Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Educating Mama
by Jenny Moore

I'm a first time mother. And like most first time mothers, I ask for and receive a great deal of advice. So when my obstetrician tipped his glasses downward and suggested I attend a childbirth education class, I agreed.

"You've got two options," said the hospital operator. "Six weeks of Tuesdays or one weekend marathon." "The marathon," I said, hoping the name wasn't true to form. But it was. I'm told a practiced runner can finish a marathon in four hours. So I think if an expectant woman in her third trimester can remain seated in a hospital classroom for two entire days, the name marathon is justified.

The Opening Stretch
On Saturday morning, we mothers-to-be lower our pear-shaped butts gingerly onto fold-out chairs and introduce our symptoms in lieu of names. "My sciatic nerve. It's just killing me." "My ankles are swollen." "My boobs hurt all the time." Around the room we go, leaving no complaint unheard.

Similar to a real marathon, our first trek through childbirth education class provides ample warm-up time. We do a little stretching. A little breathing. And a few more rounds of introductions, which, because of the number of questions we are asked to answer, extends our warm-up to nearly two hours. Our teacher -- I'll call her Nurse Wurst -- wants to know our names, our doctors' name and location, where we will be delivering, how far along we are, the gender of our baby (if known), the baby's name, and what we would most like to get out of today's class. Nurse Wurst points to me. I clear my throat, and give her the rundown.

"Well, we're 33 weeks along. We're having a boy, but we don't have a name yet. This is our first baby and I guess we're here because we're a little shaky on how he's actually going to, you know, be born."

"Perfectly normal," says Nurse Wurst who nods toward the next couple in line -- a furry, curly-headed couple with matching gel-filled sneakers. Anna is about my age, in her late twenties with great posture and a belly button that pokes out like a growth on a potato.

"My husband and I just got married two weeks ago," says Anna. 

"Oh really!" says Nurse Wurst with a slight blush. 

"This baby's our first, so I guess we want to know what to expect. Up to now, it's been kind of crazy, you know? I've been pregnant for almost a year!" says Anna. 

"Y'all have dear," explains Nurse Wurst.

Last but not least, a woman with a ledge of breast and belly introduces herself as Becca. In addition to four oversized pillows with ruffled shams, Becca brought with her a husband who hides his pock- marked nose under a USS Constitution cap and unfurls the curly black hair on his forearms with a pocket knife. Becca works her wide, pink lips over a double cheeseburger and jostles her index finger toward her flannel wrapped belly. 

"Gonna name her Harley," she says. "She's due in six weeks, but I'm havin' some problems with my kidneys so they're takin' her out in three."

"Well then," says Nurse Wurst. "Welcome."

Most of the couples in attendance are thirty-ish, Caucasian, and as my husband notes, share a striking resemblance to one another. The furry couple asks us if we're ready to have a baby and before we can answer Anna says, "It's totally terrifying, isn't it? I can't even change a diaper."

"I don't think it's that hard," I say. Though I haven't changed a diaper myself since I was fifteen. And even then, the mother complained that I had put the diaper on her baby backwards. So I'm in good company. In attendance are fifteen other apprehensive first-time mothers, ten of whom sign up for the diaper changing tutorial after lunch.   

Planning for the Birth Experience
We're running along at full speed now, our chests heavy with Hee, Hee, Hoos and Ha,Ha, Hos. Those that have to pee drop out of the race for a few minutes and all but one return. We're Planning for the Birth Experience with nary a glance at the clock. Nurse Wurst comes over to offer some private coaching, so I ask her, "Where exactly am I supposed to push FROM?" Fair question if you haven't done it before. Nurse Wurst pats my knee and says I'm preoccupied with "obsessive fears associated with the end of the pregnancy." I think she means birth

As we sit scattered across the room, Nurse Wurst asks if anyone wants a water break and I guess Becca misunderstands because she rubs her belly and says, "Someone's water broke? It ain't me." The rest of us make a mad dash to the water fountain, forming a gestational line-up, like a queue of full-breasted robins. We shift from ankle to ankle, staring at each other's bodies. I've never been in a room with twenty-two other pregnant women. Preggies are great to look at. After all, what's more fascinating to a pregnant woman than another pregnant women? You can see in our faces a mixture of compassion and insecurity for our current state. She's bigger. She's smaller. She carries low. She carries high. She can still reach down and shave her legs. Some want to talk Pregnancy A to Z. Others caress their colossal bellies like well-worn secrets.

Expectant dads gather around the coffee machine and commiserate. Poor dads. This childbirth education class believes Dad to be akin to a brainless, spineless sperm bank. Although, he's "welcome to attend." According to Nurse Wurst, who also acts as a PR representative for the hospital, Dad's main role is to spring for the Deluxe Birthing Suite at $250 a night. The men give a collective "har-dee-har-har," and ask for a pamphlet on the traditional Labor, Delivery Recovery (LDR) room. 

After our water break, we're given a review of anatomy and pain tolerance. Page 43 of our manual shows a cervix in ever-widening circles of dilation. I was never good at math, and now see quite clearly that all these months I have mistaken the centimeters for millimeters. 

"It gets that big?" I say.

"You better believe it," says Nurse Wurst.

I think most of what I'm learning will only make sense once I have to go through it myself -- sort of like sex education, as it was taught in the eighth grade. Mrs. Green taught us how to roll a condom onto a boy's penis (she used a yellow banana from her lunch bag), but I didn't actually practice this technique until I was in college, and by then I couldn't remember anything Mrs. Green had said anyway. I figured it out -- it just required a little practice, a little trust and a little intuition. So, I think I'll be okay. 

The Last Stretch
By 5:00pm, the mothers-to-be are hungry and the daddy's have lost their minds. But, the finish line is in sight, and I do believe we've all come away with some useful information we may or may not abandon at the height of our pain. The extra quarters for the soda machine, the extra hand towels, "the high protein snack" and the birth plan will probably stay in my over-night bag. But knowing there are dozens, if not thousands, of first-time mothers joining the ranks every day makes me feel ready to take the plunge into motherhood. 

Let the race begin.
Jenny Moore is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. She began writing six years ago after an internship at Texas Monthly magazine.  She frequently travels north to Austin with her six-month-old son Alexander to visit Grandma 1 and Grandma 2.