Over the last four years or so, I've seen my three oldest children go through "The Fifth Grade Talk", and learn topics of "Sex Education" in their school health class. During this same time, I began my work as a doula and midwifery student. These events came together about the same time, and it started me thinking.
My oldest daughter is now 15. By the time she had "The Talk" in fifth grade, she had already experienced childbirth firsthand, as she helped "catch" her youngest sister. During my pregnancy, my midwife suggested that I include my oldest daughter (who was not quite 10 at the time) in the experience, explaining that this would be a fabulous opportunity for her to learn about her own body, and what's to come in her own development. I wasn't involved professionally in the childbirth field yet, but I embraced the idea.
She attended every prenatal visit, childbirth classes, read information, and evenutally attended and assisted in the birth. I regret to this day that I did not have my sons attend that birth. They were very young at the time, and due to their age, I thought several hours in the hospital while I labored might be too much for them.
She sat with me as I nursed her sister (although she had already seen me nurse both of her brothers a few years before). The boys often sat with me, too. They never asked questions about breastfeeding. In their understanding, that is the way babies ate food. Period. And, like most children, I would catch them trying to nurse their stuffed animals.
The following year, my daughter had "The Talk", but it was not uncomfortable for her, nor was it unfamiliar. We talked together later that night, and I answered a few of her questions. Four years later, my son had "The Talk", and the following year, so did his younger brother. It was interesting for me to listen to the boy's side of "The Talk". I would be lying if I didn't admit that I felt like the fact that their "Talk" was led by a male phsyical education teacher and his assistant, a male fifth grade teacher, was a disadvantage to the class. I found myself having to "undo" much of the information that they learned, particularly what they learned about females. I found it very troubling that my oldest son told me that he learned that "women get grouchy every 28 days".
This year, my younger son came home from "The Talk", and while he was less eager to share everything they talked about, he was proud to tell me that he and another boy already knew a lot of the information. (The other boy is the son of a midwife, and mine, the son of a doula). All of my children have watched birth videos with me, or listened in on a childbirth or breastfeeding class I was teaching. They've helped me study for my midwifery classes, looked at my books, and have just come to appreciate birth for the natural process of life that it is. They've seen a placenta and know that encapsulated, it helps some women recover during postpartum.
As a mother, I know that I have raised four children who will expect a natural birth experience when they become parents, and that their children will be breastfed. It's what they know. They've seen it first hand. I didn't go out of my way to teach them. They've just grown up being exposed to such information.
As a childbirth professional, I know that my children will make those choices because of what they've learned and experienced as children, not because they will sit in on a childbirth class when they are 30 weeks pregnant and suddenly learn to change all of their ideas about birth that society and television has taught them.
It makes me think. Shouldn't all children know this? Wouldn't this make a difference in the world of birth and breastfeeding?
I've seen my now 15 year old daughter attend health classes in which she is taught much about how not to get pregnant. Don't get me wrong - it's important information. But, it's irrelevant information to my 15 year old who's never had a boyfriend, let alone been in a situation to protect herself from pregnancy. Sure she needs to know this information - someday - but isn't there more applicable information she could use now?
This past fall, I had a chance to attend a Fertility Awareness Method workshop. After reading the advertisement for the workshop, not only did it sound like something I would enjoy, I thought it would be good information for my daughter as well. She had enough background to grasp an understanding of the fertility information, and I was already struggling with the idea that she (and her classmates) were learning so much about "how not to get pregnant" that she might never have a chance to learn about good health "when pregnant".
She loved it. She soaked it in, and could apply every single thing she learned about herself as she is RIGHT NOW. It was all information she can use later either to prevent a pregnancy or achieve a pregnancy. But she could also use that information today. She can chart her cycle, and she can apply that information to her overall health. She can live a healthier life as a young woman. In school she was learning how to apply a condom (something completely foriegn to her), when she really needed to learn how to find and feel her own cervix (something she learned at the FAM workshop).
I work with lots of pregnant women who are only now learning about birth. Its kind of like learning to drive after you already have a license. Often, I sit on interviews with women looking for a doula, and I feel like I'm educating them about birth for the very first time in their lives. They come into pregnancy with the influence of friends and family members (90% of whom have opted for a medicated birth), and feel educated on childbirth based on reality shows they have seen on cable TV. That's not real birth education. They'll tell me how they want a natural delivery, and they'll sign up for a hospital birth class. I'll share lots of information with them, and do my best to expose them to natural childbirth. But for many of them, it's simply not their expectation. Some don't have the advantage of having lived to expect birth as a natural part of life. The confidence in birth is not engrained in them.
As a birth professional, I read lots about ways to change birth. We blame much on hospital interventions and the limit of midwifery care and lack of homebirth support. Then we turn to current birthing women and expect them to be onboard with all of the information we know about safe birth practices, and to help create change in the maternity care field.
It seems to me that we need to create an expectation of a younger generation before there is real change. A younger generation that will become parents, health care providers, insurance workers, and lawmakers. If this younger generation learned more about the function of their bodies, in addition to the development of them, perhaps they would gain that confidence, and come to expect that birth and breastfeeding are a human right. A human expectation. A given. A whole generation "on the same page" when it comes to birth.
No discussion over whether or not women can breastfeeding in public because this generation would think "Why in the world couldn't a woman breastfeed in public? How else is the baby going to eat?" Can you imagine a world that assumes birth doesn't need to be medically managed? It doesn't seem to be that hard of an idea to grasp, really.
We've changed lots of things over the years with education. It takes time, but it eventually works. Certainly if my own actions as a mother have influenced my four children, then that's four more families who will influence their children, and their children, and soon, that's a lot of people making better choices based on what they've learned from their parents. I think we just need to include this younger generation in our efforts to promote healthy birth practices and breastfeeding rather than relying on holding the medical community or the formula companies accountable. (For the record, they're accountable in my book - but it's bigger than them).
So in the past few months I've researched, taken notes, jotted down a few ideas and started strategizing. I struggle with finding the balance of appropriately presenting this idea as a curriculum. I sure don't want to glamorize the subject into promoting more teenage parents, and I wonder how that pitch might sound to a high school educator. But, I waiver back and forth as I hear my daughter's stories of health class and social clubs started at school to promote an individuals sexual orientation, and realize if the schools are offering the subject to the students, then they need to offer the rest of the information. Perhaps they are as uneducated in birth as the rest of the adult population?
Somewhere I'll find the right approach. And eventually, a new generation will come to expect the same things from birth and breastfeeding.