Signing up for and arriving at your first childbirth preparation class is often a significant “this is really happening” moment. You’re reminded that the fetus that is kicking you and pushing against your ribs and bladder will actually want to come out of your body and that this will require a bit of coordinated effort on both your parts. Partners are aware that they play some role in this process but aren’t exactly sure what it will be, and often worry about how to be up for the task. Your mind is swimming with the newness and uncertainty… and the instructor starts “Lesson 1”.
We would love it if everyone left that first class emptied of all of their jitters but we know it’s just not possible. We do know that our clients get to a place of confidence and trust and joy… but it’s a process.
Traveling into new places
Having a baby, giving birth, even changing a diaper- these all may be big ‘firsts’. I know there is a huge amount of new information that you will be taking in over the childbearing year, even if you do have some background that includes knowledge of babies. Not only do you navigate the experience of pregnancy and birth through the body, you have changes in your relationship and identity, you’re encountering health care systems often for the first time or certainly in a new way, you’re making baby gear decisions, signing up for childbirth classes and perhaps finding a doula… are all new adventures and unchartered territory.
A widely used matrix for understand how we learn and grow personally and professionally is the Conscious Competence framework. Essentially, the psychologists who created the framework recognize that there is an inevitable stress involved with learning. We are stretching our minds and imagination to take in new information and it takes 4 steps to arrive at a place of ‘competence.’ In the childbearing year, this process happens over and over again as you encounter the unknown territory of pregnancy, birth and parenting. It’s not always comfortable and it’s a process of falling apart and coming back together.
It’s more than stretching our minds…
Learning and competence in the childbearing year is, however, even more personal, more life-changing, than, say, taking on your last new job. This process is also far more than straightforward ‘learning’ – but involves tapping into instincts, and intuition, a sense of knowing that may be validated by rational thought, but is bigger than it.
One of the conversations I frequently have with women and expectant partners is how their beliefs and attitudes shift over the course of pregnancy. They might be small shifts or pretty significant ‘aha’ moments. Perhaps they are gaining insight into their own personality or needs, understanding new ways to trust themselves and each other. There is a sorting through ‘fear’ and ‘instinct’ and gaining insight into the difference, there may be shifts towards or away from family or cultural traditions, examining habits of being …and finding deeper authenticity. All of these realities of shifting, changing views and perspectives means that we will feel at times like we don’t know the answers, don’t know what we believe, don’t know what choices we should make. And this is often an uneasy feeling.
One of the attitudes of mindfulness that I believe can be of benefit during this time is becoming aware of “Beginner’s mind,” accepting and perhaps even welcoming a sense of “not knowing”.
By opening to this Beginner’s mind, and making peace with the experience of uncertainty in itself, we ultimately find perhaps the greatest freedom and a more reliable sense of safety. In the midst of it, it may feel unsettling.
Living with uncertainty while planning and preparing
Maybe you feel like you can live with this not knowing for a bit but also feel the tug to get things figured out, to make a plan, to be prepared, to be ‘on top of it’.
In a childbirth preparation series, each class builds on itself. You might not immediately feel that some of your biggest questions or issues get wrapped up right away. We encourage an 8 or 9 week series when it’s possible for your schedule. This spacious time frame allows you to take one step at a time, and to notice what comes up from week to week. You’ll gradually find greater trust in your experience right now and a trust in what lies ahead.
This ‘birth story’ can’t be scripted. It unfolded in its own way for our mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers… and it will for you as well. But within the unknowns, there is a lot to trust in.
You are building a net of safety by taking on this readying process, by learning to be with your everyday discomforts both in the mind and in the body, and those that may come up in one of your weekly classes! You build this net of safety by turning to those who can guide and reassure but also those that remind you of your own capacity to be up for these new experiences.
You’ll get support from your educator and doula around ways to make informed decisions in an empowered way, even if no one can know exactly what might come up during your particular birthing day and in the months and years that follow as you embark on parenting. There are comfort strategies, helpful understandings of what sensations mean, reassuring information about the physiology of birth, or the ways a newborn develops, how breastfeeding works. (You can see the topics we cover here or refer to your more detailed syllabus that came with your welcome packet).
Our content is quite in-depth. All the topics we cover will be helpful ‘learning’. But we also want to support you as you unveil your intuition, your instinct, your ability to ‘be with’ your experience as it is. We can discover our mind’s capacity to work with difficulty, with uncertainty, with fear or self-doubt so that instead of taking over the show, they simply show up. We can help you access your innate ability to face the unknown with some courage, some peace, some trust.
Talking to your childbirth educator or having a visit with your doula, can be an opportunity to get the reassurance you need if something you have learned has activated a fear, a worry, or simply a list of questions. Connecting with your partner and others reminds us we are not alone.
We hope to support you as you create that unshakeable net of inner resource and the birthing and parenting support you need.
Stepping off into the expanse…
Some of our participants may know that they have some fears about birth, others maybe haven’t thought a lot about it. Please be sure to talk with us about where you are now, and about any struggles you encounter along the way.
If you show up to do a zipline adventure for the first time, you might not realize that the sensation of getting buckled in is going to feel really claustrophobic or that you really are quite uncomfortable with heights. Or maybe the faster runs feel scary or the slow ones cause you to worry that you’ll be stuck, suspended over some ravine needing rescue.
All of this would be taken with fairly good humor unless you have a particular fear or discomfort with the whole thing, which many of us may have around birth for cultural reasons, because of personal family stories or other ways that this normal process can be portrayed in the world around us.
A good childbirth class prepares you for the adventure of birth and parenting and helps you start to acclimate to possible experiences. If something comes up during or after class that is unexpectedly intense, always feel free to take time out to care for yourself but also let the instructor know what you experienced. They can provide reassurance, encouragement or clarification.
Options to take care of yourself
If you’re finding a rise in anxiety or fear don’t let yourself go through days of worry. Reach out. In addition to talking to your educator, this is a great time to enlist your your doula. You’ll be able to reach out to her anytime and will have an ally to work through any fear or questions about what’s ahead. At Birthways, you don’t need to wait until next week’s class to feel better or find resolution! Even calling our warmline can support you.
If you find yourself still unsettled in the group class, let us know and we can explore private classes at any time. Remember… it’s normal for many emotions to arise when you see perhaps your first birth, and imagine the way your own lives will be forever changed as you become parents. We welcome you in our safe space to take this journey, one step at a time, with awareness, with confidence and with trust.
We know that we can’t stop fear from arising. We thank you for allowing us to support you THROUGH the fear when it does come up and to give you all you need to face the unknown.
Resources we love to surround you with encouragement and trust:
Birth Without Fear: Empowering Women to Make Informed Choices
Penny Simkin: books, articles, videos, and workshops
Birthing From Within: book, workshops, classes, & support
Childbirth Connection: wealth of evidence-based articles & information to help you sort through your options and make informed, empowered decisions regarding your care
Ina May Gaskin: books, articles, TED Talk, & birth community
Spinning Babies: comfort measures, helpful tips, exercises, videos, articles, & recommendations to optimize fetal positioning for labor & birth