Wednesday 29 June 2011

7 Reasons Why Prenatal Classes are Bullshit

Before I had babies, thanks to TV,  I thought that the birthing process went something as follows:

With no warning, and usually when there is some kind of crisis, the expectant mother will drop several buckets of water onto the floor and confidently announce, "The baby is coming!"  The father will suddenly start freaking out and running around everywhere to try and get his wife to the hospital and with good reason.  He has about fifteen minutes to get there or else his wife will have to hilariously deliver their baby in any number of places: a taxi cab, church or sporting event for example.  As the mother stands there puffing her face up with the ridiculous and overly complicated breathing patterns she watches her husband grab everything, shove it into the car in record time (because of course they have been practicing with dry runs for months now) and then drive away without her.

Once he realizes what he's done he will return and get his wife who by now is screaming like a banshee.  She screams at him, "No way! There's no time! This baby is coming now!"  A bunch of people start boiling water while Dad lifts up his wife's skirt (because apparently all pregnant women wear dresses all the time) and magically delivers a six month old baby without even having to remove his wife's nylons and underwear.  Everybody is happy and healthy and the audience cheers.  Roll credits.

Clearly I was well-prepared with this helpful information but then my doctor told me that women who take prenatal classes are statistically less likely to need medical intervention during childbirth.  This sounded great to me because I am terrified of surgery.  How terrified am I?  I would rather squeeze that baby's melon through my pelvic cage the old-fashioned way.  Well it turns out that for all that the prenatal classes prepared me for childbirth I may as well have stuck to sitcoms.  Here is a list of the seven ways prenatal classes are total bullshit.

1)  Welcome to prenatal class.  We are totally bullshit.  Yup.  That was my first lesson.  The public health nurse, let's call her Joanna, stood up in front of us and owned that shit.  The very first thing she told us was that only about 10% of births take fifteen minutes through underwear barriers in the back of a cab.  She said that every birth was unique and that no matter what you did to prepare some crazy, unpredictable shit will go down to render all of your preparations completely fucking useless.   Well Joanna, I have to admit this does not inspire confidence.

At this point you may be wondering why I stayed long enough to graduate.  Mostly because they were free.  I skipped paying the $40 by lying about my age and enrolling myself into a prenatal class for single teens.  This worked because at the time Daddy was busy working two jobs in preparation for his new family and thus couldn't go to any of the classes with me.  Instead I went with Mummy Dearest.  Which brings me to my next point:

2) Your instructor may be a little out of touch.  I should have known I was in trouble when Mummy recognized Joanna as the public health nurse who taught the prenatal class she took when she was pregnant with me.  Yup.  The same woman who educated my mother about standard hospital births which at that time included: routine pubic shaving, routine enemas (because I guess the doctors didn't like it when women shit on the floor pushing out the baby) and routine episiotomies (or as a friend of mine calls it "butt-snipping").  This was one short generation from knocking the mother out with ether until it was all over. 

3)  Breastfeeding is beautiful and natural and free and best for your baby and might hurt like hellWait, what was that last part?  Umm...hello?  I didn't hear the last part!  Could you please repeat the last part!?!  Joanna?

4)  To save time let's just make stuff up.  After all, Joanna couldn't be bothered to check her facts or update them in any meaningful way, so she might just invent stories to make you feel better.  One fairytale I particularly resented was the bullshit story she made up about epidurals.  A lot of moms worry and feel guilty about the epidural.  Joanna decided that it was better to make you feel better about it rather than give you actually useful information.  She told us about some mythical thing called a "walking epidural".  "Oh no," she told us, "doctors like to only give enough of the epidural to take the edge off the pain.  You can still feel your contractions and feel like you are a part of the birthing process.  Also it allows you to be able to walk around during your labour so that gravity can help bring the baby sooner."  That sounds great!  Sign me up!

Flash forward.  I had been labouring in agony for about 16 hours when a nurse, tired of listening to my racket and after repeated requests to calm the fuck down (she was lovely) offered me the epidural.  Weak and exhausted I agreed knowing that I would get this magical walking epidural.  Two hours later I was lying flat on my back on a bed that could only be described as a table with a cot mattress on it, frozen solid from the tits down. When I asked about the walking epidural all they did was laugh at me.  Oh, and by the way that is how hospital staff answers any reasonable question:

Me:  Is it really necessary for me to lie flat on my back?  Isn't that bad for the baby?

Nurse: (laugh)

Me:  Well coudn't I just prop myself up with a pillow or something?  I'm feeling a little whoozy like this...

Nurse: (laugh)

Me:  How about just a little less anesthesia?  I'm kind of like a living corpse here.

Nurse: (laugh)

5)  When you are in labour you can bring snacks from home.  But you can't actually have any of those snacks.  Those popsicles and lollipops you thought would be so nice to have are now verboten especially if you were stupid enough to agree to the epidural.  Because maybe you might throw up a little bit.  And if there's anything that does not belong in a hospital it is vomit.

Me:  I haven't had anything to eat or drink in about 20 hours.  Could I have a popsicle, please?

Nurse: (laugh)

Me:  Seriously, I don't see the big deal, it's just frozen flavoured water, not a sandwich.

Nurse: (laugh)

6)  Let's talk about birth and labour positions.  We spent about two whole classes bouncing on exercise balls, leaning on chairs, standing on all fours.  My epidural rendered all of this bullshit for the reasons mentioned above, but even if it hadn't what I found out was that as soon as you are admitted into a birthing room they strap you with a great big belt that looks like one of those abdominal exercise devices you can wear that does your situps for you.  Not only is it tight and incredibly uncomfortable but when a woman is in labour, most often she cannot stand to have anything touching her belly.  When I was in labour I didn't want anyone touching me.  Period.  But there was nothing I could do about it because when I asked, well...

I found out later that this device is not really necessary.  It is because the hospital staff is too lazy busy to take your baby's heart rate every twenty minutes or so.  Believe me, if you are strapped to that thing you can kiss many of the positions you practiced in class goodbye.

7)  You can have whoever you like in the room with you.  But only if your doctor is cool with it.  It turns out that most doctors don't like having to work under conditions similar to a reality TV show.  They get really annoyed when there is a crowd of friends and relatives sporting video cameras and making bad jokes while they are trying to work.  I accidentally found a way out of this.

Having no idea yet how much Joanna had lied to us, I invited Daddy, Mummy, my best friend Liz, and of course "Grampa" Kitty.  It turns out that the success of this plan hinges on having a "Grampa" Kitty.  "Grampa" Kitty is one of Mummy's sisters with whom she was living at the time.  The joke was because Step-Dad lives in another country and Stu, well, was Stu, I didn't really have a proper grandfather to offer my baby.  And so we jokingly nicknamed Aunt Kitty as "Grampa".  When push came to shove, literally, the doctor gave a very annoyed look at all the people in the room, sighed, "Why not?  Hell, let them all come in." and went back to work.  What I later found out was that during my 36 hours of labour the hospital staff overheard us calling Aunt Kitty "Grampa" enough times that they took her to be one of my lesbian moms.  Apparently they did not want to deal with the possible repercussions of asking them to leave so they just let it slide.

(Dear Hospital Staff:  We were actually cool with you thinking my mother and her sister were lesbian life-partners but in the future you should know that gay couples do not have a designated "man-figure" and "woman-figure".  That is just something straight people need in order for gay couples to fit into their hetero-dominated stereotypical thinking.  I'm just saying when you have a lesbian couple having their baby at your hospital, resist your urge to congratulate the "dad".)

You can't really take any of the things written here as solid advice for what to expect for your birth experience.  It was ten years ago and I know that hospitals love to change the way they do things and then show proper, sneering disdain for the previous policies which must truly have been medieval by comparison.  When I had Frack I opted for mid-wife care and it was awesome because your midwife can bypass a lot of hospital procedures.  What you should take away from this is that your prenatal classes may very well be full of shit, every birth experience really is different and there may not be a hell of a lot you can do to prepare.

But as one last word of warning understand that if you do take the prenatal class they will force you at some point to listen to Enya.

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