The work of a childbirth educator is such a tightrope walk. We must speak to a crowd about an emotionally charged subject that's often contained within a challenging institution, that crowd ranging from folks who are natural birth enthusiasts to the "I think I may want to plan a Cesarean because birth is gross and I'm terrified" type. We must do this in a way that informs and soothes everyone in the class, not interjecting any personal agenda. We have to speak about childbirth as being normal, powerful, and awesome, but not push it too much for those who have no romantic or flowery notions about the process and may feel excluded from an elite club for not thinking birth is beautiful.
We must give students a heads up about some of the things to realistically expect in hospital birth, but to ensure they feel powerful about their choice to be there (if they plan on staying there)so they relax and don't impede their labours feeling like they have to go into their hospital fighting (remembering that ill-timed adrenaline kills oxytocin). If a student comes into your class feeling great about their hospital and caregiver of choice then leaves feeling like you think they're going on a suicide mission by walking through those hospital doors in labour, you have erred. A couple who felt like everything they wanted to happen would just automatically happen in their hospital but now knows that negotiation skills might be necessary, sensation coping skills a must, BUT that they have the wisdom to know when and how to calmly use them (IF they must use them...sometimes it's all just easy as pie) AND they have power to do so with ease, trust, and confidence, THEN you often have success.
Communicating that feeling trusting is important in labour yet knowing from your years of experience that some non-emergency procedures can be applied without adequate information (or sometimes even consent) is unbelievably challenging. While trying to foster confidence in themselves and their choices, we also give students tools to be able to question suggested procedures to check if they're truly necessary for their situation (which suggests that hospital birth DOES take awareness and negotiation, and is not a place to just go in and expect everything you hope for will materialize). To do all of this without creating a sense of fear is HUGE. To be able to talk about natural birth or the benefits and risks of procedures in a way that is informative, neutral, and non-threatening, even though some of the information is inherently scary to those who may be afraid of either natural or procedure-full birth is quite a feat, let me tell you!
When our students come out of our Birth Essentials Classes, we want them to feel excited about their upcoming births, and curious about the sensations. And if not, at least solid in their information about how to have a great epidural or Cesarean birth, knowing that ALL birth is sacred and powerful, no matter what. We want them to feel that they were honoured throughout their educational process. It can be really easy, when finding yourself in a roomful of birth enthusiasts who are eating up your words, to let down your hair and speak your opinions about some of the hospital procedures and when they're applied. But if you do that you may be missing the cues from those one or two couples who are sitting there quietly in horror who feel that everyone in the room thinks they're stupid because they LOVE their doctor and are keen on in no way emulating the moaning swaying ladies who look like they're having orgasms in the birth videos you show. Now, you SHOULD show these types of videos to foster positive images of birthing. But be prepared to address those who may not feel inspired by them. I try to tell my classes that many find the videos to stir feelings of power and excitement in them, and others may feel fear or ambivalence. I tell them that it's all good, and that we do not prescribe one way to feel about childbirth. I show images of totally undisturbed birth, and images of a more technocratic experience in order to let students decide for themselves what feels right for them. I used to assume everyone would look at the technocratic birth videos compared to the orgasm-y ones and automatically prefer the latter...but it's not always true. Never assume.
For some, no matter how great you may try to make birth seem, it will always just be a terrifying, yucky means to an end. But at least in a great class they know their thoughts are supported and that they're not alone in their feelings, and the work you've done has prepared them enough to mitigate some of the risks of the fears of the unknown. You may also be so amazed when you get the birth announcement and a grateful note from that couple who turned green every time a woman in a birthing video vocalized stating that in the end, while they felt birth to be hard and sweaty with not even one orgasm involved, it was not as bad as they thought. In fact,in the end they felt they didn't need the interventions they thought they had wanted, were able to stop a doctor from performing a routine episiotomy because it didn't feel right (and yay, didn't tear at all) and are pretty darn proud of themselves. You may also receive notes from that couple who had to transfer from their planned home water birth to let you know that your work in defusing fear around hospital procedures helped them to experience a Cesarean with trust and gratitude for skilled caregivers, calm presence, keeping connected to the sacredness of ALL birth, not just the way it was planned.
Big hugs to my MotherWit colleagues in Montreal and New Brunswick who teach my Birth Essentials Prenatal Class with the love and care they do. You have touched many lives and planted seeds of gentler birth legacies. If you're a parent who felt well supported in a great prenatal class, hug a childbirth educator today!