Talking about feelings is a skill that serves people well at all stages of their life. Lamaze certified childbirth educator Mallory Emerson introduces us to the January Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators idea that helps facilitate conversations from the heart about the emotions surrounding pregnancy, birth, and parenting. This engaging idea provides some emotional structure to the process of becoming a parent and is a great conversation starter that families can use outside of class time as well. If you are interested in reading all of the Brilliant Activities for Birth Educator posts in the series, you can find them here. - Sharon Muza
Introduction - feelings
As an educator, I try to find ways to get parents talking and coming up with answers on their own. As a parent of young children, I am always trying to find ways to get old toys out of the play space. Teaching childbirth classes has given me a great opportunity to put some of these forgotten playthings to use for a different purpose.
As I gathered and sorted a set of tiny board books from our shelves, the actions, and emotions in their titles jumped out as relevant to new families. These very basic concepts that we are trying to teach our littlest kids to understand are the ones that serve us so well in the childbearing year.
I decided to use these books to get my families talking about the postpartum period. I have often used a grab bag of items to discuss the physical experience after birth and then segued into a discussion of emotional adjustment, but I hoped that by introducing something cute (and a little silly!) which focused on emotions and forced them to think about what their experience might be, I could get a lot more buy-in for the postpartum conversation.
I have found that using these fun books in small groups has gotten parents chatting about the potential emotional struggles of the postpartum period in much more depth than the grab bag alone ever achieved.
For this activity, all you need are the “How Do I Feel?” and/or “I Can Do Everything!” board book sets (note from Sharon - available on Amazon but I have found them cheapest here and here ). Alternatively, you could also just have cards/blocks/some other manipulative item with similar words or prompts on them. The emotions and activities covered in these particular books are: sleepy, proud, scared, playful, quiet, happy, hungry, hello, sad, take turns, shy, brave, angry, listen, share, sorry, please, thank you, tidy up, good-bye.
How to do the activity
I have used this activity in classes of between 5 and 14 families. After we have covered all of our birth topics, we transition to the postpartum period and I start with my Grab Bag for recovery after birth. Along with all the show-and-tell goodies for physical recovery, also included in this activity are prompts about Baby Blues and PMAD issues. We discuss these as normal experiences after birth and I present them with the statistics about PMADs and resources for getting help when needed.
After this, I split the class into groups. For a smaller class, I have all the pregnant parents in one group, and the non-pregnant folks in another group. In a larger class, I may have two pregnant groups and two non-pregnant groups. I try to split pregnant and non-pregnant partners for at least one activity in each class – often later in a series, after they have had time to warm up to each other. This gives them an opportunity for more specific connections over shared experiences. If I have a non-partner support person attending (pregnant person’s mom, for example) or a same-sex partner, I give them the option of joining either group based on their comfort and desire.
I divvy the board books between the groups and ask them to explore how the subjects may come up during the postpartum experience. As they chat, I prompt them to consider how certain emotions or activities may be relevant for them or for their partners. I give them about 5-10 minutes to talk about their set of books. If there is time, we rotate books so that each group gets to see all the topics.
How is this activity received?
Parents are often very chatty by this point in a series, so some great conversations pop up. They find some surprising ideas about how they might be feeling during the postpartum period, and families are engaged with and receptive to these new ideas that are generated by their peers. It gives them an opportunity to share advice or stories they’ve heard from their friends, and to start to think about what they might to consider in their postpartum plans. It also offers them a chance to learn that some of their own feelings and concerns are shared by others. Pregnant and non-pregnant people have appreciated dedicated time to think about and process the emotional needs of both people during this time of great transition.
Alternative uses and conclusion
You could also use these books to dig into some of the feelings and experiences during pregnancy or labor in the same type of activity. I plan to use them as prompts in some labor role-play scenarios in a future class. If you have blocks or cubes that you can write on, it would be fun to have each partner roll for an emotion and then brainstorm or role-play a situation during labor or the postpartum period where they might come up at the same time. In one of my classes, a group of non-pregnant parents ended up chatting primarily about how their newborns would be experiencing these things – when their babies would feel shy or more interactive; what might make a newborn sad; how they could teach their kids to be brave and to listen. While it did take them away from the postpartum discussion a bit, it was exciting to hear them diving into some pretty complex Newborn Care topics that we hadn’t even touched on yet. I’m so looking forward to introducing my cute little board books into other topics! After reading this idea, do you have additional thoughts on how these little book sets could be used in your childbirth classes?
About Mallory Emerson
Mallory Emerson, LCCE is a childbirth educator in the Seattle area. She currently teaches Great Starts classes with Parent Trust for Washington Children and is a Perinatal Educator at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, WA. Mallory is passionate about providing evidence-based information to new families so that they can confidently navigate the decisions of pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. Mallory first trained with the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations at Bastyr University in 2014. She is a Great Starts certified educator and also completed the Passion for Birth training before becoming a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator in 2017