Teaching Resilience: How Childbirth Educators Can Help Parents Embrace Challenges

In a world that constantly advertises comfort and convenience, it's little wonder that the transition to parenthood can feel like a rude awakening. There are gadgets galore, but none that consistently soothe a crying baby or replace lost sleep. Yet parents find a way to carry on - because parenting, though challenging, is a journey filled with deep love and perseverance.

As childbirth educators, we have the privilege of preparing our clients for this journey. We get to equip them with more than just knowledge – we can help them foster a resilient mindset that will serve them long after their babies are born.

So, how can we teach parents that they can do hard things?

Foster an environment of open discussion about fears and challenges:

Maintaining this open dialogue about fears and challenges is crucial for managing expectations and building resilience. Through understanding our fears, we can begin to address them and by sharing, parents often realize that their worries are not unique to them - this can be incredibly reassuring. 

1. Encourage your clients to ponder and share:

  • What do they imagine will be the most challenging aspect of birth?
  • What are their current worries?
  • Which situations can they control?
  • What mental and/or physical strengths have they relied on to overcome challenging situations?

2. Assign them the “Dispelling Fears” exercise for homework. Found in the Comfort Measures chapter in the  Preparing for Birth book, this exercise can help parents find clarity and peace as their birth approaches. 

Remember, as an educator, your role is to guide this discussion with empathy and understanding, providing reassurance and validation while gently challenging any misconceptions.

Create a culture of inspiration and positivity:

Encourage a culture of positivity and inspiration to extend beyond the classroom by creating an ongoing shared space, perhaps a virtual message board or social media group, where parents can continue to post their questions, worries and inspirational finds. This shared journey and inspiration from their peers can be uplifting and foster a sense of community among the parents, reminding them that they're not alone on this journey. It also serves as a rich resource of varied perspectives and coping mechanisms they can draw upon when facing their own challenges. 

Ask parents to share quotes, images, and stories that have inspired them. Here are a few examples to spark conversation:

"There is power that comes to women when they give birth. They don't ask for it, it simply invades them. Accumulates like clouds on the horizon and passes through, carrying the child with it." -Sheryl Feldman

"There is a secret in our culture, and it's not that birth is painful. It's that women are strong." -Laura Stavoe Harm

"Just as a woman's heart knows how to pump, her lungs know how to inhale, and her hands to pull back from fire, so she knows when and how to give birth." -Virginia DiOrio

"Overcoming what frightens you the most strengthens you the most." -Matshona Dhliwayo

The power of collective wisdom and shared experiences can often provide comfort and courage to face the hard things that lie ahead in the parenting journey.

Introduce the concept of positive self-talk:

One of the most powerful tools we can offer parents is the concept of positive self-talk. The mind is a powerful ally, and how we speak to ourselves can greatly impact our experience and perception of events.

Positive self-talk can be a beacon of strength and resilience during labor and the early days of parenthood. It's not just about glossing over the tough parts but about acknowledging the challenge and asserting one's ability to overcome it.

For example, consider these affirmations:

"This is hard, but I can do it." This affirmation acknowledges the challenge but also asserts the speaker's ability to tackle it.

"I will take one contraction at a time." This statement encourages focusing on the present moment, preventing feelings of being overwhelmed by what's to come.

"I’m the only one who can do this. I am doing this." This affirmation instills a sense of purpose and reminds parents of their unique role in their child's life.

"My body can do this." A powerful reminder that their body is designed to give birth and is capable of doing so.

But the real power of affirmations comes when parents create their own - words that resonate deeply with their personal experiences, beliefs, and aspirations. 

Encourage parents to think about what kind of messages they want to hear during challenging times. Do they need words of encouragement? Reassurance? Reminders of their strength or capability?

Help them set and focus on "micro" goals:

When it comes to birth or parenting, there is a lot to learn and it is easy to become overwhelmed by it all. However, parents do not need to know or be masters of everything all at once. Encourage parents to consider the topics or tasks that are most important to them and set daily micro goals to improve their current circumstances. For example:

1. Daily relaxation practice - if parents are concerned about managing labor pain or feeling ready for their experience, setting aside 10 minutes a day to unwind and build relaxion skills is a great idea. 

2. Doing one load of laundry - when caring for a newborn, household chores can feel overwhelming. Completing one small chore per day at first is normal and realistic. As baby grows, they can add on to their daily chore list. 

Ultimately, our role as educators is to prepare parents for birth and help them embrace parenthood's unpredictable, challenging, and beautiful journey. By fostering open conversations, inspiring positivity, promoting positive self-talk, and guiding goal-setting, we can empower parents to trust themselves and their ability to do hard things. Together, let's help parents welcome challenges as opportunities to learn, grow, and become the best parents they can be.

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