Supporting Each Other, Supporting Families

“Another study found that only 11% of women attend a childbirth class while pregnant, and many of those take only the class offered by the hospital. Those classes tend to focus on how women should behave as patients, and less on the risks and benefits of various procedures they may encounter during labor.”

And there it is… Once again, I am falsely represented in the world of Maternal-Fetal Health.

I can’t tell you the number of times that people who work in this field have broadcasted unfairly that if you teach Childbirth Education in a hospital setting, that you’re nothing more than a puppet for the administration and providers in the system where you work. I’d like to write this off as a biased opinion — an opinion that doesn’t really matter because it’s just not true.

But when these opinions are broadcast far and wide — sometimes by people of influence and larger platforms than my own — I get angry!

Twenty years ago this July, I began my career working with families who were expecting their first babies. It all started because my friend wanted me to be at her birth. I took a doula training (because I never do anything half-way!) and was hooked! I couldn’t believe how strong and capable women could be in the co-creation of new life. I was amazed at all our bodies can do! I still am.

As someone who hadn’t given birth yet, I was excited for the day when I would become pregnant and go through this experience for myself. But in the meantime, I was wondering how I could be both a Momma and work in this field yet have family-friendlier hours than a doula can usually claim. After all, babies rarely follow work-day hours and having done a handful of births myself, I knew that birth could take awhile and require being away from home for hours, maybe days, at a time.

I know so many wonderful women who’ve been able to strike that balance (and have amazing partners and friends to help fill the gaps whenever and wherever it’s needed) so they can have a family and still help others begin their own. But for me, being a doula wasn’t meant to be my career.

I was meant to be an Educator.

When I realized that I could become a Certified Childbirth Educator and help women and families learn all they need to know to make informed decisions about their birth experiences, I was all in. I trained to be a CBE and passed my certification exam with flying colors. And I’ve been doing this work ever since.

Now, I won’t lie to you. When I first got the credentials after my name, I thought I knew the “right” way to have a baby (having not yet done this myself, my opinions came mostly through reading, research and training). And I was convinced that the classes I wanted to teach would be in the community, independent of any hospital-based system. Why? Because I thought I knew how “they” taught classes. They were just a part of the machine. They got the curriculum handed to them by the administration and providers and then they taught their students how to be “good patients.”

You see, I’d read the things that have been said about hospital-based Childbirth Educators for years and I believed them. And I wasn’t going to be one of them!

But, I quickly discovered that it’s very expensive to teach independently. The videos were several hundreds of dollars, the knitted uterus and baby were almost the same, and that doesn’t even account for the posters, or power point package (and that was back in 1998!) So when an opening came up at a local hospital, I jumped at the chance to begin teaching classes. But it was only going to be for a year or two… just so I could save some money and then go it alone.

I was hired and braced myself for all of the swimming upstream I was going to have to do… bucking the system that had been in place for years, fighting to teach classes that encouraged families to think for themselves. Knowing all along that surely I wouldn’t be “allowed” to teach from a current, evidence-based model of adult education in a hospital system.

But you know what? I was wrong.

The classes that I teach — the hospital-based classes that I teach — are current, evidence-based, interactive, engaging and fun. I teach everything from the perspective of benefit, alternative and risk, encouraging my families to ask questions, get their questions answered to their satisfaction and — using a shared-decision making model — fully participate in their birth so they can have a positive and empowering experience as they become parents.

And every single one of the wonderful educators that I call mentor, colleague or co-worker does the same.

When the vast majority of women continue to give birth in a hospital setting, it’s important to know the education they receive there doesn’t necessarily fit the description that many in the world of birth claim it does. And it’s equally important for women and families to know that they can trust the education they receive there!

Please understand me… I believe women and families should have the option to choose freely wherever they’d like to deliver their babies: at home, in a birth center, or at a hospital. I also believe that the education that’s provided in any setting these families choose should be complete and include current, evidence-based information that provides the benefits and risks associated with every decision they might be faced with during the birth of their babies.

But when families end up not taking any classes because they’re being mislead about the quality of the education they will receive in hospital-based classes — I get angry!

The classes that I teach for two hospitals in town are, without exception, the exact same classes that I’d teach in an independent, community-based setting.

It’s time for those of us who work in this field to recognize how demeaning one another not only hurts us, but in the end, fails the people that we claim to care so much about: the families that are looking for information about what to expect and how to navigate the life-changing experiences of birth and new parenting.

We owe it to one another and we owe it to our families to stop stereotyping and dragging one another down. Instead, lift one another up! Encourage one another to continue to make a difference for families — no matter the setting.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available for pregnant and newly parenting families these days. Let’s help our families get the tools they need to feel confident about birth and parenting. Let’s stop fighting one another and remember our shared purpose: to provide quality, unbiased, evidence-based information that encourages women and their partners to make the best decisions for themselves, their births and their babies given the specific circumstances of their pregnancies and births.

When we support one another, we support families.

Meet Barb

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