You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know: Why Childbirth Education Is Important

Women's support group

I’m going to admit a little bit of an uncomfortable secret. For all its shameless self-absorption and cringe-worthy over-sharing, I have been a loyal fan of the HBO series Girls. I’ve stuck it out with Hannah Horvath–sometimes against my better judgment–even though I’m well beyond the target demographic.

So in this final season, I’ve been paying pretty close attention to Hannah’s pregnancy, thinking this is a little closer to my skill set. When the series finale aired, I was sure we’d be treated to Lena Dunham’s no-holds-barred interpretation of childbirth and I was braced for it. So you can imagine how horrified I was by the opening: Five Months Later.

And this got me fuming. After all, isn’t this the show that shines an unapologetically bright light on so many uncomfortable, even taboo topics? And they chose to gloss over Hannah’s birth? I consider that a missed opportunity for the show, but it shouldn’t really be surprising; given the way we talk about and portray birth in this country. It seems like there are basically two ways childbirth gets handled: either as a sweaty, screaming, high-drama affair, or we cut to Five Months Later.

Is it any wonder that many women and their partners approach their births with myths, half-truths and a lot of fear?

Taking The Mystery Out Of The Conversation 

One of the very best ways we can combat this culture of misinformation is to take the mystery and myth out of the conversation. And the best way to do that is to provide high-quality childbirth education that is current, evidence-based, and highly sensitive to the needs of apprehensive new parents.

But with an estimated 34% of all mothers taking childbirth classes (according to the Listening to Mothers III survey, 2013) and that number falling nationally, clearly many expecting parents aren’t even sure if they should be taking classes or if the information would be relevant to them.

Why Education Matters

They should, and it would. People enroll in classes for lots of different reasons. Some are looking for natural coping techniques. Some people have been told to expect a certain type of birth or intervention and they want to know more about it. Some people come because they have special medical considerations and want to know how that might impact their birth.

Some people haven’t thought about the birth process since 7th grade health class and want to brush up on the basics. Some people want to know the best way to be supportive during labor. Comprehensive childbirth classes address all of these needs and more.

Some of our most common comments after class are “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” and “I had no idea we’d talk about so much.” And my favorite: “I feel so much more prepared!”

In the introduction to my classes, I tell people, “Bottom line, I want you to have a great time giving birth to your babies. I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation to have.”

The response to that statement varies, but it’s often the first time many people have thought about birth that way, instead of a by-definition painful and frightening event to simply get through. The possibility that this might be a positive experience—even an empowering one—seems like a radical notion. I would have loved to see Hannah embrace that possibility and begin motherhood just a little more confident and powerful. (And wouldn’t that just fix Marnie??)

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Amy B. Hopkins, ICCE, ICD

Amy B. Hopkins, ICCE, ICD, is Coordinator of Women and Children’s Education.  

Education: A graduate of William Smith College, Ms. Hopkins is a Certified Childbirth Educator and Certified Doula through the International Childbirth Education Association.

Call: 717-544-3700

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