When I got pregnant for the first time, I followed every piece of my doctor's advice to a T. I took prenatal vitamins religiously, avoided every food and activity that carried even the slightest risk, and of course, scheduled a series of birthing classes through the hospital where I planned to deliver. I believed vehemently that these courses would be crucial in teaching my husband and me what to do when I went into labor. It's not like anyone could actually give birth without taking a class, right? Except, oh wait, women did for centuries, and after sitting through hours of classroom instruction on how to have a baby, I realized how unnecessary — and frankly, scary — childbirth classes were for me.
Flash back to me, bright-eyed and pregnant, waddling into my first childbirth class with my husband, who had rushed out of work to meet me, by my side. I had my notebook and pen at the ready, convinced I'd need to jot down every nugget of important information to review later at home. I remember the instructor started by explaining where to go when you went into labor. As in, where exactly the labor and delivery ward was located. I was a little annoyed, since I wanted to hear about so much more than this, but since I figured things can get a little frenzied during labor, I knew it was good to know exactly where to go. I let this one slide.
The next topic was a lot more helpful, since we discussed where a woman's perineum is located. I'm not sure I'd ever heard that word before, but it turned out, I already knew how to find said spot (the area between the anus and the vagina). Our instructor suggested my husband massage the area with olive oil to stretch and prepare it for birth. And oh boy, did that lead to hilarity back at home. "Will we ever cook again without thinking about this?" I joked. Several weeks later when I delivered, I can assure you my perineum still tore like hell while pushing out our baby, despite the oil massage. But hey, what works for some might not work for others, right?
I want other parents who feel pressured into taking birthing classes to know that it's OK not to do it. You won't miss any big secrets to childbirth. You'll be fine.
Other moments that stand out from our birthing classes include the time our instructor demonstrated how to labor on a birthing ball, sound effects and all. To give you an idea of her vocalization, which went on forever, just watch that clip of Meg Ryan in the diner from When Harry Met Sally and you'll get the idea. Then, there was the experiment with ice, which basically involved us holding frozen cubes in our fists for as long as possible to practice dealing with pain, like one experiences during labor. The whole thing felt a little silly, and after giving birth, I can assure you contractions feel nothing like palming an ice cube for a few minutes. Similarly, her suggestion to bring videos, candles, and scented lotion to make the birthing experience more personal ended up not being for me. I barely had time to put on a hospital gown before I was crowning, let alone enjoy my favorite episodes of Sex and the City and a foot rub with Bath & Body Works jasmine vanilla cream. (If anyone can do that, please tell me all your secrets.)
In our last birthing class, I remember watching a video of a woman giving birth and feeling completely horrified. That's where the laughs ended and my fears set in. I think I would have preferred to erase that video from my mind right along with the cooking oil perineum massage, and just wing the whole thing instead. I ended up feeling totally overwhelmed by all the information we received in the class, most of which was either TMI or not very helpful for me.
That being said, I know birthing classes help so many parents-to-be. Whatever prepares a woman in both mind and body to have her baby is what she should do. For me, that wasn't taking birthing classes. And I just want other parents who feel pressured into taking birthing classes to know that it's OK not to do it. You won't miss any big secrets to childbirth. You'll be fine. It's whatever works for you personally.
The next times I was pregnant, doing yoga with a focus on breath control was much more helpful as I prepared for delivery. I also moved away from any attachment to a birth plan, which we'd been encouraged to formulate in the birth classes, and tried to embrace the fact that you can't control every aspect of birth. You can, however, light some pleasantly scented candles. That I'll do.
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