Julia of the blog A Little Bit of All of It has started a ten week series on preparing for birth, and her topic this week is Childbirth Education. She has invited other bloggers to write on their own experiences with childbirth preparation, a topic I realized I haven’t discussed much here. I’m grateful for the inspiration, and thought I’d take this opportunity to write about my own journey with childbirth education, which began long before I was considering pregnancy. A portion of this post is modified from a previous article on my old Montessori teacher blog, so if you’ve been with me since way back then, it may sound familiar. I’ll be back tomorrow for Keeping It Real, even if I am a day late!
For most of us, childbirth education begins long before adulthood. We may see women in our lives preparing for their own births and later hear them sharing their stories. Some of us may even have the honor of being present for the birth of a relative or loved one. Even those of us who are not around birthing women will see depictions of childbirth in television and movies, and all of this plays a role, whether we realize it or not, in our subconscious feelings about birth.
Growing up, I was one of the oldest grandchildren in a fairly large extended family, so not only did I see my own mother go through two pregnancies, but there was often a pregnant aunt or more distant relative, and I even had the honor of witnessing the birth of one of my cousins in my teenage years. When TLC’s A Baby Story came out, it quickly became one of my favorite things to watch. It was there that I first encountered the idea of a water birth, and outside of that, I was accustomed only to medicalized birth in the hospital with pain medication. This seemed to work out fine for the women in my family, and for most of the families on television, so I never thought to consider another way.
Then came my introduction to Montessori philosophy. It was Dr. Montessori’s writing that first led me to consider a different way to birth. I was barely eighteen when I began reading The Secret of Childhood, and it was then that my idea of birth was completely turned upside down. Dr. Montessori writes,
But what care have men taken to assist the child as it makes the most difficult adjustment of all, that of passing from one mode of existence to another? At no other period in his life does man experience such a violent conflict and struggle, and consequent suffering, as at the time of birth…it has grown in a place where it was protected from all assaults, from every change of temperature, in a fluid created for its rest. And in an instant it has changed this dark and silent home for the hostile air… The doctor handles it without any particular regard, and when it starts to cry in desperation no one takes it seriously…
… a newborn child should not simply be shielded from harm, but measures should also be taken to provide for psychic adjustment to the world about it… The needs of a newborn child are not those of one who is sick but of one who is striving to adjust oneself physically and psychologically to new and strange surroundings.
Our attitude towards the newborn child should not be one of compassion but rather of reverence before the mystery of creation, that a spiritual being has been confined within limits perceptible to us. The manner in which we touch and move a child, and the delicacy of feeling which should inspire us at the time, makes us think of the gestures that a priest uses at the altar. His hands are purified, his motions are studied and thoughtful, and his actions take place in silence and in darkness that is penetrated only by a light that has been softened in its passage through stained glass windows. A feeling of hope and elevation pervades the sacred place. It is in surroundings such as these that the newborn child should live.
The first period of human life has not been sufficiently explored, and yet we are constantly becoming more aware of its importance. Hardships and privations in the first months of a child’s existence can, as we now know, influence the whole course of his future development. But if in the child are to be found the makings of the man, it is in the child also that the future welfare of the race is to be found.
Too little attention is paid to the newborn child that has just experienced the most difficult of human crises. When he appears in our midst, we hardly know how to receive him, even though he bears within himself a power to create a better world than that in which we live ourselves.
Of course what Montessori speaks of above is the newborn period, but I believe her words are also applicable to birth. She points out that, “At no other period in his life does man experience such a violent conflict and struggle, and consequent suffering, as at the time of birth…it has grown in a place where it was protected from all assaults, from every change of temperature, in a fluid created for its rest. And in an instant it has changed this dark and silent home for the hostile air…The doctor handles it without any particular regard, and when it starts to cry in desperation no one takes it seriously.”
It only makes sense to me that, if we have options that might allow us to prevent as much as possible the conflict and struggle inherent in many medically managed births, we ought to start our special care of the newborn there. If we can lessen the difficulty of the transition, let us do so. In most births, there is no reason why a doctor must be the first person to handle the infant. If we can, let us ensure that gentle, loving hands are the only ones that touch our newborn children.
It was this particular passage that led me down the path to learning about natural childbirth. Years before I would ever become pregnant, I was determined to offer my child the most gentle transition into the world that I possibly could.
Fast forward to two and a half years ago, and my experience with more formal childbirth education began, heavily influenced by the words of Dr. Montessori. While pregnant with Annabelle, I read the book HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method, and learned that birth did not need to be a painful or frightening event. I devoured Birthing from Within, and learned about the fascinating process of birth. Developing a respect for this process was so empowering! Next, I read Dr. Sears’ The Birth Book, which only added to my feeling of empowerment and excitement about giving birth naturally.
As the time for my daughter’s birth approached, I decided to take a more formal childbirth preparation course. I purchased the HypnoBabies home study course, and jumped in with a healthy dose of skepticism. This program focused on reprogramming the mind to replace old thoughts and fears about birth with affirmations and positive feelings. It taught a number of strategies for reaching within oneself and using the power of the mind to eliminate fear during birth, and subsequently the pain that often accompanies that fear.
I never fully embraced the program, but I followed it carefully and hoped it would “work” for me anyway. I had the birth experience I was looking for, but I think this was due in large part to my anticipation and complete lack of fear. I’m sure the daily positive messages I received while listening to my HypnoBabies cds were helpful, but the key for me was simply being prepared and trusting my body and the natural process of birth. This sort of attitude, I believe, makes all the difference in the world. I’m so grateful to have discovered resources that helped me develop that trust!
This time around, I have read a few books on birth that I wasn’t familiar with when pregnant with Annabelle. Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth have been favorites, for example. I have made halfhearted attempts to review and prepare with my HypnoBabies materials, and I’d like to do this a bit more, but ultimately I feel ready either way. I have seen what my body can do, I have seen the process of birth, and I know that I have nothing to fear. This is the greatest gift my childbirth education has given me, and I think it’s the most important lesson any birthing woman can learn.
Did you take a childbirth preparation course, or prepare on your own with books? What helped you the most?