What comes to mind when you think of childbirth classes? Women and their birth partners sitting around in a semi-circle listening for two hours while someone drones on and on about how birth unfolds? One evening a week for a few hours? Or the new one-day exhausting eight or nine hour marathon class?
A few years ago, I started teaching independently once again. It is not the first time in my 36-year career, but this time I decided to ask women who had been in my hospital classes exactly what it was they would want if they were able to attend the ideal class.
Most everyone felt there was not enough time. The women wanting things to unfold a little more holistically said they felt unprepared even though I had taught hands-on techniques for comfort within the confines of a hospital curriculum. Originally, they wanted a quick, easy class where they could breeze in and out and be fully prepared, but then realized it was not enough. They didn’t know what they didn’t know.
In addition, by evening most were tired from a long day. So, their attention spans were not sharp. And, one woman even said she resented needing to continue to show up week after week without rest but knew what I had to offer would be of help as she and her partner navigated this brand-new journey.
I decided that, indeed, a class where I decided what was taught and how would be best. Within a few weeks, I had a plan and was ready to go. Found a space and started advertising. My new class design was four weeks on a Sunday afternoon for four hours. People were once again having a difficult time committing to four weeks in a row. It was not easy for me either since I work a full-time job. Then one day it hit me. Two classes one month, a few weeks off and two classes the next. That way not only would they not have to commit to four weeks in a row but they could go home and digest what was taught and come back fresh and renewed. But to make that work I would need to get them early!
Back to the drawing board I went. What do they REALLY need to make this happen? What do women need to have a positive birth memory? What does their support person need to feel they can not only support but advocate for the birthing woman? I decided that I would do a 16-hour series even though people had been saying modern families really don’t want in-person classes to give birth. They want on-line and quicker. They don’t want to make the commitment. Quick and easy is the mantra! Or on-line.
Well, guess what? Come to find out, they do! Not everyone. But the women who attend my classes do want that kind of class. They want to learn how to effectively communicate with those around them. Not just their provider but their birth partner, family and friends. They need their partner to totally understand what advocacy is and how to achieve it without turning off the professionals taking care of them. One important topic they want is interventions and how to make decisions that are best for them and their baby. And they want to be around other pregnant women!
In class, we discuss communication and how to use it effectively to get what they want. We also have breakout sessions of “couple” time for the woman and her partner to privately communicate certain topics. One dad came up with a baby meeting each week that takes about an hour where he and his partner discuss all things baby related and also practice techniques learned in class because they have such busy schedules.
Language is discussed such as…is this something that needs to be done immediately or is it a request or suggestion? There is a huge difference. What does that sound like? We also discuss Vision Boards and how they can play a very positive role. How the woman can use this as a focal point on the wall of her birth room and keep coming back to it when she feels she loses focus. Staff at a local hospital has really been intrigued by these and the response is positive.
Another aspect I have recently added is how the support person can be an effective advocate and what that looks and sounds like. It has really helped them to understand the gravity of their place at the birth and especially so for the fathers in the group. I explain that they are the only person on the birth team who knows this woman the way they do. Their voice in the room is important.
Recently a woman gave feedback in the positive about the series she attended with her husband. She said not only did she learn quite a bit but now she had the confidence in her partner that he knew what needed to be done and was willing and able to step up to the plate. THIS is building bonds and creating confident birthers. And that is very difficult to do in a very short window of time or on-line.
These classes are balanced, evidence-based, and I have very little agenda of my own. We all have some agenda if we are being honest. What I have discovered is that there ARE women out there who want this type of class and are willing to make the commitment. I have decided to focus on them and it is paying off.
I share with them that we never know where labor is going or how it will unfold and that we all need to be prepared for making decisions that are best in the moment. We practice hands-on comfort skills. One woman told me her doctor said he didn’t get it but if that is what she wanted he was happy to find there was a class that could help her achieve that goal. And she DID! Once that happened I started getting more inquiries from that practice.
Very early on I made up my mind that even if one couple signed up…so be it. I would NOT cancel class. And this has helped a great deal in being realistic that some series will be more and some will be less. I truly do feel I am filling a much needed gap for those women who want a more holistic approach and who have not been getting it.
Crystal R. Sada
CPD, CCCE, CAPPA Faculty & Senior Advisor
Crystal Sada has been a childbirth educator for 36 years. She also ran a very busy labor and postpartum doula practice for 16 years, having attended over 600 births and worked with hundreds of families during the postpartum period. In the past she was the Director of Postpartum Programs with CAPPA as well as a member of the Board of Directors and has been a labor doula faculty member for 18 years. Her workshops are well attended and very popular. Crystal resides with her husband Jerry and their MinPin, Gemma, in Mount Laurel, New Jersey and is an Administrative Assistant at Princeton University. She and Jerry share three adult daughters and 7 grandchildren. Crystal is willing to travel to areas other than New Jersey where there are no CAPPA trainers to provide workshops. She no longer works full time as a doula but mentors doulas in her community to help them transition into this work of passion as well as offers independent childbirth education classes. Her interests include jewelry making, music, reading, cooking and spending time with her family as well as visiting the Jersey shore every chance she gets.