Elizabeth Petrucelli

Author, Blogger, Educator

Tag: childbirth education

What Pregnancy is this for you?

I remember when I attended my last pregnancy prenatal yoga class. On the first day, the instructor asked, “What pregnancy is this for you?” She asked all the attendees. She started with “Raise your hand for #1,” then said, “#2?” “#3?” With each number, women would raise their hands but she stopped at #3.

I felt left out. I hadn’t raised my hand yet. She only went to pregnancy #3. So after a few moments, I raised my hand and said, “#5.” The instructor was happily surprised exclaiming, “WOW!! You are amazing! How wonderful that you can get away for self-care.” Then I thought, “Geez, that’s kind of presumptuous.” I responded, “Well, not really.”

She immediately jumped up off the floor and ran over to give me a hug. She embraced me and told me how amazing I was and then I became embarrassed and angry at the same time. She assumed I had four children at home because this was pregnancy #5 for me. I became quiet. I didn’t want to scare any of the other attendees, especially on the first day.

But as the class continued, she kept focusing on me and asking me for advice to share with the class, such as how to manage the schedules of four children. I ignored as much as I could and offered advice where I could. This continued through several classes and it became harder and harder for me to participate, not because I was sad but I was annoyed. Her question, “What pregnancy is this for you?” did not leave any room for explanation and left tons of room for assumption.

This created a conundrum. How do I explain to her at this point that I only have two living children? I thought about talking with her after class but this instructor was not good with time management. She consistently held us over by 20 to 30 minutes each class and I had a family at home to feed. If I really did have four kids at home, I couldn’t understand how she could be so inconsiderate of my time.

I ended up dropping the class. Questions like this make me wonder if I am approaching my questions about pregnancy in my childbirth education classes appropriately. While I don’t ask what pregnancy it is for my students, I have asked if they are first-time moms. It doesn’t really leave an opportunity for babies born early. I have decided that asking the question differently is the way to go.

I could ask, “how many of you have given birth before?” but that would probably confuse women who have had miscarriages as many of them (especially early losses) do not believe they have given birth. “How many of you are first-time moms?” is really no different.

“Is this your first pregnancy?” might offer better availability for an answer but could also be awkward if the family isn’t acknowledging their prior losses. So what DO you ask?

It’s complicated. You have no idea who is in your classroom and I have had several students talk about their stillbirth or losses. In one of my last classes in particular, the mother blurted out that this was not her first pregnancy and that she had lost her son at 20 weeks. She was attending this birthing class at 20 weeks and I think she was attending as an act of bargaining or a way to validating the pregnancy. 20 weeks is very early to attend a birthing class. I suppose it could be useful if there is a concern the next baby would be born early.

Still, “what pregnancy is this for you?” puts mothers enduring pregnancy after a loss in a precarious situation. It’s often anxiety provoking because mothers want to share their deceased children yet do not want to scare or upset a person and if they don’t share then they may feel guilty for not sharing. A seemingly joyful question has turned into an anxiety provoking question.

When I think about it, why even ask? What’s the purpose of asking? Maybe it’s an “ice breaker?” I know I ask in classes because if a woman has given birth before, her experience this time around might be different and we talk about that. I am considering no longer asking the question.  It’s important that all mothers feel comfortable in class and asking “how many children do you have,” or “what pregnancy is this for you?” is not necessary.

So what should we ask? How about, “How are you feeling about this pregnancy?” “What anxieties are you experiencing that we can talk about?” Be prepared for someone to share about their loss and if they do, please don’t blow them off. Recognize what they have said, offer condolences, ask about their baby/child, share if you have had a similar experience, and follow-up. drt5ye

What Does it Mean to Bring a Baby “Earthside” and Why it’s Offensive

EarthsideIt’s a term I am hearing more and more. I have used the term in the past but now, I can no longer use the term. It’s offensive! It makes my stomach turn each time I hear it and it’s now considered a trigger. Earthside…or as most often used: “Bringing Baby Earthside.”

A trite term used to describe birthing a baby, the term earthside is offensive to mothers. There are birthing coloring books called Bringing Baby Earthside, a fantastic tool for pregnant women to help relieve stress and focus on the positive aspects of birth but needs a new name; blogs written about the earthside baby such as this one from Birth Without FearPinterest pages dedicated to bringing babies earthside and even Etsy shops with onesies stating “Finally Earthside”. Babies are being welcomed “Earthside” in birth story after birth story.

No definition exists yet on what bringing a baby earthside means. Thank God and I sincerely hope this never becomes a definable term. This phrase needs to disappear as quickly as it came in the typical fad fashion. From Oxford Dictionary, earthside is defined as “on or from the planet earth.”

Unless a religion or belief states otherwise, while a woman is pregnant, her baby is actually on earth. I suppose if the pregnant woman is in space, the baby wouldn’t be on planet earth but where the baby is, so is the mother. The womb is not some intergalactic, off-the-planet place where babies form through stars into human beings and use hyperdrive to perfectly time their birth on this earth [insert sarcasm].

While human creation is a miracle and some might consider it supernatural, it’s not intergalactic. There is plenty of science that supports perfect timing for sperm meeting the egg, creating a pregnancy or forming life, which develops into a human being, and is born via a human being; all of which allegedly takes place on planet Earth. So if we are welcoming baby earthside, where has this baby been the last nine months or so?

Welcoming a baby earthside discounts the pregnancy experience as something it’s not. If the baby is not on this earth, as bringing baby earthside suggests, then how does the mother bond with her baby? If the baby in her womb is not earthside, does she have to help the baby in any way? What obligation does the mother have to the baby who is not earthside? Does the baby even exist? Is there a ball of stars within the mothers womb, bouncing around in there?

In my childbirth education classes, my students are told they are parents from the moment they became pregnant. One could possibly state that they became parents even before pregnancy because they have made decisions for the baby before that baby was even conceived. Oftentimes, my students are a bit confused to be called parents so early in their pregnancy.

But what are they if they are not parents? We call them mother and father in classes and that’s the definition of a parent. So as a mother and father of an unborn child they are responsible for caring for that child. If that child dies, they are still a mother and father.

So they are parents, of little humans, on earth, who have not yet been born. On earth is a key phrase here. They are already earthside. Let’s side-step for a moment.

For mothers enduring pregnancy loss, the term earthside takes on a different meaning. This pregnancy loss blog shares a story where the mother writes to the baby she will never meet earthside. While her baby was already “earthside” within her womb, she is using the term earthside to describe the physical form she will never hold on earth. I feel the same way. I will never hold Gus or Ruby “earthside.”

Her pregnancy loss happened very early and she describes how her loss “flowed from her.” No baby to hold, touch, or see, just blood washing her tiny baby out of her. She is a Christian and will not meet her baby on this earth. But in her blog, she shares her ambivalence with her grief and her struggles with the right to grieve. She has every right to grieve her loss. She loved this baby from the moment she suspected she was pregnant. She dreamed of this baby and imagined a new life with this baby in it. She is worthy of her grief but society doesn’t think so and she mentions this as one reason she did not share her loss with others.

Isn’t it enough for loss parents to have to prove to society the legitimacy of their loss without now having to prove their baby/child was “earthside?” If the baby isn’t really here on earth during the pregnancy, then why would a woman have the right to grieve if the baby didn’t really “exist?” Could using the term earthside damage a woman’s right to grieve? A baby’s whole existence is defined through birthing them alive. If a baby is not birthed alive, society questions their existence and mothers are confused and shameful in their grief.

Why must we define birth as coming earthside?

If a mother on earth is pregnant, the baby within her womb is on earth. The baby is already earthside. The baby doesn’t magically become earthside at birth; to say otherwise discounts the miraculous and earthly experience of conception, development, and birth. To say otherwise, minimizes the experiences of pregnancy loss because the baby never took a breath “earthside.” To say earthside at birth, turns the pregnancy experience into something galactic or alien.

Women should feel connected to their unborn, they should revel in the divine or mystical creation of new life and birth. When a woman discovers she is pregnant, she should shout from the rooftops: WELCOME EARTHSIDE! And when the baby is born she should rejoice, welcome her baby into her loving arms and into the tenderness of her nourishing bosom.

There is no need to define birthing a baby as bringing a baby earthside because the baby already was earthside. A simple “Welcome Baby” is sufficient.

But maybe, just maybe we are also using earthside as a euphemism. A way to describe birth without saying the word birth because to do so, would present the experience of birth as it is currently represented: fear-based, messy, and exhausting. Bringing a baby earthside certainly sounds more pleasant. Sign me up for bringing a baby earthside but “birthing a baby?” Eeewww.

Bringing a baby earthside is just a substitute for the unpleasant thoughts of “birth.” Instead of empowering women to birth, maybe if we just change the word “birth” to the word “earthside,” women will all of a sudden feel confident and comfortable with the experience and their fear will magically disappear?! [sarcasm] As an educator, I suppose I no longer need to teach about the experience of birth but about how to bring a baby “earthside” where there is no pain and your baby is transformed out of your womb, down a rainbow and onto your chest [more sarcasm].

This is no different than storks bringing babies to hopeful mothers. It’s a myth that is perpetuated as a distraction from what birth really is: a transformation which might be uncomfortable and/or painful but it is a transformation nonetheless.

Let’s stop using the term earthside. It’s distracting, it’s offensive, it’s a myth. Women birth babies. We have since time began. Babies aren’t dropped off by storks, they don’t come earthside (they were already on Earth); babies emerge from our wombs, through our vagina or in some cases, via surgical birth. We can’t change that no matter what term we use.

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