Saturday, June 6, 2009

Childbirth class II: Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll

The second class consisted of a couple of videos, a long lecture on medications, pelvic exercises, visualization/breathing exercises, and some wicked props. First, Jackie (the instructor) announced, she would be eating strawberry shortcake while we watched a video on natural versus medicated childbirth. At least she did it quietly. The video included graphic, explicit depictions and explanations of how epidurals work. "I loved mine," said one of the coaches when Jackie asked us afterward if we'd had or known anyone who had had an epidural.

"You've already seen the video, so you know most of the stuff on this poster," she said afterward, holding up a poster on the potential risks and side effects of epidurals. "So I'm not going to beat you over the head with it." She proceeded to describe each one in loving detail: lowered blood pressure, itching, fever, restricted movement, lack of sensation, failure to progress, inability to push, stoned-seeming baby, spinal headaches, and (rarely) seizures, paralysis, and death.

"Then there are the narcotics," she said. "If you could buy stock in a drug, Nubain would be a good one, because we go through so much of this stuff. The narcotics will tend to mess with your head; you'll feel the contractions, but you won't care." The one second-time mother in our class said, "I loved Nubain."

After the medication briefing we saw another video, this one on natural birth, and listed all of the various techniques the couple used. "The thing is, even if you choose to use medications, you still need to know this stuff," Jackie said. "You're still going to have some pain, you're still going to have to labor a little."

During the break we looked at the epidural kits and the forceps and suction equipment she'd brought along to show us. Eric went up to her and asked after the drugs put in the epidural. "Are you the chemistry person?" she said when she'd answered him. "I must be boring you to death." He laughed and disclaimed, saying he'd never be a childbirth expert and expertise in one area didn't translate to another. "It's like the people who think a nurse is a nurse," she agreed. "My family members will come up to me to say, 'I have some chest pain, what should I do?' and I'll say, 'Well, how many centimeters dilated are you?'"

After the break she had us practice pelvic tilts (even the men--Eric said, "I need a white suit and some rhinestones for this") and Kegels. This, she said, would make pushing much easier. "You can do this whenever you want, no one's going to know," she said brightly, "and you should practice it as much as you can. Just do five reps here, five reps there, and no one will be able to tell. Another good place to practice," she lowered her voice, "is during intercourse." The men perked up.

Finally, we scattered around the room with our blankets and pillows and were told to try visualization while Jackie played a tape of beach sounds. "Coaches, I've put something in a paper towel next to you," she said after a while. "Place it in your partner's hand and close your hand over it."

She guided us through breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth--we don't know why, but yoga teaches the same thing) and said, "Now a contraction is starting. Visualize yourself in your happy place and breathe through the pain." The thing in the paper towel turned out to be an ice cube, and after a bit it really did provide a simulacrum of pain that had to be endured, since Eric's hand was closed over mine so I couldn't just drop it. "A masochist would love this exercise," I whispered to Eric.

After the class we toured the maternity ward--which Eric and I had already done, of course, but I wanted to look again. We packed six pregnant women, six coaches, Jackie, and Jackie's cart of props into the elevator. "Are we over the weight limit?" someone said.

"We're going to get stuck," said someone else.

"I've actually delivered someone in an elevator," Jackie said.

"Yes, but did you have more room that time?" I said, trying to keep someone's elbow out of my face.

We looked through the ward and toured one of the two jacuzzi rooms, and Jackie described how she had only once in eight years seen both rooms (out of sixteen) full when another woman wanted one, and when it happened she went into one of the rooms and begged the mother to let Jackie move her to another room so the new patient could have that one. "Of course!" the mother said, and started packing her things immediately. Apparently the jacuzzis are hot stuff. Our due dates are fairly spread out, so with luck any of us who want one won't be competing with the others when the time comes.

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