Like many expecting fathers, Nic Dinmore was a bit apprehensive about the delivery.
“I was very nervous,” he said. “I had no idea what to expect. What was I going to do? Stand in a corner and hope for the best?”
While Dinmore is new to the birthing process, he’s not new to parenting. For the past seven years, he and his fiancee, Erin Hirmke, have been raising her three children together.
The baby is not due for another month, but already Dinmore is feeling more calm thanks to a new program offered at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont.
Expecting parents have been attending birthing classes for years, but this new program puts a twist on traditional teachings by using Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting education. Historically used for chronic pain management in the health care setting, mindfulness only recently has been studied and applied for potential benefits in childbirth.
UCHealth’s program has not only settled Dinmore’s nerves, he and Hirmke have found that it’s provided them with skills to be better parents and partners to each other.
“It’s not just a birth class,” Hirmke said. “It’s a life class.”
As a birthing class
One focus of the program is applying mindfulness — the practice of being aware of one’s thoughts and feelings in the present moment without judgment — to the childbirth process to deal with pain and fear during labor.
Participants learn to recognize the sensations of discomfort. Though only the mother will experience pain, both she and her support person learn the techniques for managing it to foster understanding.
“It’s not an uncommon site that while a woman is facing the intensity of labor contractions the father is on the far other side of the room because he has no idea what to do,” said OB-GYN Dr. Jenny Kim, a certified MBCP teacher who champions the class for UCHealth in Longmont. “He’s scared for her and has never seen her this way before, and yet he doesn’t know how to interact. With this class, they spend weeks communicating in a new way, we spend three weeks on pain practices, and perform speaking and listening exercises addressing topics that reach far deeper than everyday conversations.”
This is a nine-week program with one full-day Sunday session. The three-hour weekly classes will cover the physiology of childbirth from a mind/body perspective, teach pain and partner support skills, discuss the social and emotional needs of a newborn, and review breastfeeding and birth preferences.
All course materials are included in the cost, including a copy of “Mindful Birthing” by Nancy Bardacke, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting education. For more information or to register for the next class, visit the UCHealth events page.
For more information or to register for the next class, visit the UCHealth events page.
For example, participants learn how the mind processes pain and operates during labor. Contractions come and go. By being able to live in the moment, a laboring mother can train herself to appreciate and enjoy the bliss that happens between contractions.
“It’s about being there for all of it,” Kim said. “Being there for all the sensations, for the thoughts and emotions; the uncertainty, the fear, the joy and the surprises, and by doing that, it lets you experience the richness of life. In life and in birth, there is pain and discomfort and it compels us to find our inner strength; there is a non-duality or interconnectedness of both transformational pain and the new beginning that results from it.”
Traditional birthing classes teach women about labor and provide techniques for coping with pain but do not generally address the fear and anxiety that mothers and their partners experience during labor. This program addresses both.
“We did a lot of pain practices, such as holding ice cubes in our hand,” Hirmke said. “I didn’t realize how painful that is, but I learned how to breathe through the pain.”
Hirmke hopes to have a natural birth without drugs, but the class isn’t soley for people with similar goals. Mindfulness can be used in all types of situations. Participants learn skills to cope with unexpected changes to their labor plan, such as a need for C-section, and how to evaluate in the moment tough decisions, such as having to use interventions.
“The ultimate wisdom that comes from this program is to be able to fall in love with the birth that you have,” Kim said. “They come for the practical reason of being pregnant and wanting a childbirth class, which they get from A to Z with the anatomy and physiology of childbirth and the postpartum period, but they are also taught a full mindfulness meditation curriculum which is practiced at each class and with daily homework assignments and so they leave with unexpected tools that are applicable each and every day leading up to the birth.”
As a parenting class
Although the class is for expecting mothers and their support persons, the skills learned are not just for childbirth.
“This class teaches the magic of parenting,” Kim said. “It teaches us how to recapture what our kids are born with and already have. They are already present and connected to life that is here, moment to moment, laughing, crying, resting, and bursting with energy.”
Mindfulness was new to Hirmke, and as a mother of three children, she found it provided a new perspective to her “reactive” parenting techniques.
“They would do something, and I would react instead of stepping back and trying to find their point of view and then evaluating,” she said. “In the moment, it can feel like it’s the end of the world, but most likely, it’s just a drop in the bucket. Nic and I now work as a team and help to remind each other to take that step back.”
Dinmore chimed in, “It’s more about seeing both sides, and we learned tools to understand instead of reacting. In the heat of things, you get that adrenaline and focus on one thing, but it’s about coming back to the breath and relaxing and not overanalyzing.”
The class is a springboard for establishing connections, Kim explained. And she said that after nine weeks of having regular time together, new patterns on how the couples choose to spend their time emerge. It was something Hirmke noticed.
“I’m very much a planner,” Hirmke said. “I know life doesn’t always work that way. I’m integrating what I’ve learned into my life, and I’ve been able to be more in the here and now, and not worry about what is to come next but enjoy my kids, my fiancée, and life right now.”
As a mindfulness class
Dinmore has been practicing meditation and other versions of mindfulness practice for some time, which is what attracted him to the class.
“The class hit on a lot of points where I was doing these skills previously, but the classes before didn’t give me a way to use these tools, they just showed me them,” he said. “I needed more depth, and this class gave me that.”
Hirmke said she was a bit more closed-minded about the class.
“I was not negative about the idea of meditation, but I was more hesitant,” she said. “But after that first class, all my worries went away. (Dr. Kim) brought little aspects into every class, such as mindfulness or yoga. It was new to me, but it taught me how to live in the moment – one step at a time.”
And Kim said it’s OK if a participant has never meditated, done yoga or even heard of mindfulness.
“Participants are welcome just as they are,” she said. “They need no previous experience with mindfulness as long as they come with an open mind and willingness to give the class and its practices a try.”