Going it solo in childbirth classes

I haven’t been blogging as much as usual lately, I know. This is partly because Mum and Dad refuse to get a puppy, despite my constant pestering, so I am without cute puppy stories to share. And it’s partly because Mum and Dad don’t seem to want me to put up stories about them, so I am without entertaining parental stories. But mostly it’s been because I’ve been tired, tired, tired.

I’m now feeding the baby extra iron and calcium every day and hopefully that’ll help on the fatigue front.

So I went to my first childbirth class yesterday. Alone. Reminding myself that plenty of people do this solo for real so I have few grounds to be indulging in self-pity on that front. This stern talking to mostly helped. Mostly.

Anyway, maybe there was some good that came out of Mike not being able to be there (namely that he didn’t get to compare me to the three other women in the class and wonder just how far off the normal beaten path I habitually wander). For if Mike had been there, he would have witnessed the following moments:

1.     The birth educator (who will also be my doula, let’s call her Jade) asks each of us to introduce ourselves and explain the sort of birth we would like:

All three other women speak with great fervour of their desire to have a natural (drug-free) birth. One insists that she has her heart set on a lotus birth (and whoever knows what that is, fill me in below). I say, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m interested in learning about natural birth, especially water birth, but I totally have not ruled out the use of epidurals, pethidine, and maybe general anesthetic.”

2.     Jade describes with misty-eyed nostalgia how, when she was thirty weeks pregnant and fully into the nesting stage, she used to buy lots of tiny new baby clothes. Then she’d put them away neatly, only to find herself going to her baby cupboard every two days to hold these clothes up, marvel at how small they were, and imagine her baby in them. Jade turns to me (since I’m the most pregnant in the class by several weeks) and asks if I’ve found myself doing that.

“Ah, not exactly,” I say. “I haven’t actually bought the baby any clothes yet, but lovely friends have given us some and the other day I did sort them into two piles – ‘clean’ and ‘needs washing’. That’s a good start, isn’t it?”

3.     Jade informs us that it’s not unusual for pregnant women to have very vivid and unusual dreams and asks if any of us have been having any of those.

“I have!” I said. “Last month I dreamed I was a brown bear and when I woke up I was still convinced I was a bear. I mean, I sometimes wake up forgetting where I am, but I’ve never woken up really thinking that I was a different species before.”

“Um,” Jade said, after she stopped laughing. “Anyone having unusual dreams about babies?”

Oh, right… unusual dreams about babies. Nope. Not unless my one dream that I forgot to feed the baby all day, and then left it behind when I went out to dinner with Mike and my parents counts.

Actually, that probably does count. So maybe I’m normal on this front after all.

4.     Jade tells us that we’ve all probably received mostly negative messages about labour and birth from the media (who tend to turn it into a dramatic plot-point) and maybe from our mothers as well. She tells us that she wants us to practice replacing the word “pain” with the phrase “strong and powerful experience” whenever we think about labour. Then she instructs us to close our eyes and do a visualization exercise where we focus on the word “pain” and then on the word “soft” several times. Then she asks us all what we noticed.

All the others in the class speak quite poetically about how they felt their attention narrow and their bodies tense up when focusing on the word pain, and relax and soften when they focused on the word “soft”.

“And what did you experience?” Mike asked, when I described this whole exercise to him later via skype.

“Well, uh, I was a bit distracted,” I said. “For one, the baby was stamping on my bladder. And I was also busy being annoyed that we couldn’t just call a spade a spade, acknowledge pain as pain, and just talk about these exercises as pain management strategies rather than trying to put a ‘strong and powerful’ gloss on it.”

“Well,” Mike said. “You are, as usual, making a very good and logical point. But given what I know of labour, it seems likely that you’ll get to the point somewhere during the whole process when all of your considerable and logical intellect isn’t going to do you a single bit of good. So perhaps next time you should consider not being quite so logical and just enter into the spirit of things.”

So it seems that Mike doesn’t need to be physically present to put his two cents in, and perhaps it’s wise he voices these opinions while he’s still safely out of reach.

Have you ever attended childbirth classes? Did you learn anything especially interesting or helpful?

42 responses to “Going it solo in childbirth classes

  1. What i learned in my birthing classes is that i am much like you. I just called pain pain and was done with it. Oh, and i asked for an epidural when i got to the point where i couldn’t walk anymore. it was bliss. The anesthesiologist became my best friend and the baby was just fine. Do what you need to do, Lisa!

    • Thanks, Tanya. Yeah, I do wonder whether I’m doing myself any favours by getting hung up on this, but I do stumble on this point. Pain is not ALL perception – there’s only so much you can do to think it away, this I know.

  2. ha ha, this is so funny! it totally reminds me of my childbirth classes! The four couples wanted a natural birth, including us. However, after we had our babies we talked together to meet babies and tell our birth stories and only two of them made it (not us!). One of the women was talking about how during labor she was in her garden holding hands to her husband and when they looked at a beautiful autumn tree they decided it was time to have this baby and she pushed and had him…well, this romantic thing was not exactly what I experienced: 3 days of back labor and only dilating 4 cm which led me to a c-section…My experience is that all this relaxation and visualization techniques are only useful in early labor when the pain is actually manageable, but when the real pain comes it is really hard to listen to music and dance with your partner!!! specially if you make no progress like me. However, I have to say that of all the pain management techniques what helped me the most when the pain was really strong was being in water and making strong guttural sounds. Summarizing, I’m all for trying out the natural way first, you never know how your body will react and how you will experience pain so why not see if you can do it naturally, but always be open to ask for medication if you know you’ve reached your limits. Good luck! you look amazing and everything will be great!!!

    • You made me laugh with this comment. Gazing at a tree and deciding it was the right time… we should all be so lucky. Thanks for sharing your experience Corita!

  3. Oooh yeah, tried to go natural but got to 5 cm each time and then the epi was bliss. Got to 10 cm in 1 hr after that! The best thing that came out of birthing class was the breathing techniques for me helped when I didn’t have the epi, and the also remind the hubby and me that I could go jekyl and hide. Want him rubbing my back one second and then just standing away the next. Which was marginally true…mostly tho, that I needed him there and focused and not a wimpy or uninterested guy in the process. And he wasn’t, he was the best coach 🙂 as will Mike!

    • Hmmm, this is really encouraging, as many people say an epi might slow you down. And, yeah, I can see Patrick (and Mike) being excellently supportive in the labour room.

  4. The best thing our instructor and friend, Lyndi, had us do was sort a stack of cards with all these possible birth scenario descriptors on them into two piles of ones we wanted and ones we didn’t, things like ‘all natural’ or ‘water birth’ or ‘epidural’ or whatever, and then in several steps she had us whittle our “keep” pile down to one or two cards. Basically, everyone picked ” mother and baby healthy and well.”. Her point was that you can want and want your ideal birth experience, but you just do not know what you’re going to get, so it might be good to let go of a bunch of those expectations. She was all set for the awesome, all natural child birth and for both her boys ended up in emergency c-sections with cords wrapped in nasty places and babies in peril unless swift action was taken. And here she was the doula, for cryin’ out loud!

    As for me, I just wanted my epidural and I got it both times, bless those dear, sweet doctors, I could kiss them now.

    About two weeks before my sister delivered her first, she saw this news report about this horrible flood in some African country where several people in remote locations had been stranded in trees for several days. There was a woman in one small group in a tree who gave birth in the middle of the storm in the tree over surging flood waters with only a few people from her village to help her out. Two or three days later, a helicopter was finally able to get in and rescue them. They had footage of this that my sister saw. They checked out the woman and the baby, found everyone to be well, and as soon as they set her down on dry land, the woman strapped that infant on her back and started to walk home. After seeing that, my sister decided, heck, I’m giving birth in a hospital in a first world nation, I can probably put up with just about anything. I must say, that dear woman’s story often gave me perspective when I was laboring with my own two. Don’t worry. You won’t give birth in a tree, in a storm, over a flooded river. Life is good. And he’s gonna be so cute!

    • Yeah, I left out a very helpful comment Jade said after my “oh, not so hung up and wedded to natural birth contribution.” She smiled and said, “well, one good thing about coming at it from this angle is that you won’t be disappointed, then.” And I think there’s heaps of truth in not holding your expectations too tightly. And as for the tree story, I had heard that somewhere too I think, but it is a good reminder that yes, even were everything to go wrong and I was to give birth in the middle of a hurricane on the floor of the bedroom or in the car by the side of the road, I would likely survive without too much help or any drugs as countless others have done before me.

  5. 1 – A lotus birth is where you leave the cord and placenta attached to baby until it falls off naturally – takes about 3 days… A bit hippy-dippy for me (the placenta is not a pretty object) but whatever floats their boat – you’re in hippy-central up there!! 🙂

    2 – Acknowledging the pain and the fact it is is pain is what I did. But herein lies the difference – this was pain for a good reason, with a great outcome at the end of it. It wasn’t a broken leg that was painful because something bad had happened, it wasn’t kidney stones or renal colic which is painful for the sake of being painful (and I’m sure I’ve said before – waaayyyyy worse than labour). So focusing on the outcome is a good way to manage to pain. Might be worth thinking of it like that if you can! 🙂

    • Totally agree 🙂 It’s purposeful pain and while it’s excruciating, it isn’t like breaking your leg. Been there, done that – that pain is just ridiculous and even though it’s been 16 years since I broke my leg as a child, it still rates as the worst pain I’ve ever been in. For me, far worse than childbirth. I shudder when I think about breaking a leg – I smile when I think about childbirth – even when I’m staring it right down the barrel, considering I’ll be doing it in a few weeks. Weird, right?

      Lotus birth is also going a bit far for me but if someone wants to do it that way, go them. I’m planning a physiological third stage and even that’s a bit hippy for some people.

      In the end, the baby will come out and really, how it gets out is largely irrelevant, as long as you are both healthy. That’s what we’re shooting for, anyway.

      • “In the end, the baby will come out and really, how it gets out is largely irrelevant, as long as you are both healthy. That’s what we’re shooting for, anyway.”

        This – Robbie always knows how to sum it up!! 😀

      • Oh, I’m so with you on the breaking the leg thing. I did that when I was 11 and I can still remember everything so clearly. I can’t talk or think about it without shuddering either, or watch scenes on TV that involve broken legs. BTW, what is a physiological third stage??

        • The third stage of labour is the stage when the baby is already out, but you’re still hanging around for the placenta to detach and come on out. Often the default hospital policy is to clamp the umbilical cord straight away, cut it, and give you a shot of syntocinon to expel the placenta more quickly. Some women opt not to have the cord clamped or cut until it stops pulsing (because it is still pumping the good stuff into your baby at the time it is born) and decline the injection of syntocinon, so instead of the placenta following in five minutes, it can take up to an hour (you spend that time snuggling, just like you probably would otherwise anyway).

          When S was born she had a short cord, so I could only lift her up to my bellybutton and she got stuck there, hehe. So we changed our minds and cut the cord and I had the shot, which was totally fine 🙂 If this one also has a short cord, we’ll do the same. But I’d like the umbilical cord to be able to do its work and pump all the oxygen-rich stuff into the babe before it’s clamped and cut 🙂

          • Aha, thanks for the education, that sounds like more up my alley. I’m not sure I want the syntocinon either but I did know that it’s fairly routine for them to give it to you now – it’s the same thing as pitocin.

    • Wow, huh, really. Thanks for that info on lotus birth, I totally had no idea. And you’re right, I am well into “I am woman hear me roar and natural birth is the way to go” territory in this part of NSW. Though Jade, to her credit, is very non-judgmental on this. She says she wants to educate us regarding natural birth so we can make informed decisions, but she’s not going to push any particular style of labour or delivery.

  6. I had EVERY intention of getting an epidural, but found that with both of the babies I had, the anesthesiologist is not always available, which totally sucks. So, my advice is to learn the breathing and relaxation techniques, they really do help – tightening your stomach muscles (which is your normal reaction) is what you need to avoid. If the drugs don’t arrive in time, you’ll be grateful. And if the drugs do arrive, you’ll find there are many other times in your life when you have terrible stomach cramping and you’ll now have a great tool in your arsenal.

    For me, the best advice by far is to remember that millions of other women have gone before you and they all survived (well, most of them), so you’ll probably be fine.

  7. I’ve definitely used those breathing techniques in therapy, and I’m totally cool with my wife having made her own decisions about epidurals, but know she was a bit disappointed with having to use pitocin (spelling?) and we did have all three with bradychardia, which may have been due to said pitocin to induce labor…. But like the one post said, live is better than…, and this is one more time when we are definitely not in control 🙂

  8. extremelifestylechallenge

    I did some childbirth classes back in CA but ended up having an induction and eventually an epidural with a few complications. Not the outcome I’d hoped for – but a beautiful healthy baby nonetheless! Didn’t do any classes the second time around, but I did read the ‘Juju’ book http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Birth-Skills-Class-Juju-Sundin-Sarah-Murdoch/9781741750973

    I had a natural birth the second time and I do think the book helped. Not so much for the specific pain management techniques (I just went into my own mental zone and walked and rocked the whole time, whereas I was planning the bath and breathing thing), but the overall message/mantra that labor is pain with a purpose and you can be stronger and more powerful than that pain was very empowering. It put me in the right frame of mind I think, which was important in my case since I didn’t have the best experience the first time around. I would send you my copy but Gabbi has it!

  9. Great post! Two things I learned from having two kids and antenatal classes: (1) I wish I had learned more, read more, listened more about settling and breastfeeding rather than the birth. Seems like so much attention is focused on the birth, which takes maybe a day or two, but much less attention is focused on what you do with the baby when you get home. I found settling my children and breastfeeding them (until I got the hang of it) much harder for much longer than birthing them (and I had complications for both). (2) I worry when I hear women talk about having their hearts set on a certain kind of birth. For my first, my son, I wrote a very detailed “birth plan” as I’d been led to expect was needed. My OB sort of politely rolled his eyes. And indeed, he wasn’t at the birth (instead he was golfing; it was his 50th birthday), I had a retained placenta, Oliver went to special care and on and on it went. I checked, none of that was in my birth plan. In my first mothers’ group I heard women talk about how distraught they were because they didn’t get the birth they wanted. So for my second I thought about my major goal: getting a healthy baby out safely. I didn’t think about any particular ways or means. Another complicated birth, but it’s not what I look back on. I know some women have these vivid, amazing memories of childbirth (empowering etc etc). I have memories of meeting my children for the first time, not so much about the circumstances. I mean, of course I remember the details, but they are not especially significant to me, if that makes sense. Finally, everybody approaches childbirth differently. My current adage for parenting is: you parent your kids, I’ll parent mine. Same thing: you birth your baby, I’ll birth mine. Do it whatever way makes you comfortable and happy!

    • Yeah, my doula has warned us not to get our heart too set on a birth plan. She basically said, “write one, then put it in an envelope and forget about it until you check into hospital” and view it as a statement of “ideals”. Thanks for sharing some about your bub’s Amanda, you made me smile (not the part where you talk about complicated childbirth but the part where you talk about meeting your kids). I hope you’re well.

  10. Ah Lisa you make me laugh – I was exactly the same as you! The first birthing class they waffled on about whatever they were going on about and I was just tired and grumpy (hey that’s normal) and couldn’t give a toss about all the touchy feely stuff that was going on. Tell it like it is, pain is pain, and drugs are great. Natural is great too. But don’t waffle on. Nesting…nah, that happens to someone else. Clean and dirty is still the only two piles I have clothes in and it works just fine. You’re not alone with any of that!

  11. I am there with you! Jack was working so they thought I was from another planet when I arrived by myself at antenatal classes. My birth plan was a healthy baby, however they happen and whatever I need. I used pain management (YES PAIN) techniques for 16 hours and then loooved my epidural. You know the best part, I was able to focus on the amazing appearance of my little girl, pushing hard because I had had a chance to relax, undistracted by pain. I got to enjoy the moment and I bet no woman doing it naturally can enjoy pushing their baby out. What ever works for you is still the best birth plan around! Most of the women I have delivered have thrown their birth plan out the window- or at their husbands….

    • Ha ha… yeah, I’m sort of hoping I manage not to disgrace myself by throwing anything at Mike, or biting him, or something like that. I don’t entirely trust myself on that front, truth be told. It’s also quite nice hearing all these positive comments about epidurals after reading all the “risks” sections in the book and being where I am (deep in the heart of natural birth territory up here on the northern NSW coast).

  12. I went to one natural birth class – then went into prem labour before completing the course! Still, it was massively useful and I’m glad I did it. I found the orientation of thinking about “contractions” rather “pain” really helped. Contractions are muscular, purposeful and productive – the end result is to get to see my baby! Pain is a much more negative thing, to be endured or dulled.

    I had a very long labour and slow to progress, so when I asked about an epidural I was told that since my progress was so slow, I would be very likely to get a CS if I had one. So I hung in there, and actually my baby was only about an hour away at that point! It is very common to want the epidural right at the end.

    I used the same breathing and self-hypnosis techniques for my second delivery as well, and didn’t need anything else. The main thing about the pain management techniques is that they take practice to use well – the first time around I don’t think I had practiced enough, or maybe I just got tired after so many hours!

    Also agree with the above comment that the birth is a relatively short time compared with the parenting/breastfeeding time, and I wish I’d heard more about *those* before I had my baby. I knew that “breast is best” of course, but I had no idea about the many immune, nutritional and probiotic effects of breastmilk!

    • Interesting… I could go with the “contraction” reframe a lot easier than just trying to reframe it as “a strong and powerful experience”, I’ll have to remember that one. 2nd class is this saturday so I’ll be interested to see if she talks about practicing breathing etc!

  13. I didn’t read any of the above comments, but I can imagine that you’ve received a wide range of feedback. The birthing class that I took was called hypno-birthing. I’m really happy that I did. It was very focused on not entertaining any negative thoughts about the birth experience. I was also 100% committed to preventing people from sharing there traumatic experiences with me (if they had them)…no need to freak myself out! The class was very focused on not fighting what your body needs to do in order to deliver the baby. According to the instructor, fighting against what your body naturally wants to do is what creates the majority of the pain. So trying to stay relaxed and clam is the name of the game. It’s not a comfortable experience by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t remember it being painful… mostly it was exhausting. I did a completely natural childbirth and I’m really glad I did. It’s totally doable, but I never really considered doing it any other way. It helps to have people around that are supportive of your choices. It would be hard to deal with if you had someone there constantly asking you about your pain and whether you wanted something to help with it. So add that to your ever growing pile of non-essential info! 🙂

  14. My birthing classes were pretty much a waste of time…no breathing exercises that I can remember! All I can say, is that no matter what you plan, it will probably change on the day. We chose to give birth in the local community hospital (thus ruling out an epidural as no doctors on site…if anything had gone wrong it would have been an ambulance ride to the nearest ‘big’ hospital). I had wanted a water birth but Luke was in a hurry and didn’t have a choice in the end. Used gas & air but it made me feel nauseous. Was very grateful to take the jab and get rid of the placenta straight away…after you’ve finished labour the thought of continuing for another hour will seem ridiculous…and I had a quick labour! The memory of the pain lessens over time…otherwise people wouldn’t have a 2nd! Don’t worry about the labour / birth…concentrate on how you’re going to cope with the exhaustion after the kid!!

  15. I hoped for a natural birth with both my labors, got one the second time. The first labor involved induction and very slow progress that ultimately led me to get an epidural. We eventually got the baby out, but let’s say that it involved a lot of ‘help’ from the doctor, because the baby wasn’t in the right position (and actually, it’s wasn’t totally pain-free).

    The second labor went quickly and smoothly. Although it technically hurt much more, I liked it much better than my first. I felt strong, like I had done it, rather than had something done to me. I think it all depends on how things happen and you just have to work with the situation you are given. If you want a natural labor, I think it’s good to try to ‘stack the deck’ in that direction by doing things like getting a doula and using a doctor who is open to the idea, but it’s also good to keep an open mind, because it’s just not a predictable process.

    I agree with your assessment of pain – it’s real! I think distraction can help in the early stages, but there comes a point where you are just focused and there’s no getting around it – only through it! I read a book that I liked the second time around called “Birthing From Within.” I skipped the first few chapters about birth art, but thereafter found that it provided solid, evidence-based reasons for pursuing natural birth, which was helpful for me because, as a pragmatist, I wasn’t really in it for the spiritual experience. It was also realistic about the fact that there are situations where medications and other interventions are appropriate and rightly used. I thought it was well balanced.

    Praying your will love your birth. It really is worth it! Here I am, doing it for the third time!

  16. To add to my comment, I just read another comment above, and I liked what they said about pain – thinking of it as productive and not unnecessary. Labor is productive, it’s a process, and it’s hard work! I think that’s a realistic description.

  17. Pingback: Showers, champagne, and flame trees: Celebrating and commemorating birth | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

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