What I Really Teach in My Birthing From Within Childbirth Preparation Classes

By Barrie Rein Thunneman, Birthing From Within Mentor ~ Full Moon Birth

Most first time parents find themselves faced with a whole variety of options as far as childbirth preparation. Do I take a childbirth preparation class? If so, what kind? There’s so many different styles and options to choose from, how do I know what will be the best class for me? Should I take the classes offered at the hospital where I’m giving birth or should I consider classes offered by an independent childbirth educator or Mentor?

The amount of choices in childbirth preparation can be overwhelming. So what makes my Birthing From Within childbirth preparation classes unique amongst all the other options out there? In a nutshell, what I’m really teaching in my classes is how to face the unknown with acceptance, love and compassion. I bet you were thinking, “Hey wait I thought she was going to teach us about positions for laboring, about how labor works, what to expect when we get to the hospital or birth center, about pain medication options and how they work and about navigating common labor variations?”

Yes, all of those things are addressed in my classes plus many other topics including learning a whole variety of pain-coping practices and how to work together as a couple. We talk about unwished for events, Cesarean birth, and what might help each parent to navigate challenges.

What makes my classes unique is that from the very beginning of each series, labor, birth and parenting are acknowledged as rite of passage events in the course of our human lives. For thousands of years in a variety of cultures there has been an understanding that what is needed to move through a rite of passage event is the ability to face the unknown. The only way that humans historically have moved through the great unknown of life has been to do whatever was needed in each moment with as much strength, grit, tears, courage, sweat, or even blood as they were able to muster and the ability to do the next best thing with whatever occurs as part of the journey. Often times they discover something new about themselves or each other in the process.

So how in the world can a childbirth class prepare a parent for something like that? One of the ways we prepare in my classes is by engaging in activities that give parents an opportunity to experience a small taste of the unknown and by practicing mindfulness and self reflection to not only think about what helped the parent to move through, but to build an internal sense of resiliency and self compassion. Activities like birth art allow parents the opportunity to be in the moment and ask themselves questions like, “what do I do when I don’t know what to do?” When parents learn pain-coping they are practicing different ways to move through discomfort and learning how to watch the thoughts and stories the mind creates about their experience. Parents hold ice as a tool so that they have an unpleasant stimuli to test the practices out with. Couples get to experiment together with what worked, and what kinds of support matches their needs. There is no right answer or correct way of navigating any of it. The idea is to build the muscle of self awareness, acceptance and self love so that with a compassionate heart, they are able to do whatever might be needed to move through the journey in the unknown realm of labor, birth and parenting.

So if you take my childbirth classes you’ll learn all the practical information about how labor works, pain-coping practices and positions for labor and birth and all kinds of other practical information. With every activity, every discussion, every practice what I’m really hoping to leave you with is the ability to do whatever is needed. I want you to know that focusing on the process vs. the outcome can be much more helpful, and that your choices, your way, and your experience are valuable and unique. I am helping you cultivate the inner knowing that you have the resiliency and tools needed to navigate your own journey through the unknown rite of passage known as birth, with acceptance and compassion in your heart for yourself and one another. This is what I’m really teaching in my classes. I hope you’ll join me.

Get the new book!

Ancient Map Cover

Ancient Map for Modern Birth

Preparation, Passage, and Personal Growth during Your Childbearing Year

The new ground-breaking book from Birthing From Within Founder Pam England is here!

The integrative model of childbirth preparation and recovery described in this book will provide birthing people with the information needed to prepare for birth, how to think and feel about labor, and how to tell their story. During their childbearing year, they traverse two paths at once: an inner path of psychological and spiritual awareness and an outer path of practical approaches to birth in modern-day culture. The book combines scientific research with meditation, ceremony, art, and mythic stories, which not only prepares childbearing people to go beyond their edge into uncharted territory, but also to find their way home again. The underlying message throughout is not to strive for a perfect birth but instead to be mindful of the mythic journey, of all those who have come before—an awareness that leads not only to the birth of a child but to the birth of a new self.

“The layering of the book into four parts—the Call, the Tasks of Preparation, the Gates of Laborland, and the Warrior’s Return— provides a solid organization, and even a sense of heroic journey. The many exercises make the presentation quite experiential and very useful for both practitioners and pregnant families.” —Lewis Mehl-Madrona, author of Coyote Medicine

Ancient Map for Modern Birth is a soulful, authoritative, and exquisitely written guide for the heroine’s journey we call childbirth. I highly recommend this beautiful gift of insight and knowledge.” —Christine Northrup, MD, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom


What makes Birthing From Within Mentors different?

By Virginia Bobro, Birthing From Within Co-Owner

Everyone who interacts with a pregnant person is, in some way, their “teacher.” Telling birth stories, sharing resources, imparting obstetrical information, giving advice or warnings—these are all direct or indirect ways of teaching about birth and parenting.

Mentoring begins with relationship, not knowledge.
The women and men who attend our Introductory Workshops (“The Art of Childbirth Mentoring”), and then enroll in our Mentor Certification Program, are committed to doing MORE than simply imparting childbirth information or issuing warnings, advice, or cliches about birth. They are embracing the mentoring model for expectant couples in their community. They are not merely educating, but truly, profoundly initiating. They see the window of the childbearing year as an opportunity for learning about oneself, not “trying to get it right.”

A Mentor is “one who has gone the way before.”
As Mentors, they bring certain knowledge and experience about: childbirth; navigating through the hospital; parenting; and human nature… beyond what can be gleaned from books. They also know that pregnant people and expectant partners bring wisdom about their own coping mechanisms, social network, personal assumptions and agreements; However, these men and women have not yet walked the road through birth, the hospital environment, or into parenting themselves, and naturally turn outwards, seeing support and information. So the Mentor dances between deeply listening, being in a solution-focused mindset, encouraging parents’ self-awareness and reflection, and clearly and engagingly delivering current, relevant birth information.

Mentoring means being on an ongoing search to know yourself intimately and deeply.
To help others know themselves, you must also be on a quest to “know thyself.” So in our workshops and programs, there is a strong emphasis on our Mentors’ personal awareness and growth. They have their own mentors (our Advisors) who support, encourage, challenge, and educate them as they hone their skills and knowledge. Because it takes 3-5 years of committed, diligent work to become a Certified BFW Mentor, we know it is not the easiest, cheapest, or shortest path to being a childbirth educator. But it certainly the most rewarding!

What is “Radical, Compassionate Childbirth Preparation”?

By Virginia Bobro, Birthing From Within Co-Owner

What does this mean? We like to think that our holistic classes and workshops prepare anyone–pregnant women, dads, and birth professionals of all stripes–for the mystery of birth. Stepping into the unknown, the intensity, the surprises of birth isn’t for the faint of heart. We are radical enough to know that positive thinking, book-learnin’, and a doula may not be enough to get through the intensity of birth. Whether labor is fast and crazy, long and hard, ecstatic or mind-blowing, you really can’t truly prepare. So, what are Birthing From Within classes and professional workshops for?

We propose something radical: beyond affirmations, pretty pictures, and obstetrical facts. Seeing Birth as a Hero’s Journey means that we aren’t so concerned with achieving a “natural” or “vaginal” birth, or, vaguely, “empowering women.” (What does that mean, anyway?) Our focus is on preparing the Birth Warrior inside each birthing person–so that they are ready to do whatever it takes in each moment. Sometimes, that will mean digging deep for the strength to keep going or to surrender to a power beyond their understanding. Sometimes it will mean doing “the next best thing” and having a cesarean birth, though they tried with every ounce of her being to avoid it. Sometimes it will mean looking “weak,” moaning, crying, being confused or vulnerable. Sometimes it will mean making peace with not being able to speak up for themself, or not doing whatever it was they hoped they could do or say. Sometimes it will mean that the the wise and compassionate action is getting an epidural.

Compassionate means: Reducing the anxiety and fear that parents have as they approach the initiation into parenthood. In our classes, we don’t make promises, and we don’t make threats. So our childbirth classes and professional workshops go deeply into personal exploration, into the realm of the Mystery, mindfulness, intimacy, myth, art, emotions, beliefs, and learning from every part of who we are: body, mind, spirit, and soul. We strongly believe that our workshops and classes reduce or prevent emotional birth trauma, fear, burn-out, frustration, disappointment, and guilt– for everyone at the birth.

When we struggle so hard–as birth activists or as pregnant people–to “Get what we want,” or achieve particular birth statistics, perhaps something is lost. Perhaps the outcome of the birth is none of our business and beside the point. Maybe… there is something more important to psyche and the arc of our lives than “a good outcome.”

We hold the strong belief that we are preparing true Birth Warriors: they do not hope, or distrust, or try to control. They do what needs to be done in the moment. They know what to do when they don’t know what to do.

Join our Birth Warrior tribe: take a Birthing From Within class or workshop. Birth and life will never be the same.

13 Principles Behind Birthing From Within Classes

  • Childbirth is a profound rite of passage, not a medical event (even when medical care is part of the birth).
  • The essence of childbirth preparation is self-discovery, not assimilating obstetric information.
  • The mentor (teacher) is “midwife” to the parents’ discovery process, not the expert from whom wisdom flows.
  • Childbirth preparation is a continually evolving process (for parents and teachers), not a static structure of techniques and knowledge.
  • Parents’ individual needs and differences determine class content.
  • Active, creative self-expression is critical to childbirth preparation.
  • The purpose of childbirth preparation is to prepare birthing people to give birth-in-awareness, not to achieve a specific birth outcome.
  • Pregnancy and birth outcome are influenced by a variety of factors, but can’t be controlled by planning.
  • In order to help parents mobilize their coping resources, it is critical for childbirth classes to acknowledge that unexpected, unwelcome events may happen during labor.
  • Parents deserve support for any birth option which might be right for them (whether it be drugs, cesarean, home birth, or bottle-feeding).
  • Pain is an inevitable part of childbirth, yet much can be done to ease suffering.
  • Pain-coping practices work best when integrated into daily life, rather than “dusted off” for labor.
  • Birth partners help best as birth guardians or loving partners, not as coaches; they also need support.
  • For parents, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum is a time of continuous learning and adjustment; holistic support and education should be available throughout that period.
  • Childbirth preparation is also parent preparation.


Pain Happens: Suffering Shouldn’t

By Charlene Hamilton ~ Birthing From Within Mentor ~ Heart of Birth

When we hear someone talking about wanting a “pain free” birth, or hear someone describe birth as “orgasmic” or “ecstatic” we may wonder “What in the world are they talking about? How can labor not hurt?” And when we hear someone talking about how wonderful their epidural was, or saying how that can’t imagine why a woman would put herself through that much misery, we might ask ourselves “Yes, why would you go through pain voluntarily?” Pain is a loaded, symbolic word that people naturally shy away from, because pain is, usually, our body telling us something is awry.

But what both sides are really speaking about, what every birth provider wants to eliminate, whether they practice in home, hospital or birth center, is not truly pain, but suffering.

Suffering is when the experience of pain overwhelms us, when we start telling ourselves negative stories about what is happening, and our coping skills are overwhelmed.

We have, all of us, experienced pain without suffering. How many of us have cut ourselves shaving, and it didn’t start hurting until we saw the blood? Or the bruise on some body part that you discover later, but you have no idea when or how it happened? It’s a bruise, pain signals from the damaged area had to go from there to the brain, but you weren’t aware of them. What about smacking your thumb with a hammer? The ‘coping skills’ people use for that (yelling, swearing, hopping up and down, grabbing the affected hand) are so common, they’re used in cartoon and comedy. We’ve gotten through broken bones, bruised shins, cuts, bumps, scrapes, scraps and other painful mayhem by drawing on our own inborn coping skills, and our body’s natural response to pain.

meworkin1Take, for example, getting a tattoo. It hurts, right? Getting little needles poked into your skin at high speed is not going to be without pain. And yet people do it all the time! How? If you watch someone getting a tattoo, you often see the same coping skills that women use in labor; deep or naturally patterned breathing, eyes closed inward focus or eyes focused on a specific point, or external distractions. And if you talk to someone after a tattoo, they may describe feeling “euphoric” or “floaty” or even “orgasmic”. That’s because they were able to use their body’s natural response to pain, endorphins, to get through.

Or what about a marathon runner? Labor is often compared to marathon running- lots of hard physical work, ups and downs and breaks, and an exhausting but exhilarating finish. No one denies that marathon runners go through physical pain when running, and yet no one suggests that they should take medication at the soonest opportunity, or that they are suffering for “no reason” or are “trying to be a hero” or just out to “win a medal”. In fact, their perseverance, focus and drive are often lauded and celebrated.

So how do those runners get through their marathons without suffering? Training and education. They’ve done things to help their body prepare physically for the marathon, they know how their body is going to respond to the challenges of the event, and they’ve learned skills that will help them meet each challenge as it comes. And they, too, rely on endorphins to get up and over the pain.

Both the tattoo recipient and the marathon runner have also been able to overcome fear.

When we experience fear (even when we know we are ‘safe’, like watching a horror movie), our body floods us with hormones that get us ready to either run like heck, or put up a fight. And those hormones override endorphins, because if we’re going to be running or fighting, we need to not be loopy on natural painkillers. During labor, that Fight or Flight response directly interferes with the birth process and can cause increased pain.

So a key element to childbirth preparation is learning how to recognize and face potential fear triggers in labor, learning what your own reflexive, already existing coping skills and resources are, and learning to draw on those coping skills at any point during labor.

By educating women about labor and birth, by validating their concerns and helping them recognize their coping skills and resources, by giving them tools to respond to the pain of labor without fear, by giving them skilled support in labor (and not expecting partners to be professional Coaches, and allowing partners to be supported in what is their birth, too!), we set women up for having a labor and birth without suffering. Then the doorway opens for experiencing the pain of labor as something other than a negative- orgasmic, ecstatic, powerful, intense & amazing.

What is Birth Story Listening®?

By Doree Handford~ Birthing From Within Mentor ~CD ~ A Parents Paradise

Everyone who has gone though a life changing event will have moments throughout it where they will question what was done to or for them during the experience. A couple examples would be; I wish I (they) could have done… it would have been better this way... if only I have made this choice or done that… or something along those lines. It may be small or it may be something that replays in your mind over and over.

When you are asked about your story it is easy to change it based on who you are telling your story to. You will tell certain friends or family all the details while leaving out upsetting or surprising information to other people. Most people will listen, give advice or amp up the injustice that has just occurred to you. All well meaning, and loving, but it doesn’t change your thoughts or feelings of the story.

Birth Story Listening is a gift to anyone who has had a baby. Once becoming a parent it is hard enough to find a moment to pee alone, let alone a moment to process the journey you have just taken. We will take one moment of all the moments in your journey to becoming a parent, and help you to process it.

A birth story listener is a active listener who can help you navigate what you are telling yourself because that moment happened and guide you to see your story in another way. If there is something you are still struggling with, schedule a session, it may be just what you need.

Best Feeding: The Modern Fairy Tale

By Amity Kramer ~ Birthing From Within Mentor, CD(DONA) ~ Thresholds

The fairytale is this: there’s a pregnant mother daydreaming of her round-faced baby suckling on her enlarged breast and then drifting off to a deep and restful sleep. She knows that breast is best; she of course, will do what’s best. Months later, the new mother sits with that round-faced baby in her arms. But, instead of suckling and drifting off to sleep, there are tears and frustration. They find themselves in a cold, dark forest. Ok, maybe it’s not a real forest, but that’s how it can feel for the woman struggling to feed her infant.

That cold, dark forest is where parents can find themselves when breastfeeding doesn’t go as planned. It’s scary when a baby isn’t nursing and thriving. When the natural process of breastfeeding isn’t working, parents and especially moms, can become consumed wondering what’s gone wrong.

Nursing is how mammals feed their young and babies like all mammals humans too have an inner map of how the process works. That is all true; nursing is an AMAZING thing- when it works. Most new parents are not adequately prepared for the unexpected. Having a limited belief that bottlebreastfeeding is the ONLY right way to feed a baby can backfire causing new parents to believe that all a mom needs to do is try harder or do more and the process will work. It’s helpful for new parents to know a few ways to care for themselves in the face of early feeding challenges.

No one wants spend the precious weeks postpartum wrestling with the self–judgement that often comes along with feeding issues. Why is this happening? What should I do? What’s wrong with me? These low points are about as far away as possible from the fairy tale picture once imagined. What can new parents do to embrace the light and love in difficult times?

One way to shed some love on hard situations is to best-feed your baby. Yes, you read that right, best-feed. There are two parts of best-feeding. The first is to understand that NO ONE is a perfect parent. Best-feeding is doing what is best in real-time for your family as opposed to what you may have thought was best before becoming a parent.

breastThe second part of best-feeding is to look at all of the ways that breastfeeding is beneficial and mimic the ones that can be replicated with whatever current feeding methods are being utilized. The possibilities of what to feed an infant include: breast milk, donated breast milk, purchased or homemade formula. Feeding systems offer even more possibilities: a bottle, syringe, nipple shield, or tube system with a finger or mothers nipple. For mothers dealing with repeat breast infections, or low milk supply feedings may include manual compression of the breast and additional time spent pumping after a regular feeding.

Anyone feeding a baby can best-feed; changing a chore of basic calorie transfer into a opportunity to connect. Here is how. Before a feeding simply take a slow breath and then ask yourself “How can I improve this moment?” Answering this question will provoke action. Maybe a mother will use the bathroom before a feeding to be more comfortable. Maybe a dad will get skin-to-skin with baby. Or both parents powering down the smart phone and listen inward. Talk. Sing. The answer will continually change, making each feeding a doorway to new possibilities.

It’s important for families to know that feeding issues don’t discriminate; it doesn’t matter if a woman read books or took a breastfeeding class or really, really wants to breastfeed. Being informed is an important way to promote a healthy feeding relationship, but it alone cannot guard a family from trouble. It’s possible for a woman to do everything “right” and still have problems that even the best lactation consultants in the city are unable to fix.

Best-feeding isn’t a magic ticket into bliss but it can help implement changes to the original feeding plan while holding onto important bonding opportunities that feeding your baby can provide and allow parents to enjoy the privilege of nourishing their child.

Why Take A Childbirth Class?

By Georgie Coote ~ Birthing From Within Mentor, CD(DONA), NBCR ~ Newborn Sole Birth Services

I was recently told that only 10 percent of first-time parents choose to take a birthing class. I was shocked, and a little discouraged, having taken my first steps on the journey to become a certified Birthing From Within mentor.
Let’s look at some of the reasons parents-to-be might not take a class.

1. I can find out everything I need to know online or from books.

That’s a lot of research! You also have to be careful where you read about something. If you start reading other peoples’ experiences on a birth forum because you are worried about something yourself, invariably, you will get a one-sided view. It’s always the dramatic events that get talked and written about. You may get the perspective that something is far more common than it is.Books

There are many great books on childbirth, but taking a class and seeing concepts come to life speak to many different ways of learning. Particularly in Birthing from Within classes, mentors do minimal lecturing and use visual aids, art and role plays to facilitate learning.

2. The medical staff will tell me what to do during labor.

Of course the staff have a lot of experience, but not having an informed opinion and the ability to talk through options knowledgeably may put you in a vulnerable position. You will remember the birth of your baby for the rest of your life. Even if you make a plan, birth can be unpredictable. Feeling that you made informed choices can make the difference between a positive birth experience and a traumatic one.

3. I don’t have time.

When your baby comes you will wonder what you did with your time before! Being busy at work can feel like the most important thing right now, but planning for the birth of your baby and spending time bonding with your partner in classes can be one of the greatest gifts you give your baby. Taking time out to really connect and find out what you both need to know – to give birth and be a strong partnership – will be invaluable. Taking group classes also gives you a chance to meet others giving birth at the same time, form strong bonds and a support network for after the baby is born. Many a playgroup were born from birth classes!

For those short on time or who need something to fit into an irregular schedule, private classes are also an excellent option.

4. I am planning to have an epidural. I don’t need to know how to cope with pain.

Even if you have plan to have an epidural, in early labor you will still have to cope with the pain of contractions. Your labor may even progress so quickly that you have very intense contractions before you arrive at the hospital. In my birth classes, we highlight not only what you already use to cope with pain, but we also stress and practice different pain-coping techniques, positions and aids that will make you more comfortable and confident. We also work on reducing fear by having a deep understanding of the stages of labor so that when you are in it, you will recognize where you are every step of the way.

Birth is a challenge, it is likened to running a marathon, needing physical and mental stamina to get you through.  It is a natural process and understanding the physiology of how your wonderful body works to birth your baby will give you confidence.

Group classes are also a fantastic way to meet like-minded new parents who will be a support for you for many years after your baby is born.

There are many types of classes, each offering something different.  It may be beneficial to take more than one class to get a different perspective on birth. If you only have time for one, research carefully to choose one that sounds like it would be a good match for you.  Consider weekend intensive classes, weekly series classes over a number of weeks or a private class.