Long ago in a hospital ward someone noticed a woman’s breathing changes with her labor. He/she noticed that as the work of labor became more intense she breathed more deeply, deliberately. Most likely it was also noted that during second stage her breathing may appear to stop, like a temporary holding of the breath.
As is usual with a single purpose track, one thing is noticed but how it occurred or what else is happening is disregarded. All that was seen was someone breathing differently.
In the 1950s ‘prepared’ birth classes began in hospitals. I wish I had been a fly on the wall when the introduction of birth classes in a hospital setting came about. Today there are hospital based birth educators who will tell you they do ‘talk about’ natural birth in their classes. I’m sure they do ‘talk about’ natural labor. Let me tell you about one such woman who ‘talked about’ natural childbirth in her hospital birth classes.
The scene: We are a group of women preparing for a presentation of Birth – The Play aka Birth On Labor Day (BOLD). We meet twice a week for a couple of weeks leading up to the play date. Of course during this time we are all sharing birth experiences and experiences with birthing women. Among our cast is a woman who has never given birth but she is the most enthusiastic of us all. She is excited just thinking about giving birth some day. Among our cast is also a woman who gives childbirth classes at CCOG, a local hospital. In our discussions about birth we do eventually get around to various birth videos. Obviously one such video clip we bring in for everyone to see is the hospital birth clip from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, Miracle of Birth as it is a part of the play itself, the machine that goes “ping.” I love Monty Python. They can send a real zinger of a message in the funny lines, classic, expert comedy relief. Then the discussion comes around to a recent birth video, Psalm & Zoya: The Unassisted Birth of Our Twins. In this film you see a woman experiencing the hormones of labor as she sounds her way through transition into pushing for each baby’s birth. We are discussing this film because one of the Birth characters must also produce vocals for labor. That actress is the hospital birth educator.
I cringe still today as I recall her dramatically re-enacting labor vocals. She is dramatic, not simply “into” the role. Dramatic. Flamboyant. An actress through and through. She decides to share her experience with a woman sounding her way through labor. She recalls a first time mother who ‘called out’ Jesus’ name during labor. She recalled how everyone was out in the hallway giggling to themselves and cracking jokes about praying in labor. What she didn’t know was that the young mother was one of my birth clients. She is Christian and her faith is the center of her world. Very lovely mother. In fact she had shared her birth story with me and how powerful she felt with each growing contraction and how she’d chanted her way through with the name of her Savior being the perfect punctuation and pitch to her sounds. She had loved her birth experience and couldn’t wait to share it with others.
Two very different views of the same labor. Really, the one that matters is mother’s. The one though that would cause the greatest harm is that of the birth educator, also a woman, who was present. Hers is a tale of dramatic, made-for-tv drama labor and, I’m sure, jokes about ‘real’ childbirth.
Two years later I came across a woman who’d had a c-section at CCOG. Her first birth. She told me about her childbirth classes and we both identified her birth educator as this woman who had been in the play with me. She told me just how funny this woman was and how she showed some crazy waterbirth video. This mother also told me how she’d eaten poorly during her pregnancy, worked extended hours and extended travel during her pregnancy, been induced for labor, had a catheter and so on and so on.
Yes, I’m certain hospital-based birth classes ‘talk about’ natural childbirth. That’s all they do, talk.
I scoff at journals who write prepared childbirth classes have no effect on birth outcomes. Of course they don’t when the main thesis is the breathing. As my husband and I humorously recall the scene in A Christmas Story where the family is seeking bread in a Chinese restaurant I think the same of hospital birth classes. Many a colleague of mine has remarked the same on some variation of that scene, basically you don’t order Chinese food in an Italian restaurant, sushi in a Mexican restaurant, etc.
Nine months to grow a baby who can breathe and pump blood through their own bodies on their own. A two-hour hospital class on how to complete admission papers, the dogma of the smallest possibility of a spinal headache (right) from an epidural, how long your baby will be away from you and how soon you can go home. All this as though you’ve never even considered otherwise. Learn about real birth. Period.