Please welcome our guest blogger, Christy Schmidt, today as she shares her top 10 reasons to take an independent childbirth class.
Top 10 Reasons to Take an Independent Childbirth Class
(Instead of the Standard Hospital Class)
By Christy Schmidt
On the first day of a new childbirth class series, I pose a question to my students: if birth is instinctual and natural, why do we need birth education? Answers usually point to the fact that they’ve never done it before, or if they have, things didn’t go the way they had wanted them to and they’d like a better experience with the next. As conversation continues, we talk about the difference between birthing in today’s modern world versus in years past. Throughout history, by the time a woman was ready to give birth for the first time she had had a full life’s worth of birth education. She had watched her mother, her aunts, her sisters, any number of women in her community give birth multiple times. She had seen what natural birth looks like, what variations may occur, and what sounds and movements and comforts offered by others helped the laboring woman through the process. And when her day came, she was well-equipped not only to give birth with knowledge about the process but with confidence in it as a normal part of life.
In today’s world, few women have ever witnessed anyone give birth before they experience it for themselves, and what if the mother-to- be wants a natural birth? Well, it’s even less likely she’s witnessed that considering the CDC has found that 60% of women receive epidural or spinal anesthesia during labor. (These findings don’t include women who received an epidural or spinal but went on to have a surgical birth, nor do they account for the number of women who received narcotic pain medication during their labors.) 1 The rarity of unmedicated childbirth in our culture makes it hard for a woman hoping for that experience to find a common ground. But is it only women who want an unmedicated childbirth who benefit from taking birth classes? Of course not! Regardless of the experience we hope for, familiarity with the process is invaluable. Knowing what’s normal and what isn’t can go a long way in our level of confidence as we approach this life-changing event.
So the question that remains is this: should you take the birth class provided by your hospital, or should you splurge for the independent class offered in your community?
Top Ten Reasons to Take an Independent Childbirth Class (Instead of the Standard Hospital Class):
10. A “healthy mom and baby” is not all that matters.
I’ve yet to meet a woman who doesn’t want a positive birth experience, but here’s where we meet an all-too- common myth: “all that matters is a healthy mom and healthy baby”. I’m here to tell you a secret: that’s not all that matters! There is a difference between the first thing and the only thing.
Healthy mom and baby is undeniably the first thing. But is it wrong to want other things? Is it wrong to want your birth experience to not only have a positive end result but to be a positive journey as well?
9. Hospitals have standard policies.
Women every day have amazing, positive birth experiences in hospital settings, so please don’t misunderstand me as being anti-hospital. But hospitals are businesses with liabilities to consider and profits to be made, and it’s just a point of fact that sometimes their standard policies serve more to protect their interests than to uphold current recommendations of employing minimal necessary intervention, such as those by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine 2 . Hospital policies are constructed for a variety of reasons and generally with good intent, but because a hospital is an institution with a lot of red tape to get through no matter what you’re there for, it’s easy for it to get messy.
8. Each woman, baby, and family is unique.
The birth process is as complex and individual as the people involved, which means there’s no way for policy to dictate the best course of action in every situation. For instance, Mom #1 may spend four hours pushing and at no point in the process is either mother or baby in danger. She may be exhausted, sure, but that may not mean there is a problem to be solved. Some creative positioning, some stellar coaching, and a lot of positivity and patience on the part of the mom’s birth team may be all that’s needed. In contrast, Mom #2 may spend four hours pushing and the time spent in the process may indicate a problem that could require an intervention such as instrumental delivery or cesarean section to ensure our first priority: healthy mom and healthy baby. C-sections are invaluable when they’re needed, but they carry with them their own set of risks, both short-term and long-term. If Mom #1 had been birthing in a hospital with a two-hour limit on pushing, she may have been wheeled in for a surgical birth that could have led to anything from a nicked bladder or a blood clot to a higher risk of conditions such as placenta accreta in future pregnancies which can pose fatal risks to both mom and baby. Each woman needed different things, and the standard policy of putting time limits on pushing helped one but harmed the other.
7. Hospital classes will always support the hospital’s interests.
One of the best things about hospital birth classes is that they are accessible. In many cases the classes are free to parents planning a birth at that hospital, and that means that mothers or couples who would not otherwise commit to a class (and may therefore not get any birth education whatsoever) will get at least a basic education on the birth process.
However, a hospital class will never deviate from hospital policy (unless the teacher is going rogue, and good luck keeping that job!). If a practice is maintained as policy but is not universally accepted as the best option in every scenario, you are extremely unlikely to be told that in some circumstances other options may be preferred. It’s simply not in the hospital’s best interests.
6. You have options.
In contrast, an independent childbirth class is not bound by the rules and policies of a larger institution. The fact is that in virtually any labor scenario, you have options. Even if things don’t go the way you’d hoped, you still have options. Did you plan a natural birth but ended up deciding you want pain medication? There are many different choices and not one is right for everyone. Do you need to be induced or have your labor augmented? What about fetal monitoring? Even a cesarean? Options, options, options! None of these things is only done in one way, and if you don’t know what your choices are in your particular set of circumstances (or what questions to ask to learn more about your options), you have no way of advocating for yourself. A comprehensive, independent childbirth class will begin to prepare you by presenting you with a wide variety of options in a wide variety of circumstances. It will also provide you with questions you can ask your caregivers if unexpected scenarios arise during labor, giving you the fuel to get the information you need to make informed choices on your behalf.
5. You have rights.
We have the privilege of living in a generation that is beginning to learn and teach the importance of consent and bodily autonomy in a way that has been sorely lacking for time immemorial. However, in many ways this invaluable concept has somehow been diminished in the world of obstetrics. This isn’t to say that obstetricians as a rule have a habit of disrespect; it simply means that we as a culture still view obstetrics as a world apart. When faced with a choice wherein we should have the right to say no if we choose to – for instance, receiving pelvic exams which not only carry medical risks but can be emotionally or physically painful for some women – we are told that because this is standard procedure and because our doctor knows best we don’t have a choice in the matter. This calls back to the importance of knowing our options and the pros and cons of those options, but it goes deeper. Your body is still YOUR body even when you’re in labor. In an independent childbirth class you will be empowered to stand up for your rights. You are an individual before you are a patient!
4. Independent means tailor-made.
When you look for birth education beyond the walls of your hospital, you have the opportunity to find a class that best meets your needs and reflects your philosophy on birth. You may want a one-day intensive or a class that meets every week for two or three months. You may want a class that teaches exclusively about natural childbirth or one that details the pros and cons of various medical interventions (though many classes, such as my own, seek to bridge this gap by training in natural childbirth without blacklisting the important discussion of interventions, how and when they have their place, and how to avoid them if at all possible).
3. You’ll get a more comprehensive education.
When you choose an independent birth class, you get more than a sampler of the basics of labor and birth and the way your hospital operates. You’ll get a more well-rounded (no pun intended!) education on not only the physiology of labor but the variety of ways women may experience it. You’ll learn comfort techniques to help mom relax physically, mentally, and emotionally, ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy, how you can help baby find and maintain an optimal delivery position in the womb, ways to move during labor to enhance both comfort and labor progress, and so much more. And as a natural byproduct of learning practical, hands-on labor strategies, you’ll develop confidence in both your body and the birth process.
2. Your partner will be trained and challenged to be the ultimate birth coach.
I’m so grateful to live in an era in which women no longer are expected to give birth surrounded only by strangers. It was only a couple generations ago that men were not allowed in hospital labor and delivery rooms. Now a pregnant woman’s partner is likely to join her not only in the delivery room but in the birth class as well, and this provides instructors like myself with a tremendous opportunity to challenge these fellow parents-to- be to go above and beyond the call of duty. In an independent, comprehensive class, partners will be trained with a wide variety of labor coaching techniques that will not only help bring mom comfort but will draw the two of them closer together. As they practice together in class and at home, they’re drawn into a place of greater communication, greater understanding, and greater intimacy.
1. Birth changes you forever.
I’ve yet to meet a woman who has given birth and isn’t, given the right audience, eager to share her story, be it exhilarating, traumatic, or somewhere in between. The fact is that birth changes a person. It makes no difference whether she gave birth alone in a forest spring or under the knife of a skilled surgeon. Her identity was forever changed.
A positive birth experience isn’t dictated by the number of interventions a woman had, regardless of whether they were desired or not. A positive birth has far more to do with how we felt about what was happening and how we were treated by those around us. We have the opportunity to do what we can to ensure that positive experience, and getting the highest quality birth classes available to us is a great step in that direction.
1 Osterman, Michelle and Martin, Joyce. “Epidural and Spinal Anesthesia Use During Labor: 27-state Reporting Area, 2008.” National Vital Statistics Reports. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 13, 2017.
2 Caughey, Aaron; Cahill, Alison; Guise, Jeanne-Marie; Rouse, Dwight. “Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG, January 13, 2017. http://www.acog.org/Resources-And- Publications/Obstetric-Care- Consensus-Series/Safe- Prevention-of- the-Primary- Cesarean-Delivery
About the writer, Christy Schmidt:
Christy Schmidt teaches childbirth and infant care education classes under the name Welcome Love Maternity Services LLC. Formerly trained and certified as a birth doula with DONA (Doulas of North America) and a childbirth educator with The Bradley Method (American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth), she now teaches independently at Authentic Birth Center · Wellness Collective in Wauwatosa. For more information on class offerings, visit her at www.welcomelovematernityservices.com