Every type of birth class, from hospital sponsored to independent, has its own philosophy and practice, and even within a given type of class, there are major differences between instructor. I teach from the Birthing From Within philosophy but also draw from my own experiences as a birth doula and from other classes I have taken and books I have read. Here is my educator philosophy, in a nutshell:
I’m not your teacher, I’m your mentor. I’m not there to give you steadfast, hard advice to follow but rather I want to learn as much from you as you hopefully will learn from me. We can shift class at any time to focus on whatever you need to learn in the moment. I’ll be asking a lot of questions of your experiences and thoughts, and if we can function as more of a conversation rather than a one-sided lecture, class will benefit both of us greatly. So feel free to speak up, and speak whatever is your truth! You won’t be judged.
The majority of my class is about building a pain-coping mindset. I teach TONS of pain coping techniques, some unique to Mindful Birthing or Lamaze or Birthing From Within, many from other books or classes I’ve taken, and many just from things I’ve picked up from being a birth doula. I don’t shy away from using the word “pain”, and even the word “pain” is such a small word for all the different possibilities of intensity, both physical (pain, nausea, pressure, exhaustion, some women even have pleasure) and emotional (excitement, fear euphoria, disorientation) of birth – the good, the bad and the ugly. I don’t see pain elimination as the ultimate goal of birth – although for many women it indeed does happen and I think that’s awesome - I do think that a painless birth or euphoric birth is a possibility and knowing this can open the door for most people to experience something like this – but I don’t want you to think you are “doing it wrong” if you do indeed feel pain in birth, like most women do. I teach many ways to reduce pain (techniques to reduce pain is at least half of my class!), but my main focus is working with you to learn how you will cope – a slightly different concept. You can still be coping through pain while experiencing pain. We work on addressing your fears head-on, finding your strength and building your confidence so that even if the intensity/experience of birth is more than you bargained for, you’ll have developed strategies to find your way (and your physical and/or emotional strength!) through whatever the reality of your birth becomes.
I teach active birth, so I introduce that movement, upright positions, making noise, etc. are normal parts of birth and I want them demystified so that when you get into birth you aren’t afraid when you start moving or moaning in a way that feels strange or even inappropriate. If I shock you, it’s because I want to get all the shock over with BEFORE the birth so you don’t scare yourself or your partner! I think there is great value in moving your body, using gravity to your advantage, and making noise (all help bring the baby down). I want to validate that this is an appropriate way to birth and that you can still be in control while moving and vocalizing – although if you can stay calm throughout the birth, go for it – and not surprised or embarrassed if this is your body’s natural way to cope.
I don’t teach that there’s a “right” way or a “wrong” way to birth. This isn’t a “how to have a natural birth” class, although the techniques taught certainly can (and are often!) used in this way. This has been a tough, long realization for me and something that took me a long while to gain a deep appreciation for, as I do believe that speaking in general terms, usually less intervention in birth is a happier, healthier way for both mom and baby. But there are two things that complicate this: 1) we can absolutely influence birth’s outcome in many ways, and I teach many things to that effect, but we can’t control everything that happens in birth; and 2) many women will choose something other than what the natural birth movement says is the culturally “right” way to birth for deeply personal reasons that are completely valid. If we think about all the different types of birth as a pie, I don’t want to sell you only the tiniest sliver of pie as the only “real” way. If, for whatever reason, your birth turns out differently than you’ve planned, the blame has to go toward something or someone – maybe your provider, or your partner, yourself, your body, your baby, God…I don’t want to be in the business of creating that kind of negative energy that can be so devastating to a new mother in her first days when she already has so much to deal with. Birth sometimes does, through no one’s fault, go differently than what was intended. Instead, I want to introduce a very large piece of the pie – maybe the whole pie. I want to give you skills to cope through birth, whatever birth ends up looking like for you. Of course we should always put it out there to the universe for what we want – and then if it isn’t possible, you learn ways to cope with that new reality. Birthing with mindfulness is birthing through whatever the Birth Fairy throws your way. This is why my classes are not outcome-focused. In class, we do talk about – with no judgment – cesarean, epidurals, etc. and discuss ways to get through them if they become a necessary part of your birth, for whatever reason.
In my classes, we’ll be working with your fears and discussing them head-on and even imagine them happening and how you would cope through them if they became a part of your birth. This can be an intense experience for some, but hopefully you can touch a place of strength and deep understanding and even love yourself through your fear. We also learn some pretty cool ways of incorporating unwanted environmental things (a noisy, busy hospital room, for example) into your birth and even use them to your advantage if necessary. Also to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, we use art (pastels and clay) to dig deeper into our psyches and our beliefs about birth and yourself. The art projects can be hard for many who don’t feel they are creative – but it’s not about the end product of the art – it’s what you discover during the creation of the art that matters. Getting this to this level within ourselves can be difficult for some but at the same time quite illuminating.
I try and incorporate partners and their important thoughts and feelings into the class as well (if a partner is present), and sometimes even devote special time when only partners are in the room and can discuss things openly, and have been known to bring a recent new family into the group as a guest. Also, I devote significant time and energy to the postpartum period. Although most people aren’t quite there in their minds and are really focused on getting through just the birth, I don’t want you (both new mother and new partner) to feel shell-shocked without any understanding of what is happening to you when reality of parenthood hits. We talk about breastfeeding (and/or bottlefeeding depending on needs/wishes of the class), postpartum struggles/mood, how to cope the first few weeks, baby care and self-care tips, etc
I try and incorporate celebration into my class, as there are so few rituals in our culture that truly celebrate parenthood and birth in a meaningful, and possibly even spiritual way. We sometimes have footbaths at the last class from the partner to the mother to celebrate our journey, as well as a few other surprises.