I love facilitating antenatal classes, it must be the frustrated actress in me. I taught them solidly for 10 years, couples, teenagers and active birth, they were all rewarding and for the majority of the time fun. I’ll admit that when I was shifted to my new patch, and the classes were held on a Wednesday so my job-share always had to do them, I was quite happy, I had got bored with the repetitive nature of the information. It’s now been 18 months though and, other than a few ‘one-on-one’ sessions with couples who were traumatised by previous birth experiences, my educational aids have sat, gathering dust, in my dining-room. On Sunday I gave son and DIL a quick, uncomplicated birth chat. They had been to their first parentcraft class that week and were less than impressed with it’s content and the fact that the midwife dismissed all questions with a ‘you don’t need to know that, or a ‘you’ll cope with that if it happens’ attitude. Well, yesterday they had the ‘complicated labour and birth’ session which should have covered induction of labour, interventions, ventouse, forceps, caesarian section and epidurals, and when son recounted the class to me I was reduced to tears, of laughter. Son was not impressed by my hilarity, and bought me up short by reminding me that ‘it was alright for him as he had me to give them all the information, but the others weren’t as lucky’. What I was laughing about was the description of the midwife’s behaviour when she was talking about a stretch and sweep. Apparently, whilst she was talking, she had the demonstration pelvis on her lap and was absent-mindedly doing the motions a midwife would undertake when carrying out the stretch and sweep, the 2 fingers together, them straight and moving forward and then rotating, all within the pelvis. I was laughing at this due to the fact that I could identify with this, I’m one of those people who use their hands a lot when speaking. Son went on though, he was fixated by watching the midwife as, by the end of her description, her fingers, then hand and wrist were disappearing into the pelvis and appearing out of the top. He was very concerned for all the women in the class, by all accounts they were all wide-eyed, and transfixed by the spectre of a stretch and sweep which wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Vets in Practice.
Back to being serious now, obviously the classes they are attending are not fulfilling their purpose, and this makes me feel sad, frustrated and angry. As son pointed out I can rectify the short-comings for him and DIL, I can’t for all the other couples. Those couple’s time as been wasted, their expectations not met, and possibly their opinion of midwives and their faith in the maternity unit put into question. I don’t blame the midwife, I blame the expectation by the service organisers that all midwives should facilitate these classes. The midwife knows all the information, she has been a midwife for many, many years but this does not mean that she is comfortable standing (or sitting) in front of 20 – 30 people and passing on her knowledge in an interesting form. Years ago we had a antenatal class co-ordinator, that was her only role. She would organise all the classes, design and provide the resources and be the contact point for all the women attending and the midwives conducting them. The midwives who facilitated the classes would have put themselves forward as wishing to incorporate this condensed information giving role into their practice, therefore they were motivated and enthusiastic, ideal for making the classes well-structured, appropriate and stimulating for the participants. This system was abandoned locally several years ago, obviously a money saving exercise. The co-ordinator role was abolished and it is now a piece-meal approach with equipment that is old, and often broken and midwives who feel ill at ease communicating to a room of people and so rely on ancient videos, one I’ve seen dates back to the 1970s, to fill in the time allocated to this important element of preparation for labour, birth and those first few days with baby. No wonder the NCT are so popular.