strengths and her way to birth her baby.You can't put that in a box. I also found it interesting that none of the early methods were devoloped by women who had given birth. Lamaze, Dick-Read, Bradley, Laboyer are all very caring individuals that have done much for furthering positive beliefs about childbirth. But as far as convincing me to buy into any of these methods as the way in which all women should give birth- these guys share a particular disadvantage - they're all men, none of which has ever given birth to a baby.

Thankfully, there are now many choices for women wanting childbirth classes. There are several educational programs available today developed by women who are mothers and some by midwives. Interestingly, it seems that many of these programs designed by women offer a variety of tools to ease your birthing experience and are less dependent on a set "method" of birthing. They tend to offer more in the way of guidance to your own empowerment.

Lately I've been teaching HypnoBirthing, and I love it. While it's promoted as a method, it's a method of connecting with your own birthing instincts, your own individual power, and connecting with your baby. It's based upon eliminating fear and through postive messaging to your body and mind,enhancing a peaceful normal birth experience. I believe that I've seen amazing things with Hypnobirthing- shorter labors, easier labors. I think I love it as much as I love waterbirth.

At the midwifery office, Belle also teaches a class on basic comfort measures, and tools for facilitating an easier birth. Part of this class is recognizing your own strengths and personal challenges and how you can use these parts of yourself to have a better birth. Thank you, Belle!

Recent research shows that the number of women who attend childbirth preparation classes is diminishing. The study showed that CBE has in recent past,been prevalent among white women with higher education. But the numbers of women who express an interest in CBE is declining among all socio-economic groups. I wonder why? I doubt that it's because women no longer have fear of giving birth. It's probably about the combination of wide-spread availabilty of information on the internet, and the fact that the majority of American women just want an epidural and don't want to be bothered with it. Sorry that sounds harsh. It's just the way it's been going.

So now, back to the original thoughts... hmm.. the knowledge is available. How available is the wisdom? I think it's very available, but how does the mainstream American woman, who has been inundated with negative messaging find her wisdom and gain peace in her birthing process?


  1. It's sad that the "wisdom" is not readily available to the main stream. I wanted something different but at that point I wasn't in an area of life where that kind of information was easy to find. I took the hospital birthing classes but they didn't teach me anything except the difference between an epidural and a spinal and what to pack in my hospital bag. I wonder how things could have been different if my insurance covered a midwife and I had the wisdom of knowledgeable, powerful women to learn from. Different indeed.

  2. I didn't want to be anonymous but it wouldn't post otherwise.

  3. I think that the WAY women have come to talk about birth has changed a lot, too. I never got glowing faces and an overall message of "birth is normal" in the talks I had with my mother and grandmother about it. My grandmother only remembered entering the hospital, being separated from her husband and "knocked out". This was during the twilight sleep era. My mother talked about how excruciating the pain was, how long and hard she pushed, how my brother's heart rate tanked close to crowning... her stories were full of drama and fear. Same with my older sisters. When I was pregnant with my first and my aunt found out I was going to have her without pain medication she laughed at me. I said "I know I can do this. At it's worst it's only one day of pain, I can do this for my baby" and she smiled knowingly and said "We'll see."

    Birth stories coming from main stream women seem to be about who can one-up the drama factor, and there is NEVER a totally 100% easy birth story, there is ALWAYS an emergency and a need for intervention. Not all women tell their stories this way, but it's a trend I've noticed. I did it with my first. "And so we started the Cytotec and it didn't work, so I needed the Pitocin. Then I had to get her out fast because her heart rate was in the 60's and then she needed help breathing. Then breastfeeding was hard and she had colic..." the whole story was, honestly, me trying to vent how afraid and anxious I was after having that experience. And that was a NORMAL hospital induction, when everything was controlled, I can only imagine how women feel coming out the other side of a labor where her care provider feels OUT of control (IE: most spontaneous labors).

    I think that plays into this as well. Women are being indoctrinated that birth is scary. They don't WANT to know more about it, they want to numb it and give the responsibility to someone else.

    This is one case where ignorance is NOT bliss, ignorance is fear and believing you are broken.