Don't Even Bother: The Case Against Childbirth Preparation Classes
By Kelley Cunningham
Do you feel that you were well prepared for childbirth? Were you able to distinguish the mucous plug from snot as you peered into the john for signs that labor was starting? Did you do your kegels while riding the subway to work, quite amazed that you could be doing something so intimate in such a public place while everyone around you was unaware? Did you pack a tennis ball in your hospital suitcase so your partner could rub your back with it, like I did for my first baby?
I’m betting that you had other ideas about what your partner could do with that tennis ball once the real pain hit.
Let’s face it: childbirth preparation classes are a whole lot of hooey. Maybe we expect too much of them, because nothing can prepare you for the moment of ghastly realization that this kid is coming out and it’s going to hurt like nothing ever has. And that you can’t go home, have a glass of wine and forget the whole stupid idea. All the tidbits of advice they give you fly out the window, the first being the flipping tennis ball. It won’t hurt to play the Enya CD, mama, but it certainly won’t help.
My decidedly un-P.C. picture of childbirth preparation classes may seem harsh to glowing and clueless moms-to-be. But the truth is that they only offer these classes to give you something to do now that your feet have become too swollen for shoe shopping. What else is there to do now that you’ve ordered the crib and laundered all the newborn onesies in Dreft?
Back me up, all you experienced moms out there. Did you really bond more closely in the class with your husband as he sat behind you, legs akimbo? How oddly voyeuristic was it to watch all the other couples doing this? I sure as heck didn’t want to go out for a romantic dinner afterwards. I just wanted to go home and try to forget the sight of the panting, obese woman next to me. The only conceivable (pardon the pun) purpose this experience may provide is to give you an idea of how many people are going to be looking up your yanni when you’re spread-eagled on the delivery table.
Did your Lamaze instructor tell you to pinch your husband’s hand progressively harder while he panted so he could sense how a contraction feels? What a helpful exercise! That’s like trying to explain how a guillotine feels by giving somebody a haircut. Look, I’ll never know what it feels like to get slammed in the nuts, and there’s no way he will ever remotely understand what childbirth feels like.
God knows my husband tried his best as a labor coach, but maybe, just maybe, he didn’t belong in the delivery room. He was way out of his league. (Hell, I was way out of my league!)
Perhaps we should at least give men the option to opt out. I wouldn’t blame them. I would rather have been chain-smoking in the waiting room than sweating in the delivery room if I had had the choice.
Childbirth has been women’s work since time immemorial and perhaps that’s the way it was meant to be. I suppose I’m glad my husband could see his children being born, but this is a man who nearly passed out the first time because he forgot to eat for twelve hours. The second time he also forgot to eat and almost passed out when the OB asked him to cut the cord. The nurse had to help him into a chair while I’m pleading “hey…a little help here! I’m in a bit of pain!.”
The third time he wisely got an Egg McDuffie and munched it while his third son came into the world. This is absolutely true, I swear. All the while chatting with my OB about going out for martinis. I need this? I’m trying to have a baby and I have to remind him to eat? I think the thing that fascinated him most was the contraction ticker-tape machine. He would kindly inform me that another one was coming up and boy oh boy it looks big!
I think the only thing more annoying would be a man who is way TOO involved. You know the type who says “we’re pregnant!.” No, Ding Dong, your wife is pregnant. Put away the camcorder and get her some ice chips, stat.
There was something romantic about the old days with the smoke-filled waiting rooms and the pacing fathers. The nurse throws open the swinging doors and says “Mr. Ricardo, you have a healthy son!” And he passes out anyway but at least I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Then he gets to hand out cigars and get slapped on the back by all the other expectant fathers. Men need that bonding and they can’t have it now that they're holding our knees next to our ears while we push.
I’m kind of like an animal when I’m sick or in pain. I want to be alone. Just let me crawl behind the sofa to die, thank you. Don’t tell me how great I’m doing.
Like all earnest first-time moms, when I discovered I was pregnant I couldn’t wait for the Lamaze classes to begin. I was planning on a natural delivery. No drugs for me. I can take pain!
I once ran a ten-mile road race with temperatures in the single digits. Thanks to a sadistic dentist I had a root canal with insufficient Novocain. I pierced my own ears after a few beers. I skied in minus-fifteen-degree weather until my nose was frostbitten. I drank a frat boy under the table in a shot contest. I am total chick macho. I can run with wolves. Women have been giving birth for millions of years and I can too!
Well, after pride cometh a fall, otherwise known as Pitocin. They cranked up the IV and I had a contraction that tore me in two. I thought for sure someone had disemboweled me but the nurse looked at the monitor, merely shrugged and said “Oh, that was a good one.” At that point I knew the only way Enya would help is if she were the one having the baby instead of me.
When I started to panic and became convinced that I could not possibly climb this Everest in front to me, the nurses reminded me of all the helpful tips I learned in childbirth preparation class.
"Don’t work against your body. Work WITH your body. Just go with it."
Are you talking to me? How can you tell I’m not working with my body? Is there some vital piece of body-awareness information that I’m missing? All I know is that this body I’m unfortunately inhabiting at the moment is in a bit of a quandary from trying to pass an ICBM missile through an opening which God in his infinite wisdom made absurdly inadequate for the purpose. Therefore, I am reacting with grimaces of pain contorting my face.
"It’s good pain. It’s pain with a purpose!"
Come over here so I can punch you in the jaw. That’s pain with a purpose too.
"Take three quick breaths, then hold it and push!"
"Don’t grunt like that. You’ll have a sore throat in the morning."
I’ll be dead in the morning if there’s a God in heaven.
"Channel that womb energy."
I knew then that even the nurses thought it was all bullshit, but what else can they say? They have to talk you down off the ledge somehow. If they had said, “Lady, you’re on your own. Believe it or not you’ll get through this like everyone else,” it wouldn’t be very helpful. But at least it would be honest.
Maybe we should take Prissy’s advice. In Gone With the Wind she wanted to put a knife under Melanie’s bed to cut the pain in two. Why the hell not? It’s as good an idea as any other.
Every mother remembers her babies’ births until her last breath. I won’t go into details about the nauseating narcotic haze, or waiting for the anesthesiologist to stop by after his coffee and gossip break to administer epidurals that didn’t take or worked too well. The forceps. The episiotomies. The hemorrhaging. All I know is I got Shit Karma in the Wonderful Childbirth Experience department.
Whenever I relate my birth stories to Earthy-Crunchy Moms, they’re convinced it was the episiotomy that made everything go south for me. They tell me if I had massaged my moonachie with organic cocoa butter an episiotomy would not have been necessary. Then I mention that my baby was nine pounds seven ounces and they slink away horrified. No one’s hoo-hah is that big and I daresay that even a Costco-sized vat of cocoa butter wouldn’t have done the trick. Anyway, I wanted that baby out of me so badly I would not have cared if they sawed me in two to hasten the process.
Another admission that will further sully my chances of winning “Mother of the Year” is this: when the baby was finally born, I didn’t cry with joy. I didn’t yearn to hold him. I merely looked up to see if he was breathing and let my head fall back onto the bed. I was so utterly relieved that the agony was over that that’s all I could think about. Oh, after a few moments I started to get curious about the tiny, slimy creature pooping on the french fry warming tray, but only after it sunk in that I wasn’t going to die.
Thank God we came through it. By some monumental lapse of reason I returned to the Maternity Pavilion twice more. I’ve got three wonderful sons, spider veins and a little stress incontinence to show for it all. Happy ending.
But when I hear about women who had unmedicated births in hot tubs, or how for them pushing wasn’t anything like the excruciating hell I experienced, I start to twitch. “It was such a relief to push!”
“My focal point was a picture of my husband on the wall and before I knew it she was born!”
“My Doula rubbed my back with a dong quai poultice, did a dance appealing to the moon goddess and fed me raspberry tea. It took all the pain away!”
Well, I don’t buy it for a minute. You are so full of shit. I don’t like you, I don’t trust you, and my kid is not going to play with your kids, you evil, Stepford-wife pods! Don’t make me beat you about the head with my consignment shop-purchased Baby Bjorn.
Every few weeks there’s another baby that just pops out in the cab on the way to the hospital. I love the stories of the women who go to the ER with a case of indigestion that turns out to be full-term twins. I have to say I just don’t get it. It is absolutely incomprehensible to me.
Strangely, some of the women I know who have had the easiest labors are the biggest wusses with anything else. They couldn’t run a block without getting winded but they breeze through labor without so much as a twinge.
God knows what I did in a past life that earned me the honor of being the Rotten Childbirth Poster Child in this one. Wait, I know. I was a childless Lamaze instructor. That’s gotta be it.
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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