It's difficult to summarize our Bradley childbirth classes. I could easily do a point by point of all the things that we learned about pregnancy, labor, delivery, childcare and breastfeeding during our 20 hours of classes, but that wouldn't capture the profound experience that it was.
In the first emails that I exchanged with Pauline she challenged Chris and I to think carefully about the choices that we were making. She gave us information and the support we needed at the beginning of the pregnancy, months before our classes started, to begin building a network of professionals that would guide us through this process in a way that has felt nurturing, honest and respectful of our own preferences.
Once classes started they quickly became the highlight of our week. We met 3 other couples and each week we got to know them all a little better during our nightly snack break. There was something so comforting about being with other couples going through the same things that we were, at almost the same time, and who had also made many of the same decisions that we had made. It amazed all of us how much skepticism and cynicism we faced when we mentioned Bradley Method and natural childbirth (without pain medication and unnecessary intervention) to people we knew. We were strengthened by each other and the knowledge that we weren't alone in thinking that there must be a better way to birth our children than to give up our power and allow nurses and doctors to intervene in a natural process that has the potential to be fearless, calm and something other than what you see on TV or hear from most people. We also knew that even though we had not been through it yet, we had the knowledge and the power to do everything we could to have it the way we wanted it, and we reminded each other not to listen when people would say to us that we would be screaming for the epidural eventually.
We learned from Pauline exercises that we could do to keep our bodies strong (do your kegels!) and manage the discomforts of pregnancy like lower back pain, healthy food choices to keep our systems balanced and to avoid many common pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preclampsia (high blood pressure), and relaxation techniques that we could use during pregnancy to get in touch with our unborn babies and during labor to stay calm and focused on opening up and allowing nature to take it's course.
Of course, labor cannot be controlled, but by learning the truth about epidurals, interventions like Pitocin, induction and breaking of the waters (they can all hinder or complicate labor), how to cope with a labor that does not proceed according to the hospitals schedule with position changes, movement and water, and how to create a safe, relaxing environment at home for as long as possible and eventually at the hospital, we were able to understand that we can affect the course of our labor and do a lot more than one might think to avoid situations where we might feel uncomfortable.
We also learned ways to work with our bodies so that labor doesn't have to be painful. If you are fearful and tense and you fight labor, even unconsciously, it will hurt. But if you: learn how to relax, breath slowly and deeply, visualize your body opening up, move around to help the baby into position, get your partner involved by massaging and speaking encouraging words, listen to soothing music, find a rhythm, meditate, vocalize, get in the shower or tub, trust your body and listen to your body to help it do what it needs to, there is a really good chance that you will not need pain medication. There is a place for epidurals though, so no one should feel bad for getting one, but our goal is to do it without. My reasons are simply to not mess with a natural process, to stay as mobile and in tune with my body as possible, and to avoid the risks associated with epidurals. Narcotics however, are completely out of the question.
I think the most important thing that we learned is that all labors are different and all labors end up differently than you might expect. Keeping an open mind and being flexible to the process will be extremely important and making informed decisions will help us to feel in control and empowered. I look forward to discovering what my labor will be like, and I know that however it turns out, it will be the most rewarding journey of my life.
Here is a photo of me on the day I was born. I aspire to have a labor and delivery just like my Mom (see her comments on this post for details.)