Updated: May 3
The age of the internet is truly a marvel. Access to the information available online offers each of us an incredible opportunity to be aware of choices and possibilities that we may not have known otherwise. I personally love the ability to access like-minded communities and to supplement my knowledge through options available online.
Information online can also be a little overwhelming. It can keep you distracted from important things that need to be done in the here and now. Spending time surfing the web can feel like you are acquiring knowledge, but sometimes its really just a time suck or thrusts you into an anxiety vortex that you are not really sure how to extract yourself from (this can be especially true during pregnancy.)
I like to think of the internet as a pretty amazing tool. But it’s just a tool. It is not the actual learning. It is not going to be able to do what only you can do. Different apps and communities online may feel temporarily compelling and engaging, but they also have the power to keep you disengaged and distracted from real life with real live people. Some things can only be done in real time.
One of those things is preparing for the birth of your child and parenting. This absolutely requires real time physical, mental, and emotional preparation. It requires being in relationship with your partner and communication. Preparation benefits from being in community because we are designed as social creatures. You are giving birth to a human being – a being who is extraordinarily complex in terms of development – and who develops within the context of the relationships in which he/she lives.
One of the benefits I get from being online is listening to podcasts. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen (another post!) and podcasts about birth work, parenting, health and well-being, and food keep me motivated and engaged as I move through my work each day caring for my family. Birth stories I love to listen to, too – of course! Each one is unique and I am truly interested in women’s experiences and the events that led up to their birth and postpartum. I heard one today in which the mother shared her story and the events leading up to the birth.
In her story, she expressed regret about not taking a live class and not slowing down at the end of her pregnancy to really enjoy and take time for preparations. She felt “too busy” to take a childbirth education series and elected to just do an online one. She and her husband were not in sync with studying and did not partake together – often they would be disconnected and in separate rooms. While she made many decisions that were supportive on the outside for a good birth experience (like working with a midwife), the inside preparations for herself and setting up her husband for the changes that were coming were really not met. She described her birth experience as a real disaster (her words were more colorful, but I can't repeat them here!). It’s not my place to share all the details – (not that I even know all of them anyways – I just heard what I heard) - because that is not the important thing. The part that really stood out to me was the real pain and regret in her voice. Also revealing were the tone of her voice and the language she used when sharing details about her relationship with her husband, which exposed estrangement and resentment. I felt both compassion and exasperation. Compassion because I have empathy for her pain and suffering. I also truly understand feelings of regret – been there. And exasperation, because I think it’s a really common attitude right now among people of childbearing age to think that you don’t need prenatal or childbirth classes.
Birth is a profound experience. It’s deep. It’s real. There is no going back. There is no redo. During birth the mother is ultimately super vulnerable and extraordinarily powerful at the same time. The baby is also both super vulnerable -- and I am not referring to just the thin veil between life and death, but more importantly the imprint that the birthing experience has on the baby and how this ripples forward throughout a person’s life – but also amazingly strong in determining and participating in the birthing experience. It’s all a really incredible process.
My view of childbirth preparation is this - you’ve got one shot here. You can hope for good luck, or you can plan and prepare so you’ve got a better chance at having a positive experience. Things don't have to be "perfect." There is no grade. It's not the endpoint. It's a beginning. Ultimately, this is an experience that you are having. That your baby is having. This experience is going to live within your psyche and within the cells of your body (and your baby, too.) I do care about you potentially experiencing emotional pain and regret – there is no epidural for that. Planning and preparing requires an investment of your time and energy. It requires actual DOING. I am not big on internet childbirth classes (most people don’t even complete these classes), short classes, or weekend intensives. Here's why -
Preparing for birth and parenting is kind of like preparing for a marathon. If you are watching You-tube videos about running or learning from an online course about how a marathon works and then you just show up the day of the marathon (and there is no getting out of it – you have to have your baby one way or another - it’s happening) – well, that sounds like that could potentially be a pretty miserable experience that could have been avoided with some prep. If you are just preparing once a week for about month (short series) – well, you might get something out of it, but it really is not enough to see a marathon through (marathon runners usually train for about three months.) A one weekend intensive and then the marathon? Forget about it. Be ready for the paramedic stretcher. Just from a purely logical stand point – physically and mentally – you are not going to be prepared. Birth and parenting are no different.
Childbirth prep that will really benefit you should have these components:
Childbirth education needs to not only provide information to you, but also should make sure you actually practice what you need to do to prepare. This includes relaxation practice, comfort techniques, and labor rehearsals.
The class series should be long enough that you hear and see the information and tools more than once and in different forms so that you and your partner really know it (people need to be exposed to or hear things a least 7 times in order to retain the information.)
Your class should expose you to a variety of different tools that you can use during your process and not just focus on one thing – you don’t know exactly what you’ll need and it’s good to have more than one tool in your back pocket.
Good childbirth prep spends time on communication and relationship skills. An in-depth class enhances your bond with your partner and should spark discussions each week about what is important to each you as your approach the birth of your child.
Childbirth education should reveal concepts and ideas that you might never thought of before that are essential for your baby’s well-being and for the strength of your family unit.
Childbirth preparation needs to engage your partner and help him see how vital he is to his family on many levels – and that there are so many wonderful things he can do support his woman and baby. It’s really common for dads to feel adrift. A really great class that focuses on his role can help him be a really involved, active dad.
Childbirth education should help you realize how amazing and capable your body truly is.
Childbirth classes need to remind mothers to take care of themselves each day and gives specific ideas of what they can do that will be helpful to them and their baby.
Childbirth classes also need to prepare you and your partner for the unexpected and for when birth doesn't quite go the way you wanted it to go.
Childbirth education ideally encompasses the whole experience; pregnancy, labor & birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, and family relationships.
Childbirth classes provide supportive community which bolsters your confidence in yourself and also provides a way to make you feel more calm and relaxed.
Childbirth education is essential. That is why I teach it. I teach the class my husband and I would have loved to have taken. It would have made all the difference in the world. Taking classes is for you. It’s for your baby. Take a LIVE class with a real, live teacher. You can’t call the internet when you are dealing with a situation with your OB, you need support in labor, or your nipples feel like raw meat – just sayin’.