Editor’s note: This story first ran in the most recent edition of Vail Health Magazine.
Before attending childbirth classes at Vail Valley Medical Center, Marian and Luke Cartin had a somewhat ominous outlook of the hospital. To them, it was simply the clean, cold white box in which people experienced some of life’s most dramatic and emotional moments. The classes, however, prepped and primed the couple for their first born and showed they were not about to undertake the momentous occasion in robotic, systematic fashion but surrounded by warmth, support and know-how.
“This class helped us see the maternity ward as more of a supportive place to give birth rather than just a cold and sterile hospital environment,” Marian said. “Prior to the class I felt unsure about what to expect while we are at the hospital. The class made me more comfortable with the procedures and environment there.”
For Luke, the classes gave him a sense of belonging beyond the helpless, concerned onlooker.
“It helped me understand the role I can play in the labor process, as well as how great of a resource the hospital staff is for all of us while we are there,” he said.
The game plan
The childbirth classes are offered in a package of four weekly sessions in Vail and Eagle or as a two-week “fast track” course. There is also a hands-on, two-hour natural birth class and a sibling class aimed at preparing young people — 2 to 5-year-olds — for their new brother or sister.
Rather than limiting sessions to only mothers, typically both parents attend the childbirth classes. Instructor Shama Sambergerova’s first order of business is to put everyone at ease.
“We cover preparation for labor, do a little relaxation and talk about all the things to think about in how to prepare — how they can get insurance, find doctors, get pre-registered for the upcoming baby so they don’t have to wait,” Sambergerova said. “Then we get into pre-signs of labor and how to prevent pre-term labor.
The second of the four classes walks soon-to-be parents through the details of how labor begins, the signs, how to recognize the real signs versus false alarms and identify which stages necessitate a trip to the hospital. The third class gets into intervention, what’s involved in external and internal monitoring during labor, why and how induced births are done and pain medications such as IVs and epidurals. Through this learning process, couples (each class has from five to 10 participants) are given their own space where expecting mothers practice positions and coping strategies for various stages of labor while partners practice massage and comfort techniques.
“I teach them how to be a team, how the mom needs to speak up — ‘this feels good, this doesn’t,’ ‘push harder,’ — and let the guys know that labor changes and her needs will change as well,” Sambergerova said. “In the beginning, she doesn’t need as much, then later, she needs more massaging and encouragement. I think the dads really appreciate it because they get to practice and they learn how they can help.”
The final class prepares couples for “taking care of mom” after delivery, offering tips for postpartum care, the hospital stay, going home and how to get ready for the coming weeks of that new chapter of everyone’s life.
Because the whole birth process is usually brand new to most couples that attend the classes, there is an element of hesitation at first, but it doesn’t take long before a sense of kinship sets in and everyone feels comfortable with what awaits them as a whole.
“All it took was a joke to relax everyone and help us realize that we are all in the same boat,” Marian said. “It was nice to be around others who could relate to the very things we are going through.”
Okay, so you’ve got the delivery part down. But what happens when you get home and there’s this little human being to take care of?
The medical center also offers once-a-month baby care and breastfeeding classes. The breastfeeding class utilizes dolls so new mothers get hands-on practice of holding techniques and also covers trouble-shooting with a lactation expert. The baby care class coaches parents on how to handle a first bath, what to do if the baby gets sick and general daily responsibilities.
“We encourage moms who are pregnant or moms who had their babies already to come to this class,” Sambergerova says. “Martina, one of the nurses, goes through typical and atypical situations at home, how to look at these as normal or emergencies.”
Ultimately, the Vail Valley Medical Center Women and Children’s classes provide a wealth of knowledge to parents for smoother sailing in this life-changing endeavor. The benefits of the classes reach beyond their private households.
“Really, it helps us for parents to be educated and know what to expect,” Sambergerova said. “It helps the nurses for parents to know we have standard procedures and to let them talk to care providers about what they can have and what they can’t have.”
“All it took was a joke to relax everyone and help us realize that we are all in the same boat. It was nice to be around others who could relate to the very things we are going through.”