One of the side effects of the viral gentle caesarean video I shared last week is that I have been contacted by many women wanting to find out how to have such an caesarean, and I also received many unrelated questions from anxious pregnant women.
It has been quite an eye opener for me, because normally I work with women who have chosen to have me as their antenatal educator or as their doula. This means that I rarely interact with women who have no such support in place.
I know that statistically, less than 20 % of all expectant couples attend any form of antenatal education. This includes free NHS classes.
I find this very odd, because it is a most important and one probably one of the most important transition of a couple’s life. Yet for most very little time or money is spent on preparing for it.
I wonder if this is linked to the lack of value our culture places on parenting, but, hey that’s the subject of another (or many other blog posts) altogether.
Compare to what the average British couple spends on a wedding (£20K according to Money Saving Expert…). Yet which of the two events is going to have the biggest impact on the rest of your life? I know people think of medical staff as the experts in childbirth, so they think it’s ok to just turn up and “go with the flow”. But wedding planners are the experts in weddings, and you wouldn’t just tell them “just decide everything for me”, or you wouldn’t say about your wedding “I’m just going to wing it”. Would you? My doula friend Maddie McMahon wrote an excellent blog post about it.
If you want what is right for YOU, you need to find out what’s out there, what the options available are, what the stats for your local hospital are (you can find that here by the way), and much more.
Imagine for a minute if expectant couples in the UK spent only half of what they spend on their wedding on preparing for their births? Or even a quarter? The world of childbirth would change. People would be so educated, there would be more classes, more doulas, more support, everybody would find it normal, heck even maybe the NHS would get more funding if expectant couples demanded it!
But back to the topic of this post: If you want to educate yourself about the birth (and the postnatal period too-that’s just as important), there are three main options: The DIY version (teach yourself), the group version (antenatal classes) and the one to one version (hiring a doula).
By the way, when I am talking about preparation here I am thinking both birth and preparation for postnatal life/parenthood.
1) The DIY option:
What is out there if you choose to teach yourself? Well , there are countless books, scientific and lay articles, blog posts, social media groups, and so on, on the topic of birth and parenting. You can pick and choose, read at your leisure, exchange ideas with people online, the list is endless. There is a lot to read. All you need is time and dedication. There is nothing inherently wrong from this approach, and it also complements well the other two approaches below. Coming back to the wedding analogy, “DIY” weddings can be quirky and wonderful. It’s going to be the right approach for some people. But for others, it won’t be. The tricky part with self learning is that, at least at the beginning, you might not be able to discern between what is based on facts and what is merely an opinion, or just plain untrue, or not right for you. Because you do not know what you don’t know, you might miss out on important facts that you didn’t know about, or were relevant to your particular situation (the “I wish I had known…” situation). What your friends rave about may not suit you, but you may not know that until you try it so you might end up spending your money on books and equipment for nothing, or you could end up buying into ideas that will actually turn out to be wrong for you and your family. The opinions you’ll get from exchanging knowledge with others are also unlikely to be unbiased, because people will tell you what worked for them or what didn’t. It might not be true for you and your baby. The costs range from free (reading online, getting books from the library etc), to quite a bit if you end up buying a lot of books and equipment. You will also need to invest a lot of time-which you may not have.
2) The group approach
What about antenatal classes? These tend to be done in groups of various sizes, which means you might get a great social support network out of them (which is I believe one of the top reasons people sign up for them). There is a whole range out there, from NHS classes to various private classes like those provided by the NCT (which are free for low income couples by the way) and various other organisations. Some classes are generally birth and parenting knowledge based (a mix of physical emotional and practical knowledge), some focus more specifically on some aspects of birth preparation (like Hypnobirthing classes), and some are exercise and/or relaxation based (like pregnancy yoga). The exercise based classes also usually incorporate an element of discussion. Partners usually accompany you to the group classes. Private classes are usually facilitated by people who are knowledgeable about birth and parenting, and passionate about empowering parents. There is a chance to ask questions and find out about a whole bunch of information you didn’t know existed, and build your confidence. Coming back to the wedding analogy, this is the equivalent of booking in a venue that provides all the catering under one roof-there will be choice, but from a limited list. You just need to make sure you pick the right venue. Because the classes are group based, there may not be enough time to address your individual concerns and needs in the depth that would suit your needs. Your teacher might be available to answer your questions by email between classes , but won’t be available 24/7 when you need support. You can also book one to one antenatal classes. Prices range from free (NHS classes) to about £200 to £400 for knowledge based group classes. The time is usually something from around 6 to 16h for a course.
3) The one to one approach
What about hiring a doula? A doula is like having your own birth coach. A doula will provide truly individualised support, and guide you through the maze of conflicting information, using her intuition and the information you give her so suggest links, articles, books etc which are more likely to float your boat. She will be there to hold you and your partner’s hands every step of the way, making sure you have all the information you need, all the emotional support you need (she will always be there for you-if you have a questions or a wobble, she is only an email, text or phone call away), that you and your partner feel confident and prepared for the birth and postnatal period (out of the three options above she is also the only one who can be there to support you both DURING and AFTER the birth as well as before). She will help you write your birth preferences. Your doula will meet you in the comfort of your own home at least a couple of time during your pregnancy so you get to know her and become comfortable with her, and there is no limit on email and phone support. This is truly one to one tailored to you need support in every sense of the way. In wedding analogy terms this is like hiring a wedding planner, and everything being bespoke. I have written a specific blog about that-Ten things a doula does to prepare you for the birth of your baby. What about the costs? Hiring a doula ranges from free (couples in receipt of benefit can apply for the doula UK access fund) to around £300 to £400 for a mentored (newly qualified) doula, to £600 to £2000 for a recognised doula. The time involved is usually at least 4h to 6h of antenatal face to face time, as well as unlimited email and phone support, and support throughout the whole of your labour and birth, be it 3h or 3 days long.
So there you have it-three options to prepare for birth and parenthood-they aren’t mutually exclusive either. But it’s good to know what is available, and what you get for your money 🙂
I know I’m biaised because I am a doula. And I also know I haven’t written any disadvantages of hiring a doula, but this is because I genuinely cannot think of any! I once was that pregnant mother myself, and I had a doula, and I know how much of a difference it made. It is difficult to describe with words, and often, mothers don’t really understand the full value of their doula after they have been doula’ed themselves. This is what led me on this path. I feel very strongly that every woman deserves a doula.