Since our son’s stillbirth occurred at 20 weeks, we had not yet taken a childbirth education class. I had also stopped reading the Mayo Clinic’s Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy at about 12 weeks when the doctors started having concerns about our baby. After Patrick died, we were scheduled for an induction in labor and delivery. As the nurse helped get us settled in our room, she asked if we had any questions. I looked at her and asked matter of factly, “What’s going to happen? I didn’t get that far in the book.” She graciously pulled a chair by the side of the bed and walked us through the process of induction and birth, as well as what we could probably expect when we saw our son for the first time.
Researching and Registering for Childbirth Classes
When we got pregnant again, I knew I needed to arm myself with as much information as possible. We hired a doula, and she helped us determine what kind of prenatal education would be most effective for us. I had ruled out the hospital class before even talking with my doula. I just knew I couldn’t be stuck in a room for hour after hour with a host of expectant couples who are full of anxious anticipation. I wanted a more intimate, safe place in which I could feel comfortable sharing parts of our story.
Our doula gave us several class options, and I researched each class, instructor, and environment. I ultimately chose a center relatively close to home that had prenatal classes, breastfeeding groups, and mommy and me classes. The center was on the second floor of an old house, and it looked inviting and cozy. The center had a series of classes that were scheduled at the start of our third trimester, which worked perfectly. The natural birth ready class was spread into four sessions on Sunday evenings, and we also chose to take the Breastfeeding Ready and New Baby Ready classes.
Before I registered for the classes, I emailed the instructor to let her know our story and see if she thought her classes would be a good fit—and a safe place—for us. We had a couple of good email conversations. I felt really comfortable with her, and she validated past and current experiences. I decided to register.
Attending the First Class
Even though I tried to be prepared for almost anything when the class started, within just a few minutes I realized that I wasn’t. While I’d planned to talk about our son, Patrick, I second-guessed myself as we went around the room and shared our past birth experience. The four other couples talked about seeing birth in television and movies but never firsthand. When they reached us, my husband was caught off-guard and said that he had no birth experience, which was factually accurate. He was not in the room when Patrick was born, and Patrick’s birth was far from a “normal” birth.
I shook and fought back tears as I explained that I’d given birth to a still child a year and a half prior.
The room became quiet, and while I felt bad for the one couple whose turn was next, it was important to me to be true to Patrick and myself.
As we transitioned to the class agenda, the instructor gave what was meant to be a very affirming introduction to pregnancy and birth: a woman’s body was made to give birth, and it knows intuitively what to do to protect you and the baby. The text and subtext of that message was difficult for me to hear and almost impossible for me to absorb. Tears started leaking from my eyes, and I had to choke back sobs. My experience directly contradicted that statement. I cried through the entire next activity but managed to stay in the room and attempted to learn what I could, despite how emotional and uncomfortable I was.
While I was basically able to hold it together during the class, I broke down on the way home.
I kept playing back some of the information that she’d given that made me cringe—information like just listening to your body and let the baby come when the baby is ready, even if that is two to three weeks post-term. All I could think about was the research that shows that the rate of stillbirth increases post-term, so that advice made me really uncomfortable. I also started to obsess over some of the tips she gave. Was the subtext of those tips that something bad could happen if you didn’t follow those tips? These things kept playing over and over in my mind, causing me to sleep terribly that night. I frequently woke with extreme anxiety over pieces of information from the class. The next day I decided I should check in with my therapist and make a plan to debrief after each class so I was able to let go of the anxiety and hold the information I desperately desired.
Realizing Different Priorities
I was thankful that our class sessions were a week apart as that interval allowed me to process my feelings from the first class, which made me feel more stable at the second session. The instructor started class with the acronym “FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.” However, for my husband and me, false evidence was not the basis for our fear. The acronym may have been true for our subsequent pregnancy, but since we had yet to birth a live baby, it was hard to see that in the moment. We had hope fighting that fear, though, and at the time that was enough for us. Instead of getting upset by the FEAR acronym, I said to myself, “That’s not our reality,” and I let it go, which was as effective as I could be in the moment.
But at that point, a light bulb went off for me.
For many women approaching childbirth, their fears will likely not come to pass, but those fears came true for us. I realized and accepted that our priorities were very different from the other couples in the class. They were arming themselves with information for the best birth experience possible. We were arming ourselves with information to increase our chance for a live birth.
After that realization, I relaxed a bit and focused on soaking in the information that was our original goal of taking the classes. I’m not sure I ever had “fun,” especially after a little scare and hospitalization for my blood pressure, but I was definitely reassured and educated. Looking back, that reassurance and education helped me make informed decisions while writing our birth plan as well as through labor, delivery, and postpartum, which was the goal all along.