As the end of the second trimester approached, so did the beginning of the Classes. The Classes are the latest rage. Every hospital has its classes, every neighborhood has its classes, every peer group has its classes. The Classes are on birth, breastfeeding, diaper changing, clothes washing, food shopping, disciplining, baby bathing, house cleaning, and so on. It used to be we learned these things from our parents who learned them from their parents in one slowly evolving cultural transmission reaching back thousands of years. Not any more. The transmission lines broke down sometime in the 1890s and since then parents have been passing down all sorts of nonsense, none of which was discovered until the late Sixties when kids found out parents were just struggling humans like everyone else. Since then, the solution has been to bypass culture altogether and go to where the answers are: Classes. Classes are given by people who have read a lot and maybe thought a lot. And, hopefully, know what they're doing.
Probably the fastest growing classes in childbirth are given by the American Academy of Husband Coached Childbirth. They give classes in the Bradley Method®, or what Dr. Robert Bradley--the guy for whom the classes are named--calls Husband-Coached Childbirth. I'm going to keep calling it the Bradley Method®, and I want you to notice that little ``®'' sign after it. That's important, because it means that the name ``the Bradley Method®'' is a trademark registered with the federal government of the United States. This means that only people who are associated with the American Academy of Husband Coached Childbirth are allowed to call themselves Bradley® instructors. The Bradley® people think this is important because any old idiot can go around saying they teach natural childbirth, but only an idiot trained and licensed by the AAHCC can say they teach Bradley® childbirth. This way you know you're getting the right stuff when you go to a Bradley® instructor. But I'm tired of typing ``®'' so I'm going to drop it from here on in. Pretend it's there, would you please?
Very early on in the pregnancy, Dawn and I decided we would take the Bradley course. This decision was based on three of our friends having taken the course and recommending it to us. Our attitude was that we would attend Bradley and Lamaze and take what we needed from both classes and ignore what we didn't and thus get a more varied view of the birth experience. From the beginning, though, I was the one doing most of the pushing for the Bradley classes--Dawn was convinced that the Bradley Method was for zealots, people who went in already brainwashed to believe that there was only one way to have a baby, there was only one way to eat when one was pregnant, there was only one way to bring that child up, and so on. To be fair, we didn't get this idea from nowhere: This was the impression we got from our friends who had taken the classes. Now, our friends are absolutely wonderful, caring, loving people--but they're also quite flaky. Well, we're all flaky, but these particular friends are flaky in certain ways in which Dawn and I are not. One of them is a vegetarian, for example. They care about the whales and spotted owls and timber wolves. They buy recycled paper. They like organic foods. They don't believe in doctors or most male scientists. They don't like leather or fur. They're, well, ecoweenies.
And there's nothing wrong with that. If we thought there were, we'd have stopped being friends with them. But Dawn and I are, by and large, not ecoweenies. We eat lots of meat. We're not very fond of vegetables at all, actually. We eat canned foods and don't generally worry about the lead. If I never buy another recycled paper product I will not weep. For my part, I generally feel problems are too complex to be solved by writing my congressman and carrying my own bag to the supermarket.
So you can imagine that Dawn and I might not be completely enthusiastic about the Bradley Method, given its proponents. Whatever information they brought back from each class reinforced this idea: The Bradley Method was administrated by trained zealots determined that they had All the Answers, and that everyone else was Completely Wrong. Again, to be fair, two of our friends went to the same Bradley instructor in our neighborhood.
Nevertheless, I championed the Bradley Method, mainly for one reason. Everything I've ever tried to do in life, whether it was lay down a carpet or fix a car engine or paint a wall or move a heavy object or program a computer, was easier when I did it right. It's that simple. Human beings have been on this planet a long time, and during that time they've all been doing pretty much the same things. And after all that time of doing these things, people have learned in many cases how to do these things properly. And often, I've found, the proper way is not the obvious way. And you might try to do whatever it is your own way, the obvious way, and find it to be really hard and frustrating. And then someone--your father, say--might come along and show you how to do it properly, with the right tools, and suddenly it's easy and it works. And it seems to me that the one thing people have been doing longer than they've been doing anything else is having babies. And it also seems to me that after all this time of having babies, people would have figured out the right way and the wrong way to have babies. And, like anything else, the wrong way will probably get you a baby too--but it'll be harder than it has to be. I wanted the birth to be as easy as possible, both for Dawn and for the baby.
Much of what I heard about the Bradley Method, in between the ecoweenie stuff, sounded good. It fit in with the rest of what I knew and had heard. So I was willing to dismiss the things that sounded a little odd--like we would be harangued extensively if Dawn didn't eat two eggs a day, no more, no less--and go with my feelings, which told me that we could get some good information out of a Bradley course.
It's recommended by the Bradley people that you start the course, which takes twelve weeks, before the end of your second trimester. That way, you'll probably finish the course before you actually have the baby. Naturally, failure to complete the course in time doesn't mean you won't have a baby. Finally, here was one course I was guaranteed to pass, even if I didn't go. I've waited my whole life for a class like this. To get in to the class at the proper time, Dawn called in November to register with the nearest Bradley instructor. We actually ended up going rather far afield for one, too, because the one in our neighborhood that our friends went to moved away.
That phone call alone changed both of our perceptions of the Bradley Method. Dawn especially warmed up to the idea of the classes after speaking to the instructor. Her name was Elise. She was the mother of three children: one completely naturally with a midwife at a birthing center; for the second she had high blood pressure, so they were birthed in a hospital with a doctor; and the last by caesarean section. She was very excited to hear from us and couldn't wait to start classes. Her enthusiasm was infectious--we couldn't wait, either. Elise told us we'd be in a class with two other couples. Dawn spoke to her for quite a bit longer, and when she was done I could see the relief on her face. Elise was no zealot, no ecoweenie nut. She was, rather, a down-to-earth and together woman, knowledgeable and sincere and understanding. And, judging by the births of her three children, she had a lot of personal experience with different places and medical problems during birth. Even if she did nothing else, Elise already had a special place in my heart for calming and soothing Dawn's fears about the Bradley classes.
In January we went to our first class. Class was held at a quarter after seven on a Monday night. After a long day at work for both of us, Dawn and I went home and got the car and drove out to Elise's home some minutes away. Since this was our first time driving there, we seriously overestimated the length of the drive and pulled up outside of the house a half hour early. There were no other cars there yet. With nothing else to do, we drove around for a while, exploring the surrounding neighborhood. It was beautiful, with all the houses being huge, centered on large tree-filled lots. Many of the houses nearly looked to have about eighty bedrooms and front yards larger than the park across the street from the house in which I grew up. The trees were mostly elms, oaks, and sycamores, almost all of them old and tall--some were even too big for me to get my arms around, were I to try such a thing, although I'm not much of a tree-hugger in any case. The streets curved gently and sloped up and down and around, each turn taking us past a more magnificent residence with all its lights blazing. This was a truly lovely neighborhood.
But soon we'd exhausted as much of the surrounding area as we could and we ended up parked in front of Elise's house again, still fifteen minutes too soon. Well, there was nothing else to do now but just barge on in and trust we weren't hopelessly early. We got out of the car and I got the pillow from the back seat--at least one pillow is required at all Bradley classes--and went up the walk to the house and rang the bell. Elise's house wasn't quite as impressive as the mansions around the neighborhood but was nevertheless very nice.
Elise, who turned out to be a beautiful and tall blond woman, greeted us at the door. We were early enough to have interrupted her dinner but she invited us in happily, pointing us towards her dining room table which had several piles of papers on it. Elise told us what forms we had to fill out and which informational papers we could take and directed us to sit in her living room. There were a few comfy sofas and chairs arranged to face the hearth and behind those some less comfortable hardback chairs had been set up. Quite a few. Elise explained that, since we'd signed up, she'd gotten a number of other couples to join us, so our tiny class of three couples had swollen to seven or eight couples. I looked at Dawn somewhat crestfallen. I had been looking forward to the small class size--large groups annoy me. Dawn shrugged and we settled in on one of the comfortable couches while she filled out forms and I rummaged through the papers from the table.
In front of the hearth Elise had set up a spot from which to lecture. Standing there prominently was a large pad of paper on which the words ``FEAR TENSION PAIN'' had been written with arrows showing a cycle from FEAR to TENSION to PAIN and back to FEAR again. I nudged Dawn.
``FEAR TENSION PAIN,'' I said. ``We're starting off on the right foot.''
Dawn didn't lower herself to a reply and returned to her paperwork.
After a while the other couples began to arrive. As Elise met them at the door Dawn and I noticed two things about us in relation to them: For one thing, we were the youngest couple there. For another, we were the least pregnant. Dawn was only barely starting to show, but some of these women were very obviously with child. As each couple arrived, Dawn and I looked at each other with mild surprise. This wasn't quite what we expected.
Soon enough everyone had arrived, all sixteen of them. They all made themselves comfortable in various positions in seats around the room and they all studiously avoided eye contact with everyone else. Each person spoke in near-whispers to their partners.
Elise came up to the hearth and sat Indian-style on the floor and made some introductory comments. I half-listened and read some things in the Bradley workbook we'd been given as part of the course materials. I was supposed to have bought Dr. Bradley's book Husband-Coached Childbirth by now, but I hadn't, mainly because I hadn't looked for it, so this was my first direct experience with anything Bradley. Up until now all I'd had were second- and third-hand accounts of the Bradley Method.
What I read really gratified me. I read a part in the workbook where Dr. Bradley compares pregnancy to being told in advance that nine months from now, you will be tossed into deep water. If you were told that, you'd be silly not to spend the next nine months learning to swim.
I couldn't agree more. This was exactly why I was here in the first place.
After explaining some course mechanics--what kinds of things we'd be doing, when classes begin and end, how to pay for the classes, and so on--Elise announced it was time for everyone to introduce themselves. Dawn looked at me, knowing I hate this part. I just closed my eyes. Elise told us that we wouldn't just go around the room and introduce ourselves; that would be too easy, I thought. She wanted everyone to go up and get someone else's information, such as their name, their due date, and why they were taking the Bradley course. Then we'd go around the room and each person would introduce the person to whom they'd spoken.
``Can I just talk to my wife?'' said one guy, and we all laughed.
I am convinced that these things are done less as introductory exercises and more as ways of cementing the group through shared suffering. As happens in boot camp, bonds of camaraderie are formed during these painful experiences. Each time the organizers of the event present this introduction phase seemingly innocently, thinking that everyone will just happily get to know one another; they seem oblivious to the clear fact that no one wants to get to know anyone else, let alone forcibly and in public. And yet these introductory exercises work and continue to be practiced, and I think it's just because no person can go through that kind of torture and not feel some connection to the other members of the group.
In any case, Elise made us do this despite small murmurs of protest and pain from around the room. At her signal, just about everyone turned to the nearest person they could find--not their spouse, of course--and began to ask them questions. When I looked around from where I was sitting, everyone was taken. I closed my eyes briefly and decided to do what I do best in these situations, which is just sit still.
Only one person dared to venture forth from their seat and look for someone outside their immediate vicinity. He came up to me. He was on the small side, with little round rimless glasses and short greying hair. I stood up to greet him.
``I'm Vincent,'' he said.
``I'm Chris,'' I replied.
He pulled a small notebook from his pocket and opened to a clean page, hovering his pen over it. I realized that I didn't have anything resembling a notebook or a pen with me--generally, I don't write, I type, and my computer isn't portable--and I also realized I was never going to remember anything this guy told me. Without Dawn to remember things, I'm useless. I felt deflated. Vincent took down my information: My name was Chris Rywalt. Dawn and I were due April 30th. We took the Bradley course because I wanted the birth to be as healthy and painless and easy as possible, and Bradley seemed to offer that. We didn't have any other children.
``Are you an actor?'' he asked, and pointed to my shirt. I looked down and realized I was wearing a show shirt from my alma mater's Dramatic Society. For several years I designed their programs and tee-shirts and got free clothes that way. I still wear those tee-shirts a lot. I suddenly wished I was an actor, so I could be as cool as he thought I was.
``No, I'm a computer programmer,'' I said, and explained about the shirts as best I could.
Then it was my turn. I asked if I could borrow his notebook and pen, and Vincent gladly loaned them to me. All I ended up writing down was his first and last name, because it turned out I would remember the rest of his information. He and his wife were due May 5th, which is Dawn's birthday, so I could remember it. They already had a daughter who was six years old, and they had her using Birthworks. I'd never heard of Birthworks. And they were taking the Bradley course because they wanted to get focused on this upcoming birth and review all the natural childbirth training they'd learned the first time through.
Vincent's last name sounded Greek to me. ``Are you Greek?'' I asked him.
``Yes,'' he answered.
I grasped at a conversational straw. ``My brother-in-law is dating a Greek girl, second generation,'' I told him. ``Her parents are Greek from Greece, you know, and they own a diner--the whole Greek thing.''
``Is he Greek?'' Vincent asked.
``No,'' I said.
``Then good luck to him,'' Vincent said, smiling.
``He'll need it,'' I answered. Then Elise announced our time was up and we all returned to our seats.
To my surprise, Vincent and I sounded like the best prepared speakers there. Most of the men forgot even to ask the questions we were supposed to ask, and if they did remember they forgot the answers. The women were better. I was glad to see I'm not the only man who uses his wife as an address book, notebook and general factotum. Also surprising was the fact that I was the only man there who brought his wife. All the others, except Vincent, were brought by their wives, and a couple of them seemed downright unhappy to be there. The main male reason for taking Bradley courses seemed to be, ``To keep my wife happy.'' After Vincent introduced me and my reasons for being there, everyone else looked at me and Dawn like we were some strange new animals. Even Elise seemed a little startled. We were also the only couple there intending to take both Bradley and Lamaze, which made us look even more odd.
After the introductions, the rest of the class went smoothly. Elise told us about her family and how she'd birthed her three children. She also told us how she helped deliver her sister's baby in the back of a van on the way to the hospital. Then we discussed exercises to prepare the woman for labor and delivery, and we went over nutrition and some basic anatomy so we'd know what all the different bits and pieces of a woman are called. I happily discovered that there were no surprises here--although there are a few tongue-twisters, like the pubococcygeus muscle. Even Elise, a trained childbirth educator, slipped on this word a few times. No wonder everyone calls it the Kegel muscle, after Dr. Kegel, who first proposed exercising it.
By about ten o'clock it was time to go. We all stretched and were saying our good-byes when I was caught by one of the other men in the class. I had him pegged for an engineer the minute I saw him with his long thin hair tied back in a ponytail and wispy goatee and mustache. Sure enough, he had heard I was a computer programmer and he wanted to talk--he was an electrical engineer. I very rapidly found myself in the Land of Dilbert, talking about microcode and RISC processors and fourier transforms, all of which very rapidly wandered out of areas with which I'm familiar, because I never paid much attention in class. He felt that computer science should be taught under the engineering department, rather than under arts and sciences as it's often taught in college. I agreed--I went to an engineering school, after all--and sought out Dawn with my eyes. She was off having a conversation which surely had nothing to do with computers, even though she has the same degree and works in the same field as I do. I knew it bugged her to no end that people--men, usually--would talk to me about computers and not her, when she's just as qualified. I think in this instance she should have been happy to have been spared.
In a couple of minutes I unentangled myself just as Dawn was leaving off her conversation and we made our way to out car and drove home, talking all the way about our new experience.
I think what I was most surprised by about the Bradley class was how positive it all was. I went in prepared for a negative experience, a class of Thou Shalt Nots. Hearing from our friends how it would be, I got a sense that the whole Bradley Method was based around the idea, as I wrote earlier, that all men are idiots and doctors are the biggest idiots. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Of course, what each birth method is about depends on who you ask. If you ask Bradley people, for example, about Lamaze, they'll tell you that Lamaze is where they teach you to be a good little patient so Doctor Frankenstein can easily strap you down on a steel table with leather restraints, pump you full of drugs, fire current across electrodes on your forehead and pull your baby out with clamps, after which the baby is taken away and left alone in a cold room. On the other hand, if you ask Lamaze people about Bradley, they'll tell you that Bradley is the method where, at the proper phase of the moon, the woman goes out alone into the woods and finds a clearing in which to give birth to the baby in a pile of pine needles while the deer and bear watch, after which the baby is consecrated to the Earth Mother.
So I was expecting the Bradley Method to be a negative experience. I was expecting a list of things you weren't supposed to do, and I suspected this list would coincide closely with what was standard obstetrical practice. I also expected that the Bradley Method was a wildly feminist method, and that men, especially male doctors, would be denigrated.
I came away from that first Bradley class with a very positive feeling. Men are not denigrated under the Bradley method--in fact, just the opposite. The position of the man is one of utmost importance when using Bradley. The husband is supposed to be literally what they say he is: a coach. He's supposed to support and encourage his wife and then, when the game is on--during labor and delivery--he's supposed to be the one on which she can lean, rely, and turn to for advice and support. Dr. Bradley teaches that the woman will be busy--that's why it's called labor--and that it is up to the husband to make sure she has what she needs and that, above all else, she relaxes. He's there to give her love and attention and to keep her calm and relaxed. Remember the FEAR TENSION PAIN cycle? The husband's job is to short-circuit that cycle, and thereby ensure a smooth, happy, fear-free tension-free pain-free birth.
Also, there is no big list of Thou Shalt Nots--rather, there is a list of You Shoulds and You Might Like Tos. Two eggs per day is not required, it's recommended. The exercises are not mandatory, but it's made clear that the exercises will help tremendously. And above all, the class is not about blindly following the orders of your Bradley instructor: Everywhere there are explanations, reasons, good sound examples and advice. And, most importantly, Dr. Bradley urges you to experiment and find what's best for you. Research is encouraged--in fact, any time we had a question Elise couldn't answer, she wrote it down on a little card so she could find the answer for us and her future classes. The Bradley Method is a learning experience.
After that first class, I told Dawn all of this during the ride home. I really was impressed with the Bradley approach, and I knew we had made the right decision to attend. And that was before I read Dr. Bradley's book, Husband-Coached Childbirth.
It took a couple of weeks after that first class for me to get a copy of the book. Dawn and I went out several times searching for it but were unable to find it. Then she finally found a copy at a bookstore on her way home, but she didn't buy it. I had to pester her for nearly a week before she remembered to stop in and get it before she came home. This was a bizarre turnaround for us, since usually she's the one pestering me about one thing or another. But as the pregnancy progressed, Dawn came to rely on me for more and more things--things she used to take care of by herself or at least with my help if not enthusiasm she needed to be reminded to do. Her energy stores were being used up and I was called upon wherever possible to take over. This led to some strange things previously unheard of in our relationship, like my calling her three times a day to tell her to buy the Bradley book on the way home. To her credit, Dawn took it very well and only barely threw the book at me when she got it home at last.
I'm a fast reader and finished the book in less than a week, mostly on the train to and from work. I fell in love with this book nearly immediately. I almost wish I could put the entirety of Husband-Coached Childbirth right here so everyone who reads this can read that too, right along with it. I actually found myself crying at the descriptions of births Dr. Bradley attended. Throughout this book, he weaves a feeling about babies and pregnant women and childbirth that can only be described as numinous. By the time I was done with this book, I had an entirely different feeling towards Dawn and the baby, something of a feeling for the enormity of what we were about to do, of the importance this event would have in our lives. Before, the birth was kind of hazy, a sort of momentary event to which I gave little thought, a small space between being pregnant and then actually having a baby to take care of. But Dr. Bradley's book made me feel that the birth is an event in its own right, to be celebrated and enjoyed and prepared for--he calls it the original birth-day.
In short, after reading Husband-Coached Childbirth I fell in love all over again with my wife and my baby and what we were going to do. If I still had any doubts about the Bradley Method before I read the book, after that they were dispelled.
Of course, not everything about reading the Bradley book has been good. For one thing, Dawn is reading the book too. And she keeps yelling at me, telling me I have to be nice to her.
``Didn't you read the part in the book where it says you have to be nice to me?'' she asks.
``Of course I did,'' I reply, ``But I am being nice to you.''
``What about where it says to help around the house?'' she counters.
``I am helping around the house.''
``You call this helping?''