Friday, February 13, 2015

Mama Says... Birth Boot Camp (online natural childbirth education) Review

“When you change the way you view birth, the way you birth will change.”
-Marie Mongan

Many times throughout the last ten months, I wondered how mothers managed to get through pregnancy before the internet. Every new sensation or curiosity sent me scurrying to ask the advice of the all-knowing Google.

Usually I was met with search results galore, from WebMD to the BabyCenter forums, from individual blog posts to checklists pinned to Pinterest. However, in some instances my searches didn't locate the exact resource that I needed... especially from the perspective that I was looking for.

Over the next couple of weeks in a series that I'm calling "Mama Says...," I hope to write a few of the posts that I wish I had been able to find during my own pregnancy journey... in hopes that someone like me runs across them in their own web searches and finds them to be exactly what they need.


Since I was a little girl I have always wanted to be a mother. I have soaked up mommy blogs and birth stories for years, hoping to have quite an arsenal of ideas and advice by the time we were ready to grow our own family. Reading about other mothers' natural births, I wondered if I, too, could be strong enough, brave enough, bold enough to give birth without medications.

The thought of an epidural has always scared me, and friends' stories about failed epidurals or awful after-effects of epidurals scared me even more. I wanted to feel empowered by my birth experience, but more importantly I also wanted to recover and bounce back as quickly as possible. I hated to miss any of my baby's earliest moments.

I was nervous about my pain tolerance (I've luckily never been really sick or hurt to test my threshold), but my sister's unmedicated birth experience last summer (informed by Bradley Method classes) really inspired (and to be honest, even challenged) me to really consider a similar goal. When we started researching natural birth classes in our area, we found a few local classes. But, even with the options available, my husband's unpredictable work schedule and commute was going to make it very difficult to commit to a weekday evening class.

When I found Birth Boot Camp, a 10-class online childbirth education program focused on natural birth, I knew that it would be a perfect option for us. Although you can read about the details on their website, here's a quick synopsis of what's provided:
  • 3 months of unlimited access to online videos, exercises & resources
  • 10 lessons providing complete preparation for labor, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding and the newborn period (list of topics found here) based on up-to-date medical information
  • Includes a full-color workbook, links to additional online resources, relaxation audio files, and breastfeeding dvd to supplement the online videos
The price of $300 seemed steep at first (preparing for a baby is expensive!), but very much comparable to other comprehensive childbirth classes. And, now looking back from the other side, my husband and I are both very glad that we didn't let the price deter us.

We started the class around the 25th week of my pregnancy, and we planned to watch the videos as our weekly date nights. Although my husband was really supportive of my choice to pursue a natural birth, at first he didn't really understand why I would put my body through that. But even after the first week of class, he was fully on board, comparing it to his own training for endurance athletic events.

Date night with Birth Boot Camp classes

Each Friday night we welcomed Donna and Sarah into our home. We loved their unscripted dialogue; it felt like we were really sitting in a class with them. But we also appreciated that we were not surrounded by a group of other people; we could add our own commentary, discuss our own opinions, and even joke around to relieve the tension around topics that we weren't comfortable talking about at first (in fact Rob even covered his eyes through the first few birth videos).

Photo via Birth Boot Camp website

We followed along in the workbook as we watched the video lessons, taking notes, answering the question prompts, and bookmarking pages to return to. The workbook itself can almost stand alone... while it complements the videos, it often provides a much more detailed explanation. The website also provides links to additional online resources to explore further. To get the complete picture about the topics, you would want to review all of these resources.

Before signing up for the program, I wanted to make sure that I knew exactly what we were investing in. I tried to read online reviews, but found few that answered my most important questions/concerns directly. Now that we've been through the program, I'd love to address these for anyone else that might be curious:
  1. As first time parents (and following a miscarriage), we felt more comfortable seeing an OB as our primary caregiver and giving birth in the hospital. Would BBC look down upon hospital births? The website does mentions that it will help you "plan to birth at home, birth center, or hospital," but would it really? We were relieved to find that the classes did indeed provide support for births in any environment. Although they shared many examples of home births and birth center births (often assisted by midwives and doulas), they never put down hospital births and even gave us questions to ask our doctors and advice to help avoid routine hospital interventions. We were very pleased with our hospital experience for this birth... but, if there is another birth experience in our future, knowing what we know now, I think that we will strongly consider a birth center and/or midwife-assisted delivery.
  2. Knowing that even the best laid plans may spiral out of control, I wanted to remain flexible enough to accept whatever birth experience was most healthy for my baby and myself. Would BBC shame mothers who ended up with an "unnatural" birth? We found that while the class certainly advocated for an unmedicated birth with few interventions, they also provided advice about how to deal with the unexpected, including questions to ask before giving consent, explaining why certain interventions might be called for, and even providing tips about how recover from a c-section.

How Birth Boot Camp inspired us:
  • Although at first Rob didn't understand why I would choose to subject myself to (the media portrayal of) childbirth pain, he became a strong advocate for natural birth, even engaging his coworkers in discussions about it.
  • The birth videos included in each class increased our tolerance for and comfort level with the sights and sounds of the birth experience. (The first few weeks Rob hid his head under a blanket during the birth videos, but by the end of the series he could watch them all the way through!)
  • In each class a physical trainer modeled PT exercises to stay flexible and stretch muscles.
  • BBC's focus on Kegel exercises motivated me to regularly strengthen these muscles (my husband also reminded me regularly after learning about the importance of these exercises). I don't think it's a coincidence that I didn't suffer from the embarrassing incontinence that some of my friends experienced during pregnancy.
  • Even though I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from labor, the knowledge we gained about the process (vocabulary, labor stages, fetal positions, etc.) gave me the confidence that I could manage it.
  • The workbook provided a sample birth plan, and BBC discussed many of the options that we might choose when writing our own birth plan to discuss with our doctors.
  • BBC encouraged us to avoid any unnecessary ultrasounds or vaginal exams... many of our friends seemed surprised when in the last weeks of pregnancy we didn't have an estimate of baby's size and didn't know how much I had dilated, but we knew that such measurements (which are often inaccurate) can lead to unrealized expectations and/or unnecessary intervention. 
  • After hearing stories of labor stalling after arriving at the hospital, I wanted to labor at home as long as possible. When I got to the hospital I measured "8 cm with a bulging bag"... while it rattled the triage nurses a little bit, it was exactly the scenario I wanted.
  • BBC suggested that mom not answer any questions about pain level, a strategy I definitely relied on during our hospital admission process.
  • BBC advocates for lots of skin-to-skin contact with baby. Skin-to-skin time has become one of Rob's and my favorite memories/rituals of the newborn days.
  • Class 6 "Supporting Arms: Mom's Most Important Ally" was the most important for us, teaching us how to recognize and work through contractions. It gave Rob the confidence he needed to act as my ally and gave me the ability to trust that he would be the best ally I could possibly have during labor.  

What Birth Boot Camp could do better:
  • We think that the chiropractic and massage sections should be provided as separate videos... while interesting, I was already somewhat familiar with these techniques, and they seemed to drag out the lessons for classes 3 and 4.
  • On the other hand, we would have preferred the birth videos to be integrated seamlessly into the class videos... clicking back and forth was kind of a hassle, especially because our streaming setup didn't save where we paused the first video.
  • We wished more time was spent discussing the different labor and pushing positions (pictures and descriptions are shown in the workbook, but the video lessons kind of brushed over them). The only disappointment from our birth experience was that by following the doctor's and nurses' lead, I ended up pushing from the supine position and stirrups (resulting in a 3rd degree tear). Perhaps we should have made ourselves more familiar with the techniques by actually practicing them, but it would have been nice for Donna and Sarah to review them with us. 

How Birth Boot Camp could take it one step further:
  • A moderated online forum for conversations... I found myself following the Natural Unmedicated Birth forum on BabyCenter for inspiration from other mothers and my daily questions of "is this normal?", but often wished that I could filter the responses from those with similar BBC experience or even having professionals weigh in.
  • A postpartum/baby care basics supplement... Because we invested so much time and money into the BBC class, we opted not to take an additional class about baby basics at our hospital. I now wish I felt as confident about taking care of baby as I did about birthing him. Because we already trusted Donna and Sarah, we would have been more than willing to listen to their advice on how to give a bath, change a diaper, put baby to sleep, etc.
  • An iPhone app for recording Chow Chart/Daily Log information... Although I was inspired by the nutrition information presented in Class 2, I was already in the habit of tracking my food intake in the MyFitnessPal calorie counter app. However if there has been a similar BBC app to record nutrition and self-care from a pregnancy perspective, I would have happily used it.

Just moments after birth

As I mentioned a few days ago in the abridged version of my birth story, the moments after our son's birth were filled with joy and pride. (I have to admit there were high fives and fist bumps!) We had hoped for and worked for a natural, unmedicated birth, and we had achieved it!

Thank you, Donna and Sarah for inspiring and encouraging us throughout this journey! We will be singing your praises and recommending your program to anyone interested in the natural birth experience.

Disclaimer: A natural, unmedicated birth was the right choice for us for this pregnancy. We understand that for a variety of reasons, many mothers choose other options for their birth experience. Regardless of the birth details (or whether the birth goes as planned), the result is the birth of a precious baby and the beginning of a motherhood journey. We wholeheartedly support each and every mother as she makes hard decisions like these based on what is best for herself and her family.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hello, my name is Daddy...

“The nature of impending fatherhood is that you are doing something that you’re unqualified to do, and then you become qualified while doing it.”
-John Green

Ever since finding out that a new baby would be joining our family last summer, I have been eager to see Rob take on the role of father. This guy who for years has avoided any unnecessary contact with babies (think awkward side hugs!) has been head over heels for our little guy for months.

More than once as my belly grew, Rob expressed his amazement, "How can I love him so much without ever having met him!"

And, since he arrived, Rob has been totally smitten. Several times throughout the last week, I've heard him exclaim, "This little guy has totally rocked our world... but I wouldn't have it any other way."

Silas and I are so blessed that Daddy has been able to take a few weeks off of work to hang out with us and savor these newborn moments. Rob has changed countless numbers of dirty diapers, given baths, carried baby from crib to bed in the middle of the night for nursing, and perfected the art of swaddling. Both Rob and Silas look forward to their skin-to-skin bonding time every morning while I shower and get ready for the day.

I can't wait to watch their relationship grow...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Welcome to the world, baby boy!

"Babies are bits of stardust, blown from the hand of God."
-Larry Barretto

I am so excited to introduce our son who was born in the wee hours of Tuesday, February 3, 2015.

After working all day (as well as filling up at the gas station and stopping at the grocery store), I came home more than ready to lay on the couch. After a quick dinner, we started watching a movie. However, don't ask me about the ending of the movie because I spent the last 30 minutes or so distracted by the first strong contractions of the night. 

Rob timed my contractions through a hot shower and a "nap" on the couch, and by midnight, they were coming quickly. In between contractions we quickly packed the last of the bags into the car and then headed to the hospital.

When we arrived, they measured my cervix to be "8 cm with a bulging bag," and quickly wheeled me to the labor and delivery room a little after 1:00 am. My water broke on its own, and the urge to push soon followed. I tried hard to keep from pushing until the doctor arrived, but once he was in place, it was time to birth this baby. I pushed through 5-6 contractions before this sweet little boy slipped out at 2:06 am.

The joy of holding our son and the pride in delivering him with no interventions gave us enough energy to power through the next few hours and settle in our home away from home on the maternity ward.

We sent texts and photos to our close friends and family. My mom and sister were awake and waiting for news, all of us wishing the distance between us was much shorter.

Rob's mom headed our way as soon as she got the news we were leaving for the hospital. She arrived at the hospital around 4:30 am, just enough time to kiss his cheek and pick up a house key before we all crashed for a few hours. 

Once "rested" we spent the day bonding with our son... this little guy who had been kicking us for months. In complete awe that he belonged to us, that he made us mama and daddy.

Because he rocked all of his check-ups and assessments, we were able to be discharged from a hospital after only 36 hours. We were eager to bring him home, to find our rhythm on our own turf. 

Now... let the real adventure begin!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Present... my intentions

“Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.” 
-Oprah Winfrey

Inspired by the January prompt from Ali Edward's 2015 "One Little Word" workshop, I have set intentions for the year.

I want to be fully present for the birth of my son. As his due date is just a few weeks away, this opportunity will probably arrive before the month ends. For the last few months, I have prepared for a natural, unmedicated childbirth experience, and I hope that circumstances allow that to happen.

Before pregnancy, I was in the best shape of my life... I hope that I am able to reestablish a fitness routine of some kind, both to lose the baby weight and for the confidence boost I get when I'm able to beast through a set of burpees.

As always, I dream of uncluttered and sleak spaces; however, I am learning that perhaps minimalism is not my most authentic decorating style. Instead I hope that my focus on living in the present inspires me to let go of the "junk" that I'm not currently using, that which I've been saving for the proverbial rainy day.

I want to be fully present to appreciate the moments as they happen. I want to notice the small things and be grateful for them. I don't want to wish away the hours, the days, the weeks.

I want to find a balance and a rhythm to my days. There are sure to be days (and nights) that just plain suck, and I want to learn to see the beauty in even them.

I hope that by living fully in the present I am able to notice, recognize, and give thanks for the "God moments" in my life, big or small.

I want to be fully present for my family. I want to build a relationship with my son that we will treasure throughout our lives. I want to support my husband in his new role as daddy.

I want give myself and others around me grace as we adjust to this "new normal." We will not always live up to our own expectations, and I hope not to dwell on those moments.

I want to embrace the idea of "working mother." I want to be fully present when I am at work, while never forgetting my priority to my family. Leaving my son at day care and pumping milk for him throughout the day will be new challenges to overcome, but I also see value in supporting my family financially as well as in establishing a successful personal identity outside of motherhood.

I want to leave myself open for new career possibilities... especially for ones that offer opportunities for creativity and growth.

As I focus on being present in so many other areas of my life, I must not forget to make time for creative pursuits. Being creative is the pulse that keeps me going, and without opportunities to stretch myself creatively, I know that I will not reach my full potential in all of the other areas.

Specifically I hope to document my pregnancy and my son's first year with scrapbooks/photo albums/memory keeping projects. But perhaps I can also set aside time each day to be creative... to make something with my hands, to design something graphically, to write down a story, or to plan a project.

2015 One Little Word: Present

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."
-Annie Dillard

2015 will be my fifth year to align myself with a word [2011, 2012, 2013, 2014] and my third year to participate in Ali Edward's "One Little Word" workshop. Never before has my next word spoken to me so early in the preceding year. This past summer I ran across a quote from Shauna Niequist that begins with the phrase, "present over perfect." From that point forward, I found myself repeating this mantra whenever my perfectionist tendencies threatened to suck all of the joy out of something.

I noted the power of this quote in my 2014 OLW album as part of my journey to discovering and celebrating authenticity. Also documented in my 2014 album is my big aha of the year: that choosing to be authentic means choosing what feels right and real in the present moment. And, it struck me that here was the word "present" again. It seemed to be calling out to me, begging me to grab hold. I tucked it in the back of my head for awhile, giving "authentic" the last few months of the journey that it deserved. But, with the arrival of 2015, I am eager to unleash the word "present" into my life... to see how it will inspire and influence my decisions, big and small, in the coming year.

Sitting here on January 2, I am currently 36 weeks pregnant: my first child is due at the end of the month. Being a mother has been my biggest dream since I was a little girl, and I'm finding myself both excited and overwhelmed knowing this dream will soon be coming true. I'm hoping that regular reminders to "live in the present" will help me make the most of these new mother moments, as well as to avoid getting caught up in trying to make each day impossibly perfect.

Right now I see two seemingly oppositional ways to look at living in the present, and I'm curious to see how the two play out throughout the year:
  • Being mindful of the present moment, not regretting the past nor worrying about the future...
  • Making choices in the present that may affect the future....

But I'm also intrigued by other definitions of the word, and I wonder about how they, too, will influence my year:
  • Present as a gift... what presents will I give and receive this year?
  • Present meaning to display... how will I present myself to others this year?

Follow my progress and be inspired!

Bring it on, 2015!

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