I Was A Birthing Class Dropout

by Jennifer Palumbo
Originally Published: 
Three pregnant women sitting on yoga mats outside.
diego_cervo / Getty

I was fortunate enough to not only have a good friend who was pregnant at the same time I was, but she was also the kind of friend who researched everything to tremendous detail. This outsourced my need to think more than absolutely necessary when it came to making any crucial new mommy decisions. I left it to my friend Vanessa to do the extensive investigating while I lay around and watched reruns of The Golden Girls.

Which OB-GYN should I see? Vanessa scoured online reviews and researched the best NICU units in the area that each doctor was associated with and chose her doctor. I asked for the doctor’s number and scheduled an appointment the same week as Vanessa.

What stroller should I buy? Vanessa went to a new parents’ expo where she took a test run of the latest models, cross-referenced online reviews with safety standards, and more than once or twice, stopped people on the street whenever she saw someone pushing what seemed to be a quality carriage. When she registered for one, I cut and pasted it into my registry.

Which diapers are the most absorbent? Vanessa signed up for Diapers discount deal, compared diaper versus cloth on the American Academy of Pediatrics website and, for all I know, actually tried them out herself.

So when the time came to find a good birthing class, I relied once again on her research and recommendation. The one thing I overlooked, however, was that this was one of the few areas where Vanessa and I saw things differently. She was interested in natural childbirth and even went so far as to look into childbirth hypnotism (where you learn how to hypnotize yourself into thinking labor pains don’t hurt). I, however, was still holding out hope that I could find some sort of loophole where I wouldn’t actually have to be in the room when I gave birth.

The class was one night a week for six weeks and was taught by a doula. Both of these should have been red flags to me. I’m one of those people where I just want to be told exactly what I need to know and nothing more. The fact that this class, at one point, explored historic art work depicting birth was useless to me. No one has ever been in the midst of a horrific contraction and exclaimed; “This so reminds me of that Etruscan image of a woman in labor. How exquisi-MOTHER-FUCKER-THAT-HURTS! ”

Please understand that I’m not at all dismissing the role of the doula. I sincerely respect their knowledge, stamina, and dedication to supporting women through the labor process. They have the ability to provide comfort with pain relief techniques that include breathing techniques, relaxation techniques, massage, and laboring positions. During delivery, doulas are typically in constant or close proximity to the mother.

But aside from the fact that I couldn’t afford the luxury of having one, they just aren’t in line with my way of thinking. I mean, if I don’t want to be in the room, I certainly don’t want someone else in the room with me talking to me about using a physiotherapy ball. You either have to be medically necessary or be the one I’m having sex with on a regular basis to gain admittance to my child birth experience.

The first birthing class, we were asked to take off our shoes and sit on comfy cushions thrown around the room. Couples sat together excited and looking forward to learning more about what would be the most important moment in their lives.

We were asked to go around the room, say our names, our due dates, and our biggest fear. One after another, every woman said the same fear: that they would have to use any unnecessary medication. When it was my turn, being that I had a very difficult time conceiving, my biggest fear, quite honestly, was that something would happen to the son I was expecting. So while each couple feared having to get an epidural, my answer of “that my baby might die” really seemed to make me unpopular and put a damper on things.

Moments later, we were divided into the “girls” and the “boys.” My husband, Mike, looked at me panicked when we were being separated. He whispered, “If we do trust falls, I’m so out of here.”

After another round of introductions, we shared which gender our babies were (if we knew), where we were delivering, and what our birthing plans were. These women had written out pages of how they wanted things to go, what to bring to the hospital and what music they would listen to in order to comfort them. Once again, when it was my turn to share what my birthing plan was, I made the mistake of answering honestly: To get the baby out. Really. That was the entirety of the plan.

Despite the ladies in my group not being particularly impressed, I should mention my doctor loved me. When I told her my extensive birthing plan, she actually thanked me. She said, “What that says to me is you know these things are unpredictable and you’re open to what I sincerely feel is the best approach.” I wished she was there with me, as I was so not the favorite in the class. I was pegged as the “bringing up dead babies and having no plan” loser.

We were soon reunited with our husbands, our teacher reenacted what labor would look like. She started to breathe a certain way, then ever so slowly get on all fours in a downward-facing dog position and writhe dramatically in almost a pornographic way. All of us sat there in an uncomfortable silence watching her not sure if we should laugh, cry, or applaud. She looked disturbing and the demonstration was going on way too long. It was like the scene in the movie Ghostbusters when Sigourney Weaver’s character slowly becomes a dog. “There is no doula, only Zuul!”

When she was done, she began the longest lecture on all of the things you can do with a placenta. You can ask to bring it home, dry it out, dip it in paint and make artwork with it. You could also break the placenta down and put the pieces in capsules to swallow and, presumably, help ward off postpartum depression. If neither of those work for you, she also had a series of recipes that you could incorporate your placenta in. This last option was greatly tempting. I imagined Thanksgiving dinner and my mother-in-law asking, “That stuffing was delicious! What was in it?” That was one way to get out of hosting Thanksgiving every year.

Then we were showed a video of three different women giving birth. All of these women used a doula (of course) and every birth was underscored by a Yanni-like soundtrack. The women in labor all seemed blissful, relaxed, and tranquil. I turned to my husband and said, “Maybe we don’t need a doula. Maybe we need a flutist.” He laughed and for the third time that night, we got dirty looks.

The second class, I was hoping we’d get into the labor process, contractions, what they feel like, when I should go to the hospital and the immediate details that were necessary to know. Instead, we continued to discuss the joys of the placenta part two. There’s placenta jewelry, the placenta facial and, probably most disturbing, the placenta teddy bear. The placenta is treated with sea salt, tannin, and egg yolk and then shaped into a Winnie-Pooh like creature. No doubt A.A. Milne never imagined this when he created the character.

Around the time we were discussing the Lotus Birth Placenta Bag, I began to lose my patience. I kept thinking, “None of this information is going to help me once I go into labor.” I wanted to shake the teacher and say, “PUT DOWN THE FLUTE AND JUST TELL ME WHAT I NEED TO KNOW!” but everyone in the class seemed to so love all of this rather irrelevant wisdom. My husband and I walked home after class and wondered what was wrong with us. Why we were not riveted by birthing statues, special pregnancy acupuncture, and placenta lasagna?

The weekend before the third class, I had a bad case of vertigo and ended up in the hospital. I was on bed rest and couldn’t attend. Mike and I wondered if this was the class where they told you everything relevant. It turned out we missed ways you could induce labor, which included playing with the nipples, eating spicy food, and sex. As I lay in bed, pregnant, huge, with the room spinning, none of these tidbits seemed remotely appealing.

When it was time for the fourth class and I was feeling better, my husband and I were getting ready to put our coats on and head over. I don’t know who said it first but one of us turned to the other one and said, “Do you really want to go?” And the other one answered, “Not really. I’d rather order a pizza and watch TV.” And that was it. We never went back and didn’t regret it.

I soon purchased a DVD that was exactly an hour long, which we watched in the comfort of our home and told us everything we needed to know. Frankly, after watching the DVD, I was pissed I didn’t just do that to begin with. The twenty dollars I spent told me more than the class I paid five hundred dollars for ever did about labor, what my water breaking was like, when I should call the doctor, and the difference between a spinal and epidural.

The real joke to all of this is that I ended up never going into labor. I was diagnosed with something called cholestasis which entailed me having a scheduled C-section at 37 weeks. My son had to be in the NICU for a little over a week, but I’m happy to report he’s now a healthy, happy six-year-old.

If there’s anything to be learned, it’s that everyone has a lot of opinions on how you should give birth — what’s good, what’s bad, and what they do and do not feel comfortable with. Ultimately, you have to do what’s right for you.

Vanessa went on to have a beautiful baby girl and even though she did end up using medication, she had a long labor and delivery she really championed through. That being said, I have no intentions of eating at her house anytime soon.

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