Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back to School Time- Learning to be an advocate

While I may not have posted lately, I have been very active in the birth/breastfeeding community over the past month. I had a fabulous time participating in the Latch On America event, the Breastfeeding Cafe, the Big Latch, the babywearing flash mob (all at the downtown library), and also at the Mother's Corner at the Davis County Fair. I'm now almost halfway through my series of childbirth education classes and absolutely loving it. I look forward to my class all week. I have awesome couples and I love sharing the important information with them as they prepare for the arrival of their little ones!

With the end of summer comes the beginning of school. Watching the back-to-school sales and hearing stories from my teacher friends makes me a bit nostalgic for the job I enjoyed for almost five years- that of an elementary school teacher. There are few jobs like it- no day is the same...and almost every day gives you a story to tell!

I am SO humbly grateful for the opportunity I have now to be a stay-at-home mom and be fully involved in my baby daughter's life. I hope I will continue to have that privilege for many years to come. I am also very grateful for the chance to teach childbirth education classes to expecting couples (usually just one night a week). It allows me to feel the joy of teaching, especially about a subject that I am so passionate about.

Remembering my years as a 5th and 6th grade teacher reminds me why I became a childbirth educator. I definitely preferred the "upper grades" of elementary school as a teacher- I loved working with students who could (basically) take care of their own needs, listen and follow directions (well, most of the time), and have a good conversation about a topic. However, there are some downsides to teaching older students. One of the downsides is the *drama* that comes with pre-teenagers (the note-passing, eye-catching, rumor-spreading age...).

The other difficulty is trying to help students at this age who are SO far behind in their academic progress. I worked in a very high-needs, high-poverty school. In my sixth grade class, each year I had students whose reading levels varied from above grade level to the BEGINNING reader level (like first grade level). The reasons for the deficiency were varied, and this post isn't intended to get into the politics of public education, but whatever the reason, the frustration and despair were real. Some students made impressive gains in their abilities, while it felt like others got farther and farther behind as the skills expected of a sixth grader were so far above their heads.

The parents, most of whom were facing huge pressures of trying to provide for a family in tough economic times with little education themselves, loved their children. I have so much respect for so many of the humble, loving families that I interacted with. I met parents who had sacrificed more for their children than I could even begin to imagine. They wanted their children to have a better life.

Many, however were not sure how to be advocates for their children. They did the best with what they knew how to do (and what they could handle at the moment). In those quiet moments, especially after meeting with parents at conferences, I really wished I could give them more. I wished I could pause the school year and sit individually with their child and help him/her to learn the necessary skills until he/she mastered them.

Even more than that, though, I wish I could have reversed the clock and helped these families have a better start. I wish I could have helped the parents advocate for their children long before they had a child in the sixth grade who was reading on a second grade level. I wished I could empower parents to learn the skills they need to help their children and advocate for their child's best interest.

In this midst of this teaching experience, my husband and I learned we were expecting our first baby. We took childbirth education classes, determined to give our baby the best start in life. In October of 2010, our little Molly joined our family in a beautiful birth-center birth. I don't profess that the decisions I made for my family are right for each person, but I do plead with parents to know their options and learn to be advocates for their child, even before he/she is born!

Did you know that many doctors/midwifes still routinely clamp and cut the umbilical cord immediately after birth even though repeated studies show that your baby benefits by waiting to cut the cord until it stops pulsing? These benefits can be shown immediately and even months after birth. By being informed of this practice, you can be an advocate for your baby and request that your baby's cord is not clamped or cut until it stops pulsing. Read more here.

Did you know that many school districts, including the Salt Lake City School District, have open school choice, which means that you can choose a school or program that is best for your child?

These are just two examples of how being informed can help you make the best decisions for your family and advocate for your children.

Dr. Sarah Buckley's book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering discusses informed decision-making using the "BRAN" model. Dr. Buckley discusses procedures related to prenatal care and labor & delivery.

For each procedure, she outlines the:
Benefits to the proposed procedure
Risks (physical, mental, emotional)
Alternatives to the procedure
....and what happens if you do
Once parents understand these four components, they are able to make an educated decision.

Obviously, this model could be used by all of us, whether we are making a medical decision during pregnancy or making a decision regarding our child's education. Wouldn't it be great if we were all this informed before we made decisions? With this type of information, we could truly be advocates for our kids (and ourselves!).

So, I became a childbirth educator because I'm passionate about birth and I believe it can and should be a sacred, significant, positive experience. Beyond that event, though, I hope to empower parents to become advocates for themselves and their children...starting now.

This post is a mix of my former (schoolteacher) and current (childbirth educator) opportunities--but I hope you will see how they are connected. Begin at birth to be informed and advocate for your children!

If you, or anyone you know, is expecting a baby, please check out my childbirth education classes!

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