Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Not Just for Childbirth!

As I've been teaching childbirth classes for a while now, it has occurred to me how many of the skills we practice and discuss in class are really "life-long" skills that can be used in many contexts outside of childbirth.

For example, in Birthing Your Baby classes we discuss and practice a variety of pain-coping skills that are also good for anxiety: focusing on the breath; mantra; visualization etc. When I get hurt or am experiencing intense emotions like anxiety or anger, I do the "focus on my breath" thing to remain calm. When my kids get hurt, I remind them to take big deep breaths and to listen to their breath - it's AMAZING to me how well this works - it's second-best to mama-milk in calming children at my house (and first-best for the weaned kid).

When I fly, which I do fairly often with my children, I have worked very hard to not show the (irrational, but still present) anxiety that I have about flying, especially take-off and landing. I don't want them to be anxious about flying, and so far, my mantras and breath-focusing, and noticing/releasing tension in my body, efforts have really worked - I don't dread flying as much and my kids have no idea that I'm working hard to overcome my anxiety.

Another life-long skill is understanding the value of informed consent - medical or otherwise - and knowing the questions to ask to obtain it. We talk about the BRAIN acronym in class - benefits, risks, alternatives, intuition, and nothing as a quick way to remember the kinds of information you might want to have before making a decision about motherbaby's care during birth. But these same questions work both in the medical realm of child and adult care (antibiotics for baby? vaccinations? one test or another? one medication or another?) as well as decisions we need to make as parents (where baby sleeps... weaning... which school/homeschool...) and even just life decisions (jobs, moving, etc.). The whole idea of "not making a decision is making a decision" is also an important one, in my opinion.

We do a lot of partner work in class - both parts of the couple make a list, or sort things in order of importance, etc. and then we discuss as a class. Frequently, the couples generally agree, but sometimes I suspect there are some interesting conversations in the car on the way home. Some couples communicate more, and more constructively, than others - all the choices to make around pregnancy/birth certainly give the opportunity for practice. But that's nothing compared to actually raising children together. Some people have the whole "my parents did ___________ this way, and I turned out ok, so I think we should do _____________ this way too" - and that could work out, but if the parents were raised differently (say, from spanking and non-spanking households), constructive communication is one of the best ways to avoid conflict. Birthing classes can give parents the opportunity and encouragement to open/continue constructive conversations about birth and parenting.

Communication doesn't stop with the parenting partner though - many couples come in and share what's happening in their larger family - who agrees with what they plan to do re: birth/parenting, and who doesn't and we discuss ways to cope with differences. For example, some parents take a change in parenting the next generation as a criticism (breastfeeding, unmedicated birth, etc.), and respond to their now adult children from a place of guilt or frustration or even anger. Birth classes can be a good place to brainstorm how to deal with this, and other, common challenges.

Birthing Your Baby classes also stress the importance of communicating with caregivers. Doctors, midwives, nurses, etc. cannot read people's minds, so communicating with them about birth preferences, early and often, is one of the best ways to increase your odds that your caregivers offer you individual care. The same things that work with caregivers around birth, also tend to work with other professionals encountered during parenting - pediatricians/family doctors, teachers, specialists etc. None of them know what you want unless you tell them! Of course what someone wants isn't always practical, or even possible, but there's no way to know unless you try.

I believe that good birth classes can teach and encourage a set of skills that are great for birth, and also for life beyond birth.

Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
Independent Childbirth Classes in Central Maine

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