One of the beauties of a strong and vibrant community of birth workers is that our conversations quickly delve into conceptual yet crucial topics such as human rights in birth, the effects of language and persona on confidence, power dynamics in the laboring room. This talk brings us, as birth professionals, to a higher plane in understanding advocacy and the metaphysical aspects of labor. However, when we share information with expecting clients, particularly in a group setting, it’s important that we are able to seamlessly shift from our hive minds, as birth workers, into the realm of creating a foundation of knowledge with our clients.
Offering too much all at once, although helpful for some who have researched a lot on their own, may feel overwhelming to expectant parents taking their first birth class. When people experience information overload, they have a greater tendency to tune out, picking up and processing only bits and pieces, and ultimately feeling excluded from the greater conversation. As childbirth educators, in order to successfully create a foundation of knowledge, we must understand the information our clients are bringing to the class space and we must assume nothing until we have reason to do so. When we effectively and collectively have formed a knowledge baseline, we meet the parents where they are and have the ability to elevate them to a place of confidence and a space of safety in exploring their own priorities. This will eventually help them utilize their rights to informed consent OR refusal, and communicate those preferences to their providers.
A simple online search for a birth plan will turn up all sorts of templates with prompts such as “I would like to…” and options including “walk and sit up during labor,” “avoid an epidural,” “have skin to skin right after birth,” and more. Knowledge of these options are important and parents have the right to request these things. However, what I have noticed in teaching birth classes, is that often parents are accepting that these are helpful things to do without having any understanding as to why. Without knowing why, for example, movement in labor is important, clients are left without the confidence to back these preferences and without the ability to assert that these choices are honored.
As educators, we need to be ready to answer the question, from a research based standpoint as to why epidurals may not be the recommended first option against labor discomfort (and, on the flip side, why in some cases they may be beneficial), why movement and the use of gravity in labor is beneficial, why skin to skin has benefits for both the new parent(s) and the baby. The greatest service we can provide our clients is in helping them understand why certain preferences have benefit so that they can make a conscious choice as to their priorities. When we simply relay information and lay out techniques, we have merely bombarded expectant parents with more information – information they can often get from a simple google search. By helping them understand the physiological process and how certain preferences may support or detract from that and how they can affect labor and birth, we are truly creating an environment of empowerment and learning. The art of childbirth education is in the why.