By Stacie Bingham, CD(DONA)
For the March BABE (Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators) series post, childbirth educator Stacie Bingham breaks out a well-known children’s toy and uses it to help class participants to fully understand what they might experience emotionally during labor and birth. Creative, interactive and very memorable, this activity helps parents connect what they just learned about the stages and phases of labor and prepares them for the normal roller coaster of emotions and activities that may arise during their own labor and birth. I cannot wait to try this myself, I just have to find myself a whole lot of Potato Head toys! – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility
“A fun, interactive way to incorporate a tactile experience into class instruction. All the moms and support people were laughing and interacting and really applying what we had just learned about.” – class participant
When people laugh and confess that they “actually had fun in a childbirth class,” you know something’s gone right. As an educator, this is my goal. If learners let their guards down and enjoy themselves, presented ideas don’t just fly in one ear and out the other — they flow in and settle, like books on a bookshelf, where information can be accessed later.
Looking for an activity to reinforce the stages of labor, and the emotions and physical sensations that go along with each stage, I came up with an idea involving Potato Heads. Luckily, our family has been amassing a Potato Head collection since 2001. I wanted one Potato for each stage and phase of labor. The bonus was, I found a “Baby Potato,” complete with extended tongue and ready to nurse (where? I am not sure, as breasts aren’t something Potato Heads come with as standard equipment). I carefully selected each Potato’s accessories, to physically or symbolically represent what she might be experiencing. I then disrobed the Potatoes and placed their accessories in their storage area (AKA butt).
In my classes, covering the “Stages of Labor” topic takes about an hour. In a typical two-hour class, this activity fits well for the last 20 minutes or so on the same night. At this point, the class has had a snack break and additional discussion about pertinent topics. As a closing, and a way to recall what was just shared in the first hour, I pass around the Potatoes. Each person or couple takes one, (depending on class size.) They put together their Potatoes, and then we discuss which stage or phase they have, and what they think about the specific wardrobe selection – what it might mean for labor.
Ms. “Early Labor Potato” is wearing earrings; she has her purse and her nice shoes on. Her eyes are excited, her nose is pink (calm), and her grin tells it all – she is excited labor is finally beginning! She has decided to go shopping to pass the time and pick up some last-minute items. I added the purse as well to think about what baggage she might be carrying around as labor becomes imminent.
Ms. “Active Labor Potato” is starting to get her first intense contractions, and with that, the first worries about her ability to cope. Her eyes are wider, showing her uncertainty. She is gritting her teeth, her nose is red, and her sneakers are on – she is working harder, warming up, and moving around.
Ms. “Transition Potato” – she’s hot! Her visor, her tongue, and her orange nose show it. I have no idea why we have a hand with that green stuff on it, but I decided it was appropriate! (“Is that vomit in my Potato’s hand?” a mom questioned.) Her wide eyes give an idea of her emotional state, and her bunny slippers further address her need to be comfortable (which is also symbolic of the need to feel safe).
Ms. “Second Stage” I likened to how pushing can sometimes feel foreign, or alien. She has no shoes, because at this point they would be off her feet (I used a jar lid under her base to keep her upright). I also made her a “pushy” face (while wishing I had a 3D printer!). Her red nose has returned, as this is physical work, and her confidence is increasing as she knows her baby is closer than ever.
“The potatoes were perfect to play with and keep everyone in class alive and moving. It held our interest and was still a teaching exercise.” – class participant
Ms. “Third Stage” has blissed-out eyes (which I drew and taped on) – she finally birthed her little spud! Her mouth shows joy, and her nose has returned to its calm pink color. Still no shoes – who needs ‘em? A few minutes and a little push for the placenta, and now it’s on to enjoying her newborn!
The feedback from this activity is always amazing. It may seem silly and juvenile – I mean birth is serious business, right? But parents appreciate outside-the-box learning opportunities. As adults, there aren’t many times in training or instruction when we veer from left-brain directed thinking – and there’s too much PowerPoint out there in many classes. Manipulating the pieces while talking and laughing, anchors and connects information through touch as well as sight. Playing with these Potatoes allows creativity to spark. As educators, make the effort to offer alternative, unconventional ways to share information – and I promise, your class won’t forget it.
About Stacie Bingham
Stacie Bingham, CD(DONA), is a Lamaze-trained educator who embraces the lighter side of the often weighty subject of birth. Her style feels more like a comedy-show experience than a traditional class. She has been a La Leche League Leader for 13 year, attended 150 births as a doula, and logged 1000 hours as a childbirth educator. An experienced writer and editor, she was a columnist for the Journal of Perinatal Education’s media reviews, has been published in LLLI’s New Beginnings and DONA International’s International Doula, and keeps up with her blog (where she frequently shares her teaching ideas).
She is the current Chair for Visalia Birth Network, and a founding member of Chico Doula Circle, and Advocates for Tongue Tie Education. Stacie has presented at conferences on the topic of tongue tie, as her 4th baby came with strings attached. Stacie and her four sons, husband, and (male) dog reside in California’s Central Valley. For more information or teaching tips, visit her at staciebingham.com.