I was asked to do a talk to student midwives at Salford University in January on the topic of “Women’s Voices” in maternity care. As part of my presentation I included the voices of the midwives who work in maternity care, and a reminder that there are many other women for whom maternity care is their professional, as well as perhaps their personal, experience. “Women’s Voices” in maternity care should cover the midwives, obstetricians, health visitors, doulas who care for us, as well as the women giving birth.
So I decided to start a series of blog posts on “Women’s Voices in #MatExp” from the point of view of those working in maternity, and this is the seventh of those. This is Fleur Parker’s experience as an antenatal teacher – thank you so much to Fleur for agreeing to write for us. You can read the other blogs in the series here:
Your Breastfeeding Supporter
And yes, I will be doing a “Men’s Voices in #MatExp” series too. Because this campaign is about all voices.
I am putting my head above the parapet to say I am an Antenatal Teacher.
I’m not sure why, but recently we have been getting a lot of flak. Sometimes it feels as if everything that is wrong with birth is the fault of the antenatal teachers. On Twitter famous names berate us and newspaper columnists lampoon us
So writing this piece is taking quite a lot of courage and I hope I can do us proud.
There are many, many antenatal teachers – those of us who work with expectant parents during pregnancy to help them prepare for labour, birth, the fourth trimester and the early days as a parent. We come in different sizes, shapes, colours, languages and approaches. There is not a one size fits all approach.
There are three ways to prepare for labour and birth – intellectually, physically and emotionally/mentally. In my experience it is those who prepare a little every day in each of these ways that feel most able to cope with their labour and birth experience. There are a lot of options for antenatal preparation – yoga, pilates, aqua natal, hypnobirthing, NCT classes etc.
I have absolutely no idea why I am an antenatal teacher. I didn’t go to antenatal classes myself. My son is now 20 and I think I’ve finally come to terms with the fact I am a Mother – I will not be the first in the queue to cuddle your newborn. I will however, have freshly baked cake and a lovely cup of tea and all the time you need to talk, explore and work out what the £$%^@* just happened.
I support men and women, over 1,300 have attended antenatal classes I have facilitated. First time mums, fourth time dads, same sex couples, single mums, surrogate mum and dads, young mums, old mums, surprised mums and reluctant dads. We’ve all sat together, in a circle not knowing quite what to expect.
I have taught classes on my birthday, my husband’s birthday and my son’s birthday. I’ve taught when I’ve been happy, sad, ill and well. I’ve sat before a group after finding out my mother-in-law had died, unexpectedly on the operating table, on Christmas Eve and there was still four hours of a six-hour class left – and not told them because it isn’t about me.
It isn’t about my birth experience (caesarean in case you’re wondering) and there isn’t an NCT way to have a baby (whoops I’ve let the cat out of the bag I am an NCT antenatal teacher). The way to have a baby is the way that’s right for you, in the moment.
If I have an overarching aim as an antenatal teacher it is to disrupt the story of birth. To take the perceptions of expectant parents and give them the tools and skills to reimagine, to question and to put a story together that belongs to them – nobody else. By the time people are having babies they have heard at least a couple of decades of birth stories – perhaps it’s Daphne on Neighbours whose water’s broke, contractions started and she gave birth ten minutes later still wearing her tights and with Bouncer the dog sniffing around. Perhaps it’s a documentary, a soap or in films – there is a whole generation who have grown up with the story of pregnancy and birth from Twilight!
I hear hundreds of birth stories and often as I listen I’ll be thinking ‘okay, yes I could do that, it sounds hard work but okay. I understand that and it was straightforward enough.’ But the new parent telling their story is in tears, sometimes shaking and upset. Another time the story I’m hearing is one that shocks me, where I am, quite frankly, horrified. In this case the mum or dad is happy ‘oh it was great, we had a chat with the Dr and decided to do this and that and when that didn’t work we went for the other – oh and the blood!’ It’s not hysteria or false memory it’s just that they were okay with their experience, it was, in the moment, entirely appropriate.
The research shows us that that is what matters to new parents. It is less about the actual birth or in many ways the outcome but their satisfaction of their experience and perception of outcome that is most important.
There are also parents who because of the actions of others are traumatised and angry with the care they received – feeling abused and violated. I’m not sure any of us can prepare for those eventualities. Those are the parents I spend most time with, talking, understanding, signposting …… simply listening.
During classes we share stories, knowledge and experience. We look at straightforward physiological birth and we look at birth that is anything but. We think about becoming parents, relationships, cognitive, physical and emotional development of babies. We play nappy roulette (sometimes I like to fulfil the NCT stereotype) and speed parenting. We laugh and we cry and we eat cake.
I love my job – it is my passion and my purpose and I bring to it my head, heart and soul. I make lasting connections with people who are entering a whole new phase of life and I walk alongside them.
I don’t have the answers and I don’t always get it right. But I have a lot of knowledge, rigorous CPD and I am an experienced and skilled adult educator and group facilitator. But I am not the answer and I am not the problem.