Related to my previous posts about information vs. knowledge, I want to share a couple of ideas from an article I wrote some time ago for the International Journal of Childbirth Education. Obviously, I don’t have all the answers, but these are some of my ideas/tips about transferring information into knowledge that will be meaningful to parents when their birthing time comes:
- Use “The Ice Cube Minute” exercise from Family-Centered Education: The Process of Teaching Birth. In this exercise, couples hold an ice cube in one hand for one minute and see what coping measures spontaneously arise for them. I do this exercise fairly early in my class series, before we’ve done a lot of formal talking about coping measures. It is very empowering for couples to discover what tools and resources come from within as they try the ice cube minute.
- To illustrate the potency of the mind-body contraction, practice two pretend contractions while holding ice. One contraction has an accompanying “stressful” paragraph read with it (“your body fills with tension…it hurts! Oh no!”) and the second contraction has a soothing paragraph read with it (“you greet the wave….it is YOUR power….”). This illustrates the fear-tension-pain cycle viscerally.
- Use a five minutes series of birthing room yoga poses to begin the class—birth happens in our bodies, not our heads. Practicing the poses opens space to simultaneously discuss and practice: squatting, pelvic rocks, optimal fetal positioning ideas, healthy sitting, pelvic floor exercises, leg cramp prevention, back pain alleviation, and more.
- Role playing cards-—talk through various scenarios. I’ve found that couples are more receptive to talking through the cards than actually getting into a role and playing it through. The activity that seems to work best for actual role play is the labor simulation series available on the Transition to Parenthood site.
- Values clarification exercise—participants cut out values from a list and arrange them in a grid to help them figure out if they are in alignment with each other and with their caregivers.
- Leg stretch exercise to explore the use of vocalizations and other coping mechanisms during labor.
- Ask plenty of open ended questions that stimulate discussion and ideas, “what have you heard about XYZ?” or “what is your experience with…?”
- Use birth art processes to “switch” parents from linear, logical, left-brain thinking into the right-brain mode they will also enter in “laborland.”
- Media portrayals of birth—show two contrasting clips, such as a birth from a popular TV show (I often show Rachel’s birth from the show Friends) paired with an empowering birth from a film like Birth as We Know It and then have students discuss the two. Sometimes this more clearly brings into focus the influence of our culture on birth practices than a simple discussion does. Since I originally wrote this, the film Laboring Under an Illusion was released which does exactly this—contrast media portrayals of birth with how birth can be. It is a great resource for birth classes.
In classes, I also incorporate the idea of mother-baby symbiosis through:
- The use of affirmations—“my baby and my body work in harmony to make birthing easier.”
- A discussion of cardinal movements with an emphasis on how the baby moves to help itself navigate the pelvis (thus, helping you have a smoother birth).
- Visualization exercises that encourage “seeing” and connecting with the baby while in the womb.
- “Belly Mapping” to get a sense of the baby as a person positioned in the uterus. Talking about what baby is like in the womb—when does it kick more, when is it quiet, does it like music, poke you back with you touch it, etc.
- Impressing upon participants that it is not selfish to want both a good birth and a healthy baby (I actively challenge statements about, “well, in the end, all that matters is that the baby is healthy”). Laboring women have a basic right to humane care, which supports both a happy, satisfied mother and a healthy baby. I use examples during class to show how these are intertwined—for example, a stressed, unhappy, unsupported, tense mother may have a baby with heart decels and accompanying distress.
I try to build a sense of confidence through:
- Opening each class with a brief series of “birthing room yoga” poses to help couples become comfortable using their bodies and moving from “head space” into “body space.” Birth is a physical process and I am convinced that it is vital to include physical movement during every class to bring that message home. Additionally, the poses I teach can all be used while in labor (thus, building confidence in coping “tools” for labor).
- Emphasizing active birth—freedom of movement through labor helps baby rotate and descend and helps mother feel more comfortable.
- Encouraging active birth on all levels: First, the physical level–being active during the actual physical process of birth. Second, the mental level–mentally engaged with labor. Third, a cultural level—a perspective that sees women as active birthgivers, not victims of birth. Birth is something women do, as opposed to something that “gets” them.
- Giving couples plenty of time for hands on practice of labor support and coping measures. I have a personal motto for classes of, “talk less, learn more.” Practicing support tools in class helps them develop a sense of confidence in having a well-stocked toolbox for labor, instead of being a victim of pain.