“Childbirth Education in the US is…” This was the monthly question posed at my NACEF meeting just yesterday. NACEF – Northwest Area Childbirth Educators Forum – is a nonprofit group that I’ve been a Board Member of since I began my career as a Childbirth Educator almost 16 years ago. NACEF’s purpose is to further the quality of childbirth education through strengthening the bonds between educators, family members, care providers and the organizations they represent. These monthly questions are how we begin each meeting by way of introduction and settling in for the work at hand.
After answering this question in the meeting, it stuck with me and wouldn’t let go until I wrote about it. Here’s what some of the other Board Members had to say in answer to this question: “Childbirth Education in the US is… disregarded, underserved, important, evolving, myth-busting, still imperative, complicated, and status quo.” I came in a few minutes late and didn’t get to hear the full discussion of what others had to say, but for my part I answered this question by saying: “Childbirth Education in the US is underrated and inconsistent.”
Childbirth Education is underrated in the US today because there are so many ways that expectant families feel they can educate themselves about the birth process. Maybe they feel like they don’t really need to take a whole class about the subject. There are a gazillion websites with information available about pregnancy, birth and postpartum. There’s lots of books out there as well. And if you Google “Birth Videos” you get 338,000,000 hits in .23 seconds! That’s a ton of information, my friends. There are too many expectant families that feel they can get all the information they need off the internet – and that way it doesn’t really impact their already jam-packed schedules.
In my opinion, unless you know how to search the web for evidence-based, scientifically backed and researched information on what you are wanting to know, you risk getting only one-sided, biased information that doesn’t give you the full picture. Or worse, your search results gives you false and misleading information. We have a tendency as humans to seek out information that supports what we already think we know about any given topic. No one wants to have their opinion or set of beliefs challenged – but that’s exactly what needs to happen sometimes. Not enough people have the skills fully developed that encourage them to read both sides of the story and make adjustments when necessary (I would note that not all educators are adept at this either! This is a life-long skill that is challenging for almost everyone.)
Childbirth Education classes, when evidence-based and backed by science and not bias, can really help expectant families plow through all of the information that’s out there. The classes can also encourage them to use their B.R.A.I.N. to determine what is the best course of action for their individual pregnancy and birth experience. (B = Benefits, R = Risks, A = Alternatives, I = Intuition (what is it telling you?), N = Do Nothing at this time) There’s also the extremely important aspect of taking a class as a way of building connection and community. This generation of expectant families may think they’re super connected given all the ways that we’re able to be in contact with others via social media, but it is in the actual face time spent with one another in classroom discussion or even chatting at snack times that real connection can be formed and a sense of community can be established. Being with other people who are going through the same thing as you at about the same time as you is so underrated yet so very important when we’re in the midst of a huge life transition – like becoming a parent.
I think Childbirth Education in the US today is inconsistent. And by that, I mean both in content and style. I don’t think it’s fair to our students to only provide them with half of the information. We may very well want to emphasize that birth is a normal, healthy, biological event in a woman’s life. And it makes complete sense to present birth as it would ideally evolve without any additions to the process. Here’s what birth looks like, sounds like, and feels like if we add nothing to the mix, no medications or interventions. But to stop there and not discuss potential interventions, medications or Cesarean Birth does not adequately prepare a woman or her partner for what might happen during their actual birth. It’s been my experience in working with women over the years that the ones who are most devastated by the unexpected interventions that became necessary in their births are those who never considered them even a remote possibility. They either did not pay attention to this information or purposely chose classes where this information was not discussed thoroughly.
There’s a way in which we, as Childbirth Educators, can continue to promote birth with as few medications and interventions possible but still introduce the concept of how to determine if and when a medical intervention would make the most sense at any given time. Providing our students with accurate, evidence-based information allows them to have knowledge, which can be a very powerful tool in being a decision-maker in their own births. And this can lead to a feeling of strength and empowerment – even if medications or interventions become necessary for their baby to be born.
Childbirth Education can be inconsistent in its ability to engage and promote others to consider taking classes. I taught this past weekend and one of the couples hung back to chat with me after class had ended. They said they’d gone to visit friends who’d recently become parents and told them they’d just signed up to take a Childbirth Preparation Class. The new father responded, “Good luck with that. It’s like sitting in traffic school all day long.” I was so relieved when the couple from my class said, “Your class was definitely not traffic school. It was so much fun! And we learned a ton of information.” But whenever I hear someone complain about their Childbirth Education classes being boring, or too long or a waste of time – I get really upset!
Teaching Childbirth Education, to me, is a vocation and when I hear of any other educator that’s teaching a class that is anything less than engaging and worthwhile, I feel pained by those statements almost as if they were being said about my own classes. If we’re going to be able to compete with all the internet information available to expectant families and then expect them to register, pay good money down and either take an evening class for 4 weeks straight, or give up a full Saturday – then we have to provide them with something that they feel was worth their time and money. I’m well aware that my audience is a tough crowd! Half of them are pregnant and wish they were in more comfortable chairs and wearing their PJs after a long day, and the other half are their partners who might feel invisible during this pregnancy and are convinced that this will be just another situation where it’s all about her.
My hope is that every Childbirth Educator understands what an amazing opportunity we have when we’re up in front of a class of expectant families. These are people who are hungry for any information we can provide about how to get through the rest of their pregnancies and give birth with confidence. The amount of motivation that this group of people have to be open to messages that go way beyond the day of birth is profound and to not grab that motivation and run with it in the first 5 minutes of class is a wasted opportunity.
Teaching, of any sort, is a full-contact sport. Your audience will engage with you as much as you engage with them. If you provide solid eye contact, they stay off their phones and pay attention! If you teach with humor – especially around the more awkward or challenging parts – they’re able to stay open instead of shutting down. If you take into account how best the adult learner actually learns and try to mix up your curriculum to include lecture, AV, small group discussion, hands on activities, etc. they will take in all the information and make the best decisions for themselves. If you remember that every segment you’re teaching should have an objective – a reason why this is important for them to know – and provide a clear opening, body and closing with plenty of time to answer questions, then your audience stays with you from beginning to end.
I realize as I’m writing this that I’m a little bit agitated and my blood pressure is slightly elevated. I think the reason why is that I love what I do so very much. I feel like we have a fantastic opportunity to create real and lasting impact for the families we serve. I want this profession to not just survive, but thrive. I want the status quo of a small percentage of expectant families attending our classes to change. I want our classes to be something that people are clamoring for because they know it will make a real difference for them if they do. I want people to leave their Childbirth Education classes and tell all of their pregnant friends – and maybe even some pregnant strangers in the elevator – “Have you signed up for a Childbirth Education class yet? It’s awesome information, lots of fun and you’ll get to meet a bunch of folks who are going through the same things you are. You’ve got to take these classes.”
I would love for Childbirth Education in the US to be: relevant, important, honored, consistent, engaging, current, community-building, professional, necessary, evidence-based and fun.
What words would you use to fill in this sentence: “Childbirth Education in the US is…”?