About the Author: Elizabeth Varaso is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, a DONA Certified Birth Doula, and the proud mother of three ornery children ages seven and under. She’s a member of the Philly Doula Co-op, and serves on the Education Council for Lamaze International. After earning her MS Ed in Psychological Services from The University of Pennsylvania, she has spent the past 16 years living in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, serving children and families. Elizabeth discovered her calling as a birth professional after being profoundly impacted by the birth of her own children. In particular, the experience of adding a doula to her team of caregivers gave her a vision for how satisfying a well-supported birth could be. It's her desire to provide encouraging, empowering practical information in her classes, as well as strong, gentle and loving support as a doula so that expectant couples will not just cope, but thrive through their childbirth experience. You can find out more about the classes and services Elizabeth offers at her website www.mamabirdbirth.com.
“You caught the bug, didn’t you?”
That’s what an acquaintance who I hoped to turn into a friend said to me when I asked her if we could grab coffee sometime soon. She was a doula and a childbirth educator, but more importantly to me at that time, she was the working mom of two terrific kids, and by all appearances she didn’t seem to be completely losing her mind. I wasn’t so sure about myself. With a sassy two-year-old and a colicky two-month-old on my hands, I was struggling with finding my footing. I just wanted to reach out to another mom of more than one kid who I hoped could give me a pep talk and share some of her secrets to sanity.
“You caught the bug, didn’t you?”
The fact that I knew right away that this soon-to-be good friend and mentor was referring to “the birth bug,” was evidence that she was exactly right. Even though at that point there were only early symptoms, she saw that look in my eye of a woman transformed by her birth experience, ready to pay forward the gift that she had been given by her midwives and doula. I thought I was just reaching out for a friendship. Instead I got a friendship and a career path as a birth professional.
Several years later, I’m so grateful to have the privilege of helping to prepare and support Philadelphia mamas as they discover the amazing capabilities of their bodies and their babies. As a birth educator, I love to see the look in expectant parents’ eyes when they have that “ah-ha” moment —realizing that women and babies are made so very well for birth, and that the fear-inducing stories and Hollywood depictions they’ve encountered don’t have to define their expectations of birth. Because I’m also a doula with over 50 births under my belt, my classes are heavy on comfort techniques and strategies for being shared decision-makers with their caregivers.
People hear that I am a “Lamaze” instructor, and I think that they picture a room full of couples sitting on the floor, practicing “hoo-hoo-hee” breathing techniques. (And maybe because for me, that image is also iconically taken straight from the 1980s, that “hoo-hoo-hee mom has oversized bangs and stretchy stirrup pants. Dad might have a pair of stonewashed jeans, and a Magnum P.I. mustache. That’s what you were picturing too, right?)
In reality, breathing is only one of the dozens of tools for comfort and confidence in labor that women can use, and that I focus on during the classes that I teach. The real hallmark of Lamaze is the fundamental belief that women have the innate ability to give birth, and need to be supported well with evidence-based information that will help simplify the decision-making aspect of birth so that they are empowered to approach birth with confidence. In a Lamaze class, a large portion of the information you receive will be information about what your body is already made to do well! From there, we are just learning about how to work well with our bodies and our existing strengths and resources. Of course birth in our current maternity care system does provide some challenges and practical constraints, and so good deal of emphasis is placed on how to make choices and exercise informed decision-making during birth.
Ideally, a couple will have the schedule flexibility to take a class that meets over a series of weeks and allows them to learn alongside a group of other expectant couples. Having ample time to discuss, process and practice makes for the very best birth class experience. I really love teaching the 5 class Comprehensive Childbirth Class series at Mama’s Wellness Joint because because the whole class really gets to know and enjoy each other, and there is not a rush to fit in all of the great and helpful information about birth in a short period of time. Couples really form and empowering sense of community and learn so much from each other’s questions and insights.
Realizing that many people choose one-day hospital classes because of either time or budget constraints, I approached 2016 determined to have something better to offer Philadelphia couples than a cram-it-all-in-one-day class where, let’s be honest, at least half of the class is zoned out once they resume after the lunch break. Videos and visuals that are really helpful are a total snooze fest when your butt is in the same chair for 7 hours. I wanted to create something that would allow couples to experience the teaching methods that they didn’t need me there for - like watching videos - on their own time. That way, when I did have face to face time with these couples, I could answer questions that were specific to them and teach hands-on tools that couldn’t be replicated by a video.
All these ideas came together in the form of a “hybrid” class that I offer for couples in Philadelphia. The hybrid class consists of a 5 hour eClass that can be done from absolutely anywhere and anytime that you can log in with a computer or tablet. The eClass is broken up into 8 chapters that take about 30-40 minutes each. Couples can do the chapters together or separately, or a mix of each.
After completing the eClass, you pick from a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon to meet for a 4 hour in-person Comfort & Confidence group class. This is where you bring your questions, practice lots of comfort techniques and enjoy the company of other expectant couples. These classes usually come with other fun perks — a shopping discount for the class location like Ali’s Wagon or 3 Mama Llamas, and likely some other fun samples of items to pamper mama during labor!
While I love and treasure each opportunity I have to actually attend births as a doula, my three sweet littles can only handle their own mama being away so much, so I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to meet and empower so many expectant couples through teaching birth classes. I’m also so grateful for the Philadelphia Maternity Network were I can gain exposure to other fabulous birth professionals, so for all the doula referrals I need to pass along, as well as all of the other tremendous services that the other PMN members provide, I have trusted folks to connect my birth class couples to. Philadelphia really is a wonderful place to have a baby and raise a family, and the awesome birth community here plays no small part in that!
(Oh, and of course I purposely left you curious and hanging — that dear friend of mine who identified my “birth bug” is Maria Brooks — she now works as a Labor & Delivery nurse at both Pennsylvania Hospital and The Birth Center at Lifecycle Woman Care in Bryn Mawr. If you happen upon the privilege of having her as your nurse, you can also brag that your baby was helped into this world by the President of Lamaze International. She’s a tremendous woman, an invaluable mentor, and someone who the Philadelphia birth community is really fortunate to get to call our own!)
I would be honored to have you join in one of my classes, whether it’s a series of weeks together or just to give you my very best during the 4-hour Comfort & Confidence portion of the hybrid class … no big bangs or stonewashed jeans required!