CHILDBIRTH CLASSES: DAY ONE OF TWO
All times approximate.
Arrive. Somewhat soiled-looking baby dolls stationed around a giant “U” of folding tables. Immediately approached by presumed instructor, a diminutive, bespectacled woman who asks us how we intend to pay. Make out check for $90, accept handwritten receipt. Maudlin piano music playing over PA. One other couple here besides us. Nobody looks too psyched. There are 10 baby dolls, each wearing a differently-colored/patterned onesie. Our doll has easily the drabbest onesie of the bunch, colorless but for the natural yellowing of age and neglect. More sullen, defeated couples trickling in. Besides the dolls there are many handouts to peruse. Annie zeroes in on the one about epidurals. Apparent prevalence of cons over pros unlikely to sway her desire to receive one. I don’t blame her.
There are also electronic thermometers and those blue baby baster things (Annie informs me this is an aspirator) at each station. Fun to shoot air out of aspirator at the papers Annie is trying to read. I already have to shit.
There are snacks of an indeterminate nature on a table near us. Pitchers of water and a thing of Ocean Spray Cranberry Apple. Is “cranapple” a registered trademark of a competing juice company or has the term been officially retired? I hate cran. There is also a basket of individually-wrapped somethings that looks mildly promising. I also have to pee now. Why am I writing this instead of going to the bathroom? Piano music starting to get me down. Sounds like music from “thirtysomething”.
Annie looks at “dilation chart” in one of the handouts and quietly takes name of Lord in vain.
Fairly diverse crowd racially – especially for Maine – but the fatigue and difficult-to-place shame are universal. Teacher writes name on board. Very young, possible teenage couple to our left. Possibly teenage guy is poking doll in the throat and chuckling. Door closed. Sad music turned off. Teacher reveals she is a single parent that home-schools her three kids. Already completely intimidated by her. Introductions made around the room. Women do all the talking in all but one case. One woman announces her baby is breach and room gasps a little.
Teacher immediately refutes Lamaze research. Subject of labor pain addressed right off the bat. Probably the #1 thing a classroom of first-time parents is concerned with so this is smart. Now looking at the cervixes in a childbirth-related magazine. Teacher now saying “uterus” a lot. Now discussing “fundal” height. Hard not to laugh at “fundal”. Labor pains described as “a big scrunch”, said by Teacher while miming the wringing out of a wet towel, or in this case a woman’s spine. A little air noticeably sucked out of room.
Cervix chart again consulted. Now discussing c-sections. Concerned about this horrifying, costly, and thoroughly possible possibility. Subsequent discussion of timing contractions makes it feel like the need to do this is imminent, like in a few minutes imminent.
Teacher has interesting habit of repeating entire sentences for emphasis, e.g. “Bright red bleeding running down your legs is not normal. Bright red bleeding running down your legs is not normal.” Teacher actually mimes wiping vagina w/hand while stressing this point. Five minutes later she says it yet a third time, thankfully sans graphic pantomime.
Laminated poster passed to me from man on my right of a crayon sketch of a woman looking uncomfortable on a lavender sofa. Superimposed on this scene is a list of early labor warning signs, the first of which, kicking off the list with panache, is “leaking/gushing fluids from vagina”. Gushing?
Teacher beginning to display a true talent for deadpan. “I swear to God you’re not gonna die from the pain. It is very short-lived. 12-14 hours.” Now discussing the possible need for a dogsitter during labor, illustrating the point with a brief anecdote about “Oreo” and his commendable bladder control. Teacher blandly intoning that “the doctor lubricates his fingers and he’s gonna stick ’em in your vagina” somehow more shocking than the pretend crotch-wipe from before.
Teacher now guiding a smaller, floppier doll through a model of a pelvis. Now straddling the doll to show correct infant exit positions. Teacher makes doll wave in greeting up at her while straddling it. Male teen to our left having a tough time composing himself during this demonstration. Teacher: “I have a pelvis you could drive a Mack truck through. I have a pelvis you could drive a Mack truck through.”
Animated c-section movie announced for tomorrow with excitement. Agree that does sound exciting. Hoping for Ralph Bakshi production. Perhaps Pixar.
Now discussing “transition” – worst part of labor. Pain pain pain. Of transition Teacher states “Sometimes ladies get angry during this stage” and “Boy, it hurts wicked”. Talking about this is giving me a migraine. Can only imagine how Annie feels. Not looking forward to that mucous plug making its appearance. Our attention is directed to laminated poster celebrating squatting on wall, which features disconcerting colored pencil sketch of a vagina from which a Subway party platter could be handily extracted.
Bathroom break announced!
Take poop. Probably should have waited until after discussion of breathing techniques. Fellow expectant father enters stall right after me and immediately flushes toilet. Whoops.
Go to hospital cafeteria to procure something approximating lunch. Get coconut creme whoopie pie, bold Chex mix, and a chai. Asian cashier speaks very little English. Points at each of my purchases and asks, “What this?”
Go back to classroom. Am questioned by Annie as to why I purchased such a crunchy snack (Chex mix). Will disrupt “Christina’s Birth”, which I see is a film we are about to view. Couple to our right probably regretting their cheeseburger purchases. Did not consider the disruption of crunchiness and am disappointed in myself. “Christina” is a blonde, jorts-clad woman who moans in constant agony. She is now lying in a bathtub eating a strawberry pudding pop in between agonized moans.
“Transition” scene starting. Getting somewhat intense. I look around room to gauge reactions to the onscreen action. Accidentally make eye contact with guy who had to flush my shit. Return focus to film.
Christina has butterfly tattoo over buttocks. Baby coming out. Purple. Emotional scene. Can sort of see why Annie enjoys watching/having emotional breakdowns over “A Baby Story” on TLC all the time. Hear sniffles to my left. Look at Annie and smile. She gives me a look and wipes her eye.
Movie not as upsetting as feared. Consumption of coconut creme pie mostly undisrupted. Pretty good snack. Chai also pretty good. Wish I could eat the Chex mix without everyone bludgeoning me with their faux infants.
Recording of tinkling chimes heard outside the classroom – means a baby was just born in the hospital. Everyone looks less miserable for a couple seconds.
Going to be learning relaxation techniques at some point. Asked by Teacher to picture ultimate relaxing scenario. Realize this for me would entail lounging on the screened porch of my grandparents’ camp in the early evening while using Flickchart, early 80’s era country music playing on a beat-up radio in the next room, eating Cape Cod chips with Heluva Good buttermilk ranch dip, and drinking ice cold Pepsi out of an old glass, happy in the knowledge that there is also a cold Symphony bar waiting for me in the fridge.
Other relaxation/distraction techniques discussed. Teacher relates tale of woman who played Bingo with her relatives until she was 9 cm dilated. Teacher then traverses the room squirting way too much lotion into the hands of the men, whereupon we are asked to massage the hands of our preggos. Holding the pen to write now all but impossible. Also massage preggo backs with wooden thingamajigs.
Example of a well-packed overnight bag scoffed at by Teacher and students alike for containing camera film, change for a pay phone, and an audiocassette. A handy carry-along for couples intending to travel back in time to 1987 before giving birth.
Quick glance around the table confirms bottled water as the most popular beverage for this group, despite there being 2 refreshing-enough-looking pitchers of water nearby. A sure sign of future bad parenting!
“Hut-hut-HEE” and “Him-him-him-HOO” both suggested by Teacher as useful phrases to use during breathing exercises. Annie: “Listening to this is making me wanna hyperventilate!”
“An enema is a bag of water that we squirt into your rectum to make you wanna poop.” = not good time for me to make eye contact with teenage father to our left. Notice he and I are both idly playing w/aspirators.
Just noticed that in addition to his unflattering onesie, our doll is the only one in the room without eyes. Eyelids are manufactured shut. A truly bothersome and downright creepy discovery that makes it momentarily difficult to pay attention to the lecture until Teacher snaps me back to reality via the phrase: “You are going to feel like a bowling ball is coming out of your butt.”
To my dismay I learn that all this time I have been mispronouncing the word “perineum”! Would seem like more of a big deal if you knew how often I say it. Turns out this is a lead-in to a discussion on “perineal massage”, which helps to deter the possibility of “perineal tearing”. Reconsidering “late-term abortion”.
Perineal tearing discussion lasting a mite longer than one might ideally hope.
Model of placenta looks like something out of a Frank Henenlotter film. Turns out baby essentially steeped in its own urine this whole time. He’ll probably find our apartment to be comparatively tidy and good-smelling.
“You’ll be wet and moist until you deliver. You’ll be wet and moist until you deliver.”
Tool used to potentially puncture amniotic sac passed around the room with noticeable briskness.
“Every now and then we get a baby who poops in the amniotic fluid. Not nice. Not nice. Not supposed to do that. Not supposed to do that.”
“If I was to put your face into a bucket of peanut butter, and you were to breathe that in, your lungs would not work good, and you would get pneumonia, and you would have to go to the hospital.” At some point I have clearly lost track of the discussion.
Audible reaction of disgust heard somewhere in the room at the mention and inevitable pantomime of “plooping out the placenta”. Fate of plooped-out placenta? “We chuck it.”
Teacher vigorously miming the icing of the perineum and the usage of a sitz bath, or “a Jacuzzi for your heinie”. Am astounded and even inspired by Teacher’s 100% lack of shame.
Bathroom break number 2. Procure 2 Gosselin’s donuts from cafeteria. Cashier does not question donuts.
Return to classroom, where Teacher is going around demonstrating a fancy thermometer that you put on people’s heads. Seize opportunity to consume noisy Chex mix. Drink the free water to demonstrate my superiority. Also because hospital cafeteria only stocks Diet Mountain Dew – an outrage!
On to baby care. Learn that baby will eat and void with alarming frequency, and will shriek and weep in lieu of sleeping.
The dolls come into play. Get some swaddling practice in. Always enjoyed the idea of origami so this is sort of fun. Takes a few tries to get it right. Learn about taking armpit and rectal temperature. Do a few more swaddles for the sheer enjoyment of it.
“Poop in the stool is a bad sign.” Assuming she meant “blood”.
Circumcision discussion. Thing that clips the foreskin is called a “Gomco”. Somehow seems right. Gross penis-slicing laminated posters passed around, one at each end of the table. Where we are seated at the center of the “U” of tables, we end up with both posters completing their tour of the table with us, so we have to hang out with the gross penis-slicing posters for most of the remainder of the class.
Baby-having chimes recording plays again. Everyone smiles and looks at the door.
Begin viewing a film called “The Period of Purple Crying”. About how to try to figure out why baby won’t shut hole. Turns out “purple” is acronym: Peak of crying, Unexpected, Resists soothing, Pain-like face, Long-lasting, Evening. One snippet of babies bawling after another. Shaking baby syndrome mentioned. Dangerous to shake babies because head big in relation to body. So if you shook me I could also die. Shaking babies can also cause blindness. Can’t imagine anything worse than unintentionally killing your own baby due to your own fatigue and frustration. Just hearing the babies crying in this movie is making me want to launch them out window. Will need larger living space ASAP.
Movie over, discussed. “It’s OK to put your crying baby in the crib and go out in the next room and cry and say, “God, this sucks.”
Donut not sitting too good. Gross penis-slicing posters probably not helping. Hard to stop looking at them.
Yet another film: “Understanding Newborns”. Pretty unstressful, soothingly informative.
Baby will be cone-headed, hairy, purple, and encrusted with Cream of Wheat upon birth. Later he will shit green crap and will develop an upsetting facial rash. Can’t wait to hang out with that guy. Subsequent footage of babies happily reacting to their parents mostly nullifies adverse effects of information regarding temporary deformities and dung consistency.
Unexpectedly really touched by scene of new father earnestly exclaiming: “We’re gonna have exciting adventures outside, and I’m gonna teach him things!” Sounds like he has a pretty good handle on the situation.
Discuss film and what happens when you leave hospital, discharge procedure. Hospital actually has more than one “certified car seat assistant”.
Extremely disquieting baby abduction discussion. Actual instances discussed in detail. Very few moderate topics broached in a class like this. Either wonderful or unthinkable. Not much middle ground. Want to go home to my laptop and ginger ale.
Baby-bathing discussed, lengthy demonstration. We all pretend to bathe our dolls. Teenage couple’s doll has detailed male genitalia. Ours has featureless flesh-hued fabric beneath his dingy onesie. I hate our fake baby, whom I’ve named Herman.
Lights are dimmed and we listen to a relaxation CD of some sort. Guy on CD sounds like cross between Ben Stein and Kevin Spacey. Ben Spacey tells us to “scan” our bodies for tension and release it, fails to explain how we might go about accomplishing this. Feel more stunned than relaxed thereafter.
To close out the first day of childbirth classes, Teacher narrates a rather remarkable impromptu dramatization of the impending day of labor and birth. Plays the lulling piano music from earlier in the background. When she gets to the contractions parts, the men are asked to hold their partners’ hands and squeeze each finger in quick succession – 1 2 3 4 5, saying some kind of nonsense syllable with each small squeeze, like “hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-HEH”. The lights are still dimmed while she carries everyone through the process. It’s surprisingly intense, and Teacher really sets the scene with a lot of details. No faltering or even pausing to think of what to say next. Around the room women’s eyes are closed, all are deep breathing. Men watch their wives/girlfriends breathe and hold their hands. Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-HEH. Teacher talks about pain over the piano. The baby comes out. The room feels different.
Lights on. Time to go. File out the door. Valet parking brings car around.
Figure trying the new KFC “Double Down” sandwich to be the perfect way to celebrate making it to the halfway mark in our childbirth education. Annie disagrees, gets Quarter Pounder instead.
Watch one of my favorite shows, “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman”, while tearing into the Double Down. Greasy and unwieldy. Necessary to fashion a big paper towel glove to eat this thing. Mostly taste pepper. Top chicken patty crisp, bottom chicken patty sopping. Bacon seen but not tasted. Cheese clearly an adhesive as opposed to flavor enhancer.
Face feels like a small drooping garbage bag 1/5 full of warm oil when I’m done. Feels like hearing now somehow impaired. Odd floating sensation in extremities. The term “perineal tearing” suddenly reappears in brain, to aggravate already considerable discomfort. Inhale deeply and count slowly to ten. Hut-hut-hut-hut-HOO. Hut-hut-hut-hut-HOO.