Tomorrow my son turns eight years old. It's so hard to imagine that eight years has gone by since I first held his slippery little body in my arms. Man, did I work hard for that birth. Now, don't get me wrong, I know INCREDIBLY well how hard some women work in labor. And in many ways, my birth with him was not that hard. But it was hard for me. It was not how I planned it to be and I had every ounce of confidence in my body's birthing. And that made things incredibly challenging when I was faced with providers whom felt differently.
Although my birth did not go as I had hoped, I fared better than many in a system that can be intensely totalitarian, patriarchal, and dehumanizing. I escaped (barely) with a vaginal birth and managed to avoid the dreaded episiotomy. I even finagled an incredibly low Pit drip out of the deal. Sounds like a dream. But I knew it could be different. And I knew, somewhere deep within, that birth could be empowering. That it should be empowering no matter how one chooses to attain it.
Throughout my first pregnancy, confidence in my body reigned supreme. Yet my lack of knowledge of the medical model of birth made me subject to many interventions and tests that I may otherwise have questioned, if not fully avoided. This isn't to say that I didn't get excited every time I heard the baby's heart beat or saw the little one on the monitor - it's just to say that I didn't know I could ask questions. Or more appropriately, I didn't know what questions to ask - before, during, or after the procedures. As I learned in my immediate postpartum, telling one's care providers that "I just know it is okay" is not accepted as truth. In fact, in a conventional birth setting, it's often not accepted at all. Unless one realizes that they truly have the power to say "I just know it's okay and you don't have my legal consent to x, y, z..." then things may not work out in their favor. Enter in....the independent birth class.
Perhaps the greatest catalyst in my first pregnancy, in my journey to becoming an experienced and respected birth professional in Philadelphia, and in my path towards embracing the future birth (of my second son, who is now two years old) in a way in which I not only felt empowered but also felt supported, was the independent birth class I took well over eight years ago with the Philadelphia birth legend, Beth Goldberg.
Being as confident as I was that first time around, I "didn't need" a birth class and thought that if I delayed signing up for the class at my birth place, then I could get out of it. What I didn't realize, is that my thinking was completely askew. Side note - what I've learned as a birth worker - perhaps the greatest lesson - is that I will never know all there is to know about birth (or parenting, or the body, or life...). Anyway, by the time I was really being pressured by my provider to take that birth class, there was no more space, I was very late in the game, and I was forced to look elsewhere for classes and forced to - eek! - pay more.
The money I spent on my independent birth class was the best money I may have ever spent in my life. No lie.
And here's why.
An independent birth class will not teach you what to think. It will teach you how to think. It will not teach you how to be a good patient but will teach you how to ask the right questions to get all the information you need about your pregnancy, your birth, your labor and to use that information in making an informed decision. A well-taught independent class will not dictate what you should do but will share with you what your options are, including the often unknown option of refusal. Most importantly, and this may be just the opinion of a seasoned birth worker, a well-taught birth class will not teach you how to give birth but will empower you with the voice, the knowledge, the resources, and the support to seek out your way of birthing and to work your way through it. Let us not forget, labor is work. And work is hard - and rewarding, and challenging, and exhilarating, all at once.
When I finally let go of my ego and realized I didn't know all I needed to know about birthing in our culture, I opened myself to the ability to feel empowered in my body AND my knowledge. Thankfully, this influenced my journey into birth work and heavily influenced my second birth. But the many women whom I work with in my classes who haven't waited until 36 or 37 weeks to seek out information are able to put to great use this instinctual wisdom, intellectual insight, and practical knowledge the first time around. And that leads me to the most important reason to take an independent birth class - the information is usable and will influence the way one approaches their pregnancy, their birth, and their postpartum, whether one chooses to use it right away or chooses to mull it over and let it guide them the next time around.
**I do strongly believe that the information in an independent birth class is crucial for women and their partners regardless of whether they are able to pay the full class fee. In each group birth class that I teach, I do have a spot available for a low income couple to attend. If interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.**
As the Philadelphia birth world blooms bigger and brighter, I think it's time I start putting some of the insightful questions I've received and information I've research into a public journal. I hope you'll find this inspiring, empowering, and totally enjoyable.