by Virginia Bobro, Co-owner and Managing Director of Birthing From Within
Many people, both expectant parents and birth professionals, contact Birthing From Within (BFW) with questions about what makes our classes and approach unique. They ask: "What do your classes actually look like?" So I thought I'd write a bit about how our Mentors teach, and share an overview of the structure and content of a typical BFW childbirth class on the first night. Most women who take our classes are pregnant for the first time and bring a partner with them (husband, doula, mother, friend, etc). Because we emphasize learning about birth from four perspectives (mother, partner, baby, and medical/cultural), it is enjoyable and very helpful for the birth partner to come to class. Even though the babies are not yet born, we call our students, "parents" or "mothers and fathers" or "moms and dads," in order to awaken and support their growth into parenthood.
When parents enter the room, they may find an inviting and cozy home-like atmosphere. Parents sit on couches or on the floor on comfy cushions, with candles or soft music. Their Mentor will welcome them warmly and may serve tea. They may notice tiger sculptures, small fairies, art supplies, or bowls of ice-cubes around the edge of the room. Perhaps there is a labyrinth or other birth art hanging on the wall. Parents get comfortable, introduce themselves, and get ready for an interesting and fun learning experience.
The first class often starts off with a bang! A touch of "Labor Theater," perhaps?
The Mentor often re-enacts a "transition contraction" to stimulate questions and get right to the nitty-gritty of birth. Parents share their beliefs and expectations about what labor might feel like, and how they think they might respond to these sensations and emotions. Parents may even meet the "Birth Fairy," who reminds us to be present to the process of birth, not only the outcome. Both women and men are actively engaged in sharing their ideas. The Mentors validates all perspectives and responses. There is no agenda or "wrong" answers.
At this point, parents have had a bit of a wake-up call. They are motivated to learn some more ways of coping with the intensity of the birth experience. Next up: "Breath Awareness," which is a mindfulness practice to deepen focus and enhance endurance. As moms and dads learn and practice, their confidence increases. Another surprise: the Mentor passes out ice cubes! During an "ice-contraction" (parents hold the ice in their hand for one minute), parents discover how their ability to cope is affected by an unpleasant physical sensation. Next up, birth partners practice supporting the mother-to-be while she holds the ice. Music, movement, touch-relaxation, back massage, and/or encouraging words all get a test-drive; then moms give feedback, so partners can hone their skills before "game day." In every class, parents learn and explore a new mindfulness practice, so they finish the series not with "tools," but rather with a mindset of resilience, determination, and focus, in order to cope with the intensity of the birth experience.
It just wouldn't be a Birthing From Within class without making art! After a break for tea and cookies, parents return to their places, and discover large pieces of white drawing paper and a boxes of colorful chalk pastels. Their birth Mentor draws a Labyrinth on a board, and shows parents how to draw one too. She may share some stories about labyrinths, and how this powerful symbol relates to the journey through labor and postpartum. Parents then learn about the stages of labor, and what kinds of physical and emotional changes they may experience during birth. A discussion of practical birth information and group sharing follows, with a focus on what parents can do as labor unfolds. Time is spent adding symbols or more colors to their labyrinths, so that when they leave class, they have a powerful, personal image of their upcoming birth journey-- a kind of "visual birth plan." These drawings often make their way into the labor bag and onto the birthing room walls-- an ancient map for modern birth.
As class winds down for the evening, the Mentor may offer a closing poem, story, lullaby, or visualization. Parents have gained a better understanding of what birth will be like, and what they can do to make it a positive and profound experience. They leave with a closer connection to their partner and baby and a sense of excitement and empowerment about their upcoming births. Birthing From Within classes have a positive impact beyond pregnancy and birth-- into parenthood and each parent's life journey.