Soon after getting pregnant, I started looking into childbirth classes, and I quickly became convinced that Bradley classes would work best for me and my husband. He’s very practical, and everything I read made it seem like Bradley was straightforward, practical learning — this is what you DO to help things go how you want them to. I signed us up and we met after work for our first class.
I knew almost immediately that the class was not what I was expecting it to be. I expected my husband to be a little resistant, but I also expected to feel like I should defend the class. I couldn’t. He said he hated how it all felt like a sales pitch for itself, that it tried to tell us, “Yes, you CAN have an unmedicated birth, but only with US!” and I agreed with him. He hated the format of the class, too — the instructor read us questions straight out of the workbook and we wrote down the answers. Not a good learning style for either of us. I don’t know how much of this is related to the method, and how much was our particular instructor. I know Bradley classes are great for some people. They just weren’t right for us.
We decided we would create our own childbirth preparation plan. I was nervous at first — it felt really risky to drop the well-known method and teach ourselves about something we didn’t have experience with. I was worried we wouldn’t stick to it without the structure of a class, but we decided, with the support and encouragement of a family friend who used to teach Lamaze, that we would commit.
There was part of me that still wanted to do a class, even though we were creating a custom plan. I wanted to meet other new parents-to-be and to do some reflection in a semi-structured setting. We decided to take a Birthing From Within “intensive” class, which met two Saturdays a month apart for six hours each day. My husband was bit skeptical, but a good sport, and I enjoyed it. This was much more the dynamic I had hoped for at our first class attempt. I got the things I wanted from a group class, it didn’t take as much of our time, and we still got to do preparation on our own that was more meaningful and useful for both of us. Pretty ideal.
I read three books, and they were all very helpful for me.
Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz helped me prepare emotionally for the rite of passage side of things. It helped me explore my thoughts and feelings about birth and parenthood and work through some fears.
Mindful Birthing by Nancy Bardacke was perfect for emotional preparation for the actual acts of labor, delivery, and parenting. The biggest takeaway for me was that between contractions, your body can actually feel GOOD because of all the endorphins. You just have to be present enough to not spend that time thinking about the pain of the last contraction or fearing the pain of the next one. And for the contractions themselves, be present with the pain. It also had good reminders about being present for, and ok with, however your birth goes.
Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel was great for practical preparation for interactions with my birth team at the hospital. A lot of reading about natural birth had left me prepared for a fight, but this book gave lots of suggestions for how to advocate for what you want without being confrontational. It helped me write a birth plan using positive language and increased my confidence.
I also followed, loosely, some of the practices outlined in Mindful Birthing. I purchased the audio cd and practiced several times with the Body Scan and Yoga tracks. I did physical preparation like kegels and pelvic tilts regularly as well.
We initially wanted to do preparation as a couple every week, but we ended up skipping some weeks. We created an initial plan with the topics we wanted to cover and ended up adding and changing things as we went along. Here’s a rough outline of what we did:
Week 1: Guided audio meditation
Week 2: Create a birth plan
Week 3: Learn about Lamaze principles
Week 4: Practice pain practices from Birthing from Within
Week 5: Guided audio meditation
Week 6: Learn about the stages of labor
Week 7: Practice pain practices from Birthing from Within
Week 8: Learn about C-sections
Week 9: Learn about BRANN (Asking about a suggested intervention’s Benefits, Risks, and Alternatives and ask what happens if we do Nothing for Now) and discuss
Week 10: Learn about breastfeeding
Week 11: Learn about cloth diapers and practice with teddy bears
I am currently 35 weeks pregnant and with remaining weeks, we plan to learn more about massage and touch during labor, attend an infant and child CPR class, and do some more meditation.
How to create your own plan
If childbirth preparation doesn’t feel like it’s working for you either, design your own!
Think about what is important to you to know before giving birth — practically, spiritually, and emotionally. Then find resources that address those topics. Apart from the books I read, we found a lot of helpful videos online. If you aren’t sure where to find a particular resource, ask friends and family, or find a like-minded group online.
Consider your learning style. My husband and I both like self-guided and hands-on learning. Just watching a video on cloth diapering wouldn’t have been much help, but watching a video and then practicing worked. I also learn by speaking with others, whereas my husband is more introspective. We compromised here by going to the intensive class. I also found support online with other expecting moms.
Consider your existing beliefs and resources. After the Bradley class we attended, I told my husband that I wanted to learn resources for being present with the pain. “Don’t we already have a spiritual practice that is exactly about that?” he asked me, referring to our Zen Buddhist practice. This helped guide me toward the Mindful Birthing book and CD. Even if your existing resources for coping with pain or difficulty don’t have explicit materials on birth, consider how you might incorporate them!
Be flexible. Our preparation schedule definitely changed over time. We figured out more things we wanted to learn about and decided other things weren’t as important. That’s one of the great things about creating your own plan — it can change depending on what works!
I can’t tell you how well any of our preparation worked yet, but I have a feeling it will do just as well as a more traditional class series. It also felt really great working together to find something that worked for us — that fit with our spirituality and learning styles and didn’t feel like an obligation. It made me feel closer to my husband and I think we both got a lot more out of it. Most importantly, I think the act of creating and following through on the plan together itself helped prepare us for the teamwork we’ll need for birth and parenting.