By Katherine Steen, BS, MAIS, LCCE
Childbirth educators may work in this field at many points in their life. They may be childless, they may have young children or their children may be out on their own. I believe one of the most interesting times to be a childbirth educator is when you yourself are pregnant and expecting a baby. To be teaching on the topic of labor and birth to pregnant families at the exact time that you are also preparing for your own labor and birth can create some interesting class dynamics. I asked my friend and colleague Katherine Steen, LCCE, to share what her experience has been like teaching classes while she prepares to welcome her second little one Here is her story! – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility
As educators, we work hard to minimize bias in our teaching. However, there is no hiding the fact that teaching birth classes while pregnant changes one’s perspective. I began my career as a childbirth educator about a year after my first child was born. In January 2014, I learned I was pregnant with my second child. Here are a few of my experiences.
Unlike my first pregnancy, I experienced nausea this time around, which made teaching difficult at times. I did my best to nibble during teaching to ward off the queasies and wore long sleeves to hide my Sea Bands. My second biggest challenge was fatigue. I normally teach 3.5 hour classes on Saturdays in a facility where it takes me about an hour on each end to set up and clean up. By the time I got home, I was ready for a nap. Unfortunately, my 4 year old did not always share my enthusiasm for sleep. A third challenge was transportation to and from class. I was used to riding the bus or my bike 12 miles round trip since we are a one car family, but was physically unable to, thanks to the nausea and fatigue. This meant I relied on my partner to drop me off and pick me up for class each week.
Breaking the News
Because I experienced a miscarriage previously, I was hesitant to reveal my pregnancy to my students until after the first trimester. Once I revealed my pregnancy, I began to get questions from students about my choices of provider and birth place. I am hesitant to reveal things about my choices as I don’t want to impose my values on them, but if a student asks me one on one I am generally inclined to tell them the truth. At the time, I was able to say I had not decided (which was true). It was most interesting when I began having reunions for series I taught early in the year when I revealed to students that I was pregnant while teaching their series. They reassured me that they couldn’t tell how tired and nauseous I had been and were quite excited for me.
Following My Own Advice
When it came time to pick a provider, I had a different perspective than in my first pregnancy. Not only were my needs and interests different at this point in my life, but I had a wealth of knowledge about evidence based maternity care and a broader perspective on the variations of pregnancy and birth to consider. In interviewing providers, I brought a copy of the Groopman-Hartzband Medical Mindset Spectrums (a worksheet created by Kim James and Laurie Levy, adapted from Your Medical Mind: How to Decide What is Right for You, by Groopman and ) to discuss and asked about experiences/protocols for long, slow labors, premature rupture of membranes, and pregnancies that proceed into the 41st week. When a concern arose during off hours, I found myself thinking about what I would say to my students if they were in my position. Would I tell them to page their provider or call in the morning?
Increased Empathy and Concern
While I physically felt better in my second trimester, the reality of our parallel life experiences continued to factor into my teaching. The first change I noticed was that I had much more empathy for pregnancy discomforts and decision making challenges. Suddenly the reality of my students became more real for me and I found myself physically feeling their twinges. I had so many opportunities to access pregnant women, postpartum families, and their scary (and wonderful) stories and my attitude toward their experiences was split.
On the one hand, I felt increasing non-attachment to their birth choices. Whereas previously I had felt disappointed when a birth did not meet a student’s expectations or when families at a reunion struggled with breastfeeding or had highly interventive births, I began to hear beauty and joy in birth stories that did not go according to plan. As long as a family was satisfied with the experience, I considered it a success. I began to envision alternate realities for my own birth and come to terms with the idea that it could go any number of ways and still be a great experience.
On the other hand, my concern and empathy for those who had scary experiences was magnified. For example, when one of my students gave birth prematurely, the situation seemed so much more relevant to me as our due dates were only a few weeks apart. Or when a family shared the story of their baby’s lengthy NICU stay due to oxygen deprivation during the birth process, my heart was heavy.
I also began to lead a postpartum support group during this time and took to heart the pregnancy, breastfeeding, and birth challenges the women in the group faced. In all of these situations, I simply did my best to hide the tears that sometimes arose without warning and tried to focus on supporting their journeys. It was good practice for me to minimize sharing my personal experience and encourage the mothers to tap into their intuition and share ideas with each other.
Don’t forget to eat, drink, pee, and sit down!
Once again, teaching was physically challenging. I began to place a chair or birth ball close to the front of the room in an effort to remind myself to sit down periodically. I filled my plate at the beginning of each class with the snacks the students brought and made sure my water bottle was close at hand. I often found myself joking with students as we met in the restroom during every break as well as before and after class.
Figuring out what to wear while teaching was also a challenge. Even before I was pregnant, I taught in short sleeves year round because I have no control over the temperature at my sites. Lately, keeping cool has been even more challenging because this summer has been quite warm by Seattle standards. I went through several sizes of maternity khakis and finally decided they were too hot. I switched to skirts, but discovered how difficult it is to demonstrate lunges without flashing the class. I started having my doula/cbe observers demo for me in addition to assisting students. I cannot quite bring myself to teach in shorts, though I did resort to sandals a few times. And then there was the day I discovered I had outgrown all my bras.
Between teaching two series at once (something I rarely do) and being pregnant, I had any number of moments when I found myself asking my students if we talked about something in a previous class because I honestly couldn’t remember. And forgetting the words for things. Like what’s that pushing position when you are not quite sitting, not quite lying down? Well, at least I showed them what it looks like. And then there was the week I read the snack schedule wrong and reminded the families to bring snack a week early. Thank goodness my students are on top of things and e-mailed me to clarify.
One last thing that I didn’t anticipate was how I would start to remember more clearly my postpartum experience as my pregnancy progressed. One evening, I found myself describing some of the physical and emotional realities of that difficult time in far greater detail than I am usually capable. I paused to look at my students’ faces and saw pure shock. I want to adequately prepare them for the challenge that awaits as well as the range of experiences that are normal during postpartum, but I don’t want to scare the pants off them. I ended the class and nobody moved. Somehow I came up with a quick, confidence boosting statement and they began to gather their things. Did I go too far? My trusty observer seemed to think they would recover.
Here I sit with one more class to teach before taking some time off to welcome baby. I will not miss spending two hours every Saturday schlepping my materials up three floors and moving furniture. I will miss building rapport with students and am looking forward to three class reunions in a few months.
What has been your experience of teaching while pregnant? What are the joys and challenges for you? Please share your experiences and discuss with me in the comments section.
About Katherine Steen
Katherine Steen, BS, MAIS, LCCE, has been teaching childbirth classes since 2012. She currently teaches for the Great Starts program of the Parent Trust for Washington Children in Seattle, WA. Prior to the birth of her daughter, she spent 10 years working as an educator in zoological parks. In addition to teaching birth classes, she loves to cook, garden, read and spend time outdoors. Her current fitness endeavors are water aerobics and prenatal yoga. She is expecting her second child in September 2014.