6.03.2005

Childbirth Class with Josef Mengele's Head Nurse

[This post is backdated - it should've been posted last week.]

I mentioned in passing that Anna and I have begun a childbirth class. Last night was our second session, and though we're going to stick it out, I have to say that we're not too impressed thus far. A little background: the course is taught by one of the nurses from our OB-GYN's office, one floor up from the maternity ward where Frankie will be delivered, and is attended by 7 other couples, a gal who's accompanied by her mother, and one solo mom whose husband is away for several months on business in Korea. These are all first-time parents, as you'd probably expect. Surprisingly, we are not the oldest of the bunch. Unfortunately, we're both older than our nurse-teacher, who appears to be at least a year or two shy of thirty. I don't mean to be ageist, but I'd be a lot more confident in the class if it was taught by someone who at least looks like she's seen more than a half dozen births. Each time she hesitates before answering a question that both Anna and I know the answer to, I cringe a little. My primary complaint, however, has little to do with her age or relative inexperience. What bothers me most is the fact that she seems oblivious to the enormous volumes of anxiety her class is generating.

In our first meeting, after the parents-to-be introduced themselves to one another, our nurse-teacher asked each of the expectant mothers to list their chief concerns with regard to childbirth. They needed very little prodding to produce a long list of worries: pain, emergency c-sections, episiotomies, post-partum depression, unresponsive doctors and nurses, and a variety of complications associated with labor, the delivery, and pain medications. It took longer for the women to generate the list of worries than it did for our nurse-teacher to flippantly dismiss each of these anxieties. This was hardly a reassuring exercise. Then came the film. In a teaching style reminiscent of my 8th grade Texas History teacher, coach Hyde, our nurse-teacher's favorite pedagogical tool is the VCR. Our class ended with scenes from two delivery rooms, the gruesomeness of which did little more than convince me that I want to be nowhere near the business end of Frankie's delivery when that time comes. I know, I know -
miracle of life and whatnot. Intellectually, I'm right there with you, but I can't help that I'm deeply disturbed by close-up shots of a vagina stretched beyond the limits of my male imagination, followed by a torrent of blood, afterbirth, and the passing of the placenta. And lest you attribute this reaction to my fragile male sensibilities or some misguided and outmoded brand of masculinity, let me assure you that Anna was no less disturbed. At the conclusion of the second birth scene, we were dismissed, and we all left the classroom in silence. Anna looked at me with terrified eyes. "I have to do that?" As we queued up for the elevators, each of the couples had the same stunned, my-God-what-have-we-done look. We came here looking for reassurance, but had somehow stumbled into some kind of scared straight seminar. My only productive thought was that these videos should be compulsory viewing for every teenager in America. We could cut the teen pregnancy rate in half overnight.

We chalked that disasterous first class up to the fact that our nurse-teacher hasn't been doing this for very long. Surely she'd pull out of this nosedive and give us some solid, practical advice for dealing with our mounting anxieties. The second class began with a hurried lesson on the stages of labor. The women were asked how long the average labor for a first birth lasts, and the answers were once again readily given: 3 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours. Each response was met with a gentle prod from our nurse-teacher -
warmer, warmer - but nobody came close to the actual answer: 12-14 hours! Jaws dropped, eyes bulged, and the silence of horror gripped the room. Our nurse-teacher seemed surprised by the reaction, smiled, and tried to reassure the mothers-to-be by telling them that most of this time passed during the early stage of labor, and that the active stage usually lasted only 3-6 hours at the most. And then, more video! I knew at this point we were in trouble, but as with all first-time parents, Anna and I are desperately seeking guidance and advice, so we watched, trusting that our nurse-teacher would eventually pull it together and provide some actual fear-allaying advice. Once again, the video produced the now-familiar squeamish feeling and magnified our general sense of anxiety and uncertainty. But we'd been instructed to bring pillows this week, and had been promised some actual, practical pain management exercises, the first indication that this class was not designed primarily to deter anyone from even thinking about getting pregnant.

Our nurse-teacher instructed us to sit on the floor, then handed each couple two wooden clothespins. She explained that there are three main breathing exercises that can help alleviate pain and keep the mother focused during labor: the
hee-hee-whoooo method that you're probably familiar with if you've ever seen a dramatic reenactment of labor on television or in a movie, and two variations on this method, which basically involve changing the number of hees before the whoooo. She then asked each of us to put a clothespin on one of our earlobes. "It hurts, huh?" She told us to leave the clothespin on for 30 seconds without talking. "That seemed like a long time, huh? Now try it, but do the breathing exercise." Anna and I tried earnestly to do as we were instructed, heeing and whoooing with the rest of the class. "Time's up! See, that wasn't as bad? Okay, that's it for breathing exercises! See you next class." We looked at each other in disbelief. This was the first pragmatic exercise in anxiety relief, and the whole thing took less than five minutes. Neither of us felt like we'd mastered even this simple method, and we were downright shocked at the prospect that this was the end of our training. Again, the increasingly frightened parents-to-be filed out in silence. After two classes, I think it's a safe bet that we're all a lot more nervous than when we'd started. How is that even possible?

We're going to continue going to the class, if only to test the theory that it can't get any worse. However, we're also seeking outside advice for pain management during labor (and don't say "epidural," because we're way ahead of you on that one!). So, if any of you moms out there have any tips and wisdom to share, we'd be much appreciative, as always. And don't worry, you can't scare us any more than we already are!

8 Comments:

Blogger Silver Zephyr said...

I’m surprised Dave didn’t mention that we have a father-to-be conspiracy theorist in our class. Last class, he voiced some fears about results for baby tests for disease being given the US Census Bureau for misuse. It makes class a little more interesting at least.

8:21 AM  
Blogger MommaS said...

Well, guys, I "hee-hee-whooed" thru 20 hours (2:30pm until 10:30am) of labor, and up until 4:00am, I walked, took a warm shower/bath, (couldn't stand-up too long), tried to sleep (HA!), and then got the epidural from the man I would marry if it weren't for Chris. (you will love Dr. Epidural). After Epi-man, I slept, and talked on the phone. Pushing? Whatever. I couldn't feel a thing. But obviously Mother Nature knows her stuff, because little guy got here. And Dave, as far as staying North of the action, Chris wanted to do that. Turns out he's too damned nosy, and had to be the 1st to see his kid. So, I have NO secrets left. Anna, if those obscene individuals ask if you want a mirror, just remind them that you haven't seen that thing yet, and you're pretty sure you don't want to see it in this condition. Everyone says it's all different when it's your own child, and I didn't believe them. But then...seems like everyone was right.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Critical Mess said...

i stand corrected: that is definitely scarier than i'd imagined.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Brandi (Bud's Wife) said...

If you ask me...and I work in Labor & Delivery and witness a lot of hee-hee-whooing...the classes are pointless. You forget all you learned when it comes right down to it and the most important thing is to remember to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth...big deep breaths. Most people want to hold their breath through contractions- not a good idea for the little one. You guys sound like you will do great!

1:16 AM  
Blogger MommaS said...

Anna, when I say "thing", I meant your personals, not little Frankie!

S

6:52 AM  
Blogger Silver Zephyr said...

we were so bad - we skipped class last night. we ate smoke pork that dave cooked in his new father's day present. it was way better than watching birth videos.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: All the stretching and episotomies (Kristina tells me that men should never utter the "e" word)--
Kristina forgot how to breathe, much less breathe in a designated pattern. Walking around, showering, and reading trivial pursuit cards (for a short time) helped. In the end, though, K and A breeched, leading to a C-Section--a much undervalued method that is a large improvement on "natural" childbirth. Seriously, K loved her anesthesiologist (Dr. Cross)--she had a spinal, and was lucid during the miracle... she enjoyed going through the moment without any pain.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Jolie said...

Re: All the stretching and episotomies (Kristina tells me that men should never utter the "e" word)--
Kristina forgot how to breathe, much less breathe in a designated pattern. Walking around, showering, and reading trivial pursuit cards (for a short time) helped. In the end, though, K and A breeched, leading to a C-Section--a much undervalued method that is a large improvement on "natural" childbirth. Seriously, K loved her anesthesiologist (Dr. Cross)--she had a spinal, and was lucid during the miracle... she enjoyed going through the moment without any pain.

7:22 PM  

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