Being pregnant and giving birth are like crossing a narrow bridge.
People can accompany you to the bridge. They can greet you on the other side.
But only you can walk that bridge alone. – African Proverb
In my midwifery practice I am often asked whether a client should take prenatal classes. “Are they worth the time and expense?” Here are some considerations to assist you in making that choice.
Knowing Your Body
In a culture so adverse to risk and pain, it is no wonder women have moved a long way from trusting our innate ability to birth. And given that most women experience some level of pain with birth, we need to be reminded over and over to trust that this pain has purpose. An ideal prenatal class can educate you about the physiological changes your body is undergoing in the different stages of labour. This can help you make mental and emotional connections to the powerful sensations your body is experiencing. When you know what your body has to do and can recognize these sensations as “normal” you can step out of your head, which is full of the fear of the unknown, to allow your body to take over and birth as you are designed.
Knowledge is Power
Every profession seems to develop its own language to communicate information amongst practitioners. Whether this is done for practical reasons of efficiency or intentionally, to establish authoritarian relationships, the result is the same. Unless you know the language, you will not understand the communication. And even if the intent of the communication is positive, not understanding injects anxiety and fear into the situation. Anxiety and fear will often increase pain and have a negative impact on progress as the cervix opens best when a mother feels safe.
Hopefully you already have a care provider that takes care to fully inform you of your progress and what is going on, but if you don’t, understanding will ease anxiety and enable you and/or your partner to better advocate for you.
Quality prenatal classes will cover the stages and phases of labour and provide you with strategies to cope at each stage. This information is great for you but awesome for your support partner – especially if they have never been to a birth. Watching someone you love work so hard can be difficult. They want to learn how best to support you and ease your pain. Sometimes you discover you need extra support and bring in the expertise of a Doula – someone specifically trained to support women and families through the physical and emotional phases of labour. Having someone you trust to remind you that you are loved and safe in the process can help make things go smoothly.
Building a Community
Perhaps the most important benefit of taking a prenatal class is the possibility of developing new friendships within a community of people dealing with the exact issues you are. Having a child has a profound impact on how we relate to ourselves, partners, families, friends and community! For some people this change can be isolating and can contribute to the experience of postpartum depression. In a prenatal class, you hopefully connect with a few people or even someone that becomes not only a source of inspiration and support, but also a lifelong friend as you watch your children grow up.