September 15, 2020
Connection Lost... Connections Made - The Stories Need to Be Told
By: Janelle Durham, MSW, LCCE | 1 Comments
My colleague, and occasional Connecting the Dots contributor, Janelle Durham, MSW, LCCE, may be someone you know through her well-known website Transition to Parenthood, where she has shared childbirth class teaching activities and ideas generously for over 20 years. Today, she shares a story about what is really important when running a perinatal class in a great story about her recent teaching experience. - Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Connecting the Dots
I’ve been teaching birth refresher classes for years. I always tell my students that when I TOOK a birth refresher class with my second baby, I don’t remember any of the details about it, but I do remember that at the first break, my partner and I asked each other ‘did you learn anything new in that hour of class?’ And we both agreed that we hadn’t and it was a waste of time, and we left.
So, when I teach refresher classes, I promise them that I won’t waste their time by teaching them things they already know. Instead, I ask them: “What do you already know – that way I know not to cover that stuff… and what do you WANT to know for this time around.”
Typically, some of my students had a great first birth and want to re-create it. Some had a less than ideal experience with their first birth and want this one to be different, and some are just taking this class because they’ve been so busy with their older child(ren) that they’ve almost forgotten they’re pregnant, and need to get their head back in the game.
In March, with the arrival of coronavirus, I, like many other childbirth educators, took my refresher class virtual and online. It’s a three hour long class, and it’s always gone great, even in the virtual format.
Today, I start my class of 10 families on Zoom. I say "When I teach refresher classes, I always want to tailor them to the exact needs of the families who are attending. So, I'm going to each ask you to share a little bit of your birth story from your first birth - and especially to reflect on - what are the big things you need to know for this time around." The first two couples tell their stories - all good.
Then number three starts... and my internet freezes... no biggie, right? It will be right back.
But it doesn't come back - my WIFI is completely down – absolutely no signal. So I grab my laptop, mic, and essential supplies (fetus, pelvis, etc) and run downstairs to plug directly into the ethernet. No!! Our internet connection is completely gone - there's NO signal to the house at all.
So, I figure - no problem - I'll use my hotspot on my phone. NO!! I just loaned my phone to my son to play Pokemon Go while I taught and he accompanied my husband grocery shopping. And, they took the car, so I can’t run to a Starbucks to use their wifi (and are they even open mid-pandemic? I’m not sure… )
I figure I’ll call my son and my husband to ask them to hurry back home - NO!! They have my phone!! I can't Facebook or Skype or anything because I have no phone and no internet! (Remember, in the midst of all this, I have 20 students wondering what happened to their instructor!)
I go next door, knock on my neighbor's door - she lets me use her cell phone to call my husband to bring my phone/hotspot home. I also use her phone to try to email my students. Oh no! I bcc'ed their addresses when I sent them an email so I can't see their addresses in my email! Wait - I have one address. I send to her and hope she'll tell them all what's up.
I see my son get home, I run home, log back on with my hotspot, not knowing what I’ll find. And I notice they’re all listening and nodding along as one family finishes up telling their birth story.
I tell them what happened and apologize, and ask them to catch me up on what I missed. They basically just decided to carry on without me, sharing their stories. They each took a turn sharing their birth story and what their concerns were for this birth and they connected and supported each other and had experienced this great little birth community moment. One parent gave me a little Cliff Notes update to say that two of them were planning a VBAC, one was actually having her first baby and was in this class because it was the only one that fit her schedule (I’ve never had this happen before), and they all wanted a review of signs that labor was starting since some had been induced the first time and a review of comfort techniques.
So, I jumped back in, resumed teaching as I normally would. I told them if they decided the class did not meet their needs or they were unhappy with it, they could ask for a refund.
In the end, I think I taught a great class. I made sure that I had covered all the required material by the 5 pm scheduled finish time, and then I said "anyone who needs to go now can go... the class was scheduled to end at 5:00 and I know some of you may have other commitments you need to get to. However, I owe you all 20 minutes, so I will stay on for 20 minutes now and make sure all your questions get answered." They ALL stayed on for 20 more minutes, then we bid each other farewell.
A few hours later I checked my Zoom records. When I was off the call, it felt like an eternity. But it turns out I only missed 17 minutes. Too much to miss, but not as bad as I feared.
So, here are some takeaways from this experience.
- Even if you think you have a solid, reliable internet connection, have a backup plan (e.g. a hotspot, or somewhere nearby you could find wifi)
- Even if you think you have plenty of backup plans, it’s probably worth always telling students “I don’t expect any problems, but if I were to disappear from a call, here’s what you would do… “ and give them a contingency plan.
- And... when all else fails, the inherent connection amongst expectant parents will always save the day!
About Janelle Durham
Janelle Durham, MSW, LCCE has taught childbirth preparation, breastfeeding, and newborn care for 20 years. She trains childbirth educators for the Great Starts program at Parent Trust for Washington Children and teaches young families through Bellevue College's Parent Education program. She is a co-author of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn and writes blogs/websites on childbirth education; parenting toddlers & preschoolers, and teaching science to ages 3 - 7. Contact Janelle through her website and learn more.
TagsChildbirth education Janelle Durham Transition to Parenthood Virtual Childbirth Classes