Our first birthing class

strausmouse set the bar for this when he wrote about his own experiences going through birthing classes over two years ago. And since strausmouse happens to be one of the funniest people on the planet, I want to start by saying that what follows doesn’t even attempt to be funnier than Eric’s. That is probably not possible. What it is, then, is a cool, reasoned record of my experience at our first birthing class last night.

The class took place at Alexandria Inova hospital, which is conveniently close to where we live, and which is not the hospital at which the baby will be born (he will be delivered at Fairfax Inova). We were instructed to bring 2 pillows and a blanket, and to meet in the visitor lobby at 6:30. I think we got there at about 6:20 and it was not hard to find where we were supposed to be: there were clusters of couples, one member bearing a load of pillows, the other a gravid belly. (I must say here, by the way, that I felt rather ridiculous walking from the free parking lot across the street to the hospital carrying a pillow. I tried folding the pillow down to the smallest possible size so that it was as unnoticeable as possible. After all, when you see some fellow walking down the street in the evening carrying a pillow, what’s your first thought?)

The course instructor came down to greet us, and then led us on a windy course up some escalators, through some corridors, and ultimately back down stairs almost to where we started. There was apparently a complicated reason for this circuitous route that was never properly explained. Ultimately, however, we reached a large classroom with chairs spread about in a semi-circle. We all took our seats. By my count, there was a total of six couples, but I can’t recall if that included us or not. The earliest due date in our group was May 7, the latest June 24, so that we fell somewhere in the middle. It was the first baby for all of the couples, ourselves included. At first I thought that quite a coincidence, and then I realized that someone who’d already had a baby probably wouldn’t need the birthing class. I’m bad at guessing ages, but I’d guess that I was the second oldest gentleman in the room. Our instructor, a petite woman named Susie had us all introduce ourselves and then we got started.

There was some course material we went through, included a small “textbook”. Some of the items were particularly useful, things you could put on the refrigerator, for instance, to remind you of the signs of labor. In fact, we started by identifying the signs of labor, what was considered labor, what was not considered labor, and what to do about them.  A fair amount of time was spent on the “support person’s” role.  In case it is not clear, I am the support person.  We talked about things that the support person (I) could do to make the pregnant person more comfortable and at ease.

In some ways, the class reminded me of my days as a student pilot, taking flight training.  Just about everything you need to know about flying can be compressed into some kind of clever mnemonic device.  The same is true, apparently, with childbirth.  For instance, at what point in your early labor should you call the doctor and consider coming in to the hospital?  The answer is not, as I imagined, the minute the contractions start.  Instead, you use the 5-1-1 rule.  That is: you are having contractions every 5 minutes, lasting about 1 minute each, spread over an hour.  (That would be roughly eleven contractions an hour, by the way.)  One of the obvious signs you should head into the hospital is when one’s water breaks.  This, apparently, is not always the gushing river of goo that television so often makes it out to be.  It all depends on whether the baby has “lightened” (dropped), and the general position of the baby.  Sometimes, these could be a trickle.  Which begs the question: how do you know your water has broken?  Enter another mnemonic device: TACO.  Time (when did it happen).  Amount (how much was there).  Color (what color was it, clear?  Brownish?)  Odor (what did it smell like).  It seems kind of amusing to me to relate a crunchy delicious Mexican food with water breakage, but hey, I was able to remember what it all means!

(Someone out there has to be asking why color and odor?  This makes the “taco” all the more appetizing.  The pressure of labor can cause the baby to poop, which leaks out with the amniotic fluid, changing its color and odor.  This apparently tells the doctors something useful, like the baby was not wearing a diaper; or the baby is not yet potty-trained.)

There were some posters that showed the internal anatomy of a non-pregnant and a 40 week (full term) pregnant woman.  I was surprised at just how far up and back the intestines get pushed and compressed.  And when the baby drops, the bladder compresses to almost nothing.  The stomach move up higher, everything is rearranged.  Kelly is right, it would seem logical that taller women have it a little easier, assuming their babies are not giants to begin with.

We learned some head-to-toe relaxation techniques.  This was kind of amusing.  The women were supposed to be trying to demonstrate tension through these techniques so that the men could learn to identify tension in their faces and body language.  Kelly, who rarely shows tension of any kind, made a valiant effort at what could only be described as super-exaggerated tension.  This in turn lead to laughter on my part.  It was like something out of a blooper real.  After we got through the laughing, we focused on the relaxation techniques we were learning.  We also learned some positions that can make the various stages of labor more comfortable, and what we “support people” can do to help.

Toward the end of the class, we watched a film that covered all stages of childbirth including, yes, the birth itself.  If I had been 16 years old, I would have giggled my way through the entire film.  As it was, Kelly and I had enough trouble trying not to laugh.  Mainly, it was because of some of the incredible corny and gauche things some of the mothers and fathers said on the video.  But also, it was because in the last delivery they showed, the woman giving birth was completely naked and we couldn’t understand why that would be.

The class wrapped up at 9 pm.  Looking back on it, I was surprised at just how much I learned.  Some of these things are common-sense, but I never would have thought of them.  For instance, keeping extra blankets (and even a garbage bag) in the car, in case one’s water breaks there; in the office (along with a change of clothes); by the bed.  “What if you were standing up in a meeting, giving a talk,” Susie said, “and your water broke there?  Would that be comfortable?”  I don’t think this possibility ever occurred to either of us and I think we were both happier when we didn’t know it was a possibility.  (Truthfully, however, this would be one heck of a dramatic excuse to get out of what has to be an otherwise boring meeting.)  I discovered that cutting the cord can be difficult and you often have to use to hands.  Good to know.

I don’t think you can be squeamish to take these classes.  Our instructor described a gentleman who would go white at the mention of the words “mucus plug”.  How on earth does someone who is that squeamish deal with a class like this, let alone the real thing?

Some of this we took with a grain of salt, knowing that we are having a planned C-section.  Kelly might experience early parts of stage 1 labor, but likely wouldn’t be going through the rest of it.  I think that helps take some of the pressure off.  All told, it was a good first class, packed with a lot of information.  It seems amazing to me that there are 3 more classes equally packed (to say nothing of the extra C-Section class we are taking, as well as the baby care class we are taking).  Our next class is Thursday evening.

Originally published at From the Desk of Jamie Todd Rubin. You can comment here or there.