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. ┬áIt’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