In the Before Times — aka, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — in-person childbirth classes were a rite of passage for many expectant parents. A couple of months before their due date, pregnant people and their partners would gather in an austere hospital space for a couple of hours at a time and listen to an obstetric nurse or educator drone on about the mechanics of childbirth. If you were lucky, you retained maybe a fraction of that information once it came time to push.
But it’s not entirely fair to criticize the hospitals, who even before COVID were dealing with nursing shortages, for failing to keep their childbirth students engaged. “The status quo, pre-COVID hospital birthing class was typically taught by one registered nurse who was being pulled away from her nursing duties either at triage or labor and delivery,” says Alli Kasirer, 33, the L.A.-based founder of the maternal wellness platform Robyn, a 75,000-strong community that connects members to 200 providers across 14 different modalities ranging from fertility clinics to infant sleep coaches.
With COVID-19 rendering in-person childbirth classes nonexistent over the past year, plenty of hospitals have shifted to online versions of their usual offerings. Regardless of coronavirus, the one thing that these traditional classes have failed to address, whether IRL or online, is that it’s not just a child being born, but a parent as well. Parentbirth, Robyn’s parent-focused virtual childbirth education class, seeks to change that.
This course, according to Taleah Bryant, 30, an Atlanta-based birth doula and Robyn’s Head of Provider Experience, takes “a holistic approach, in an effort to treat the whole person and be inclusive of all paths to parenthood.” Instead of one overworked nurse, Parentbirth is taught by 15 professionals including OB-GYNs, labor and delivery nurses, birth and postpartum doulas, dietitians and maternal mental health providers. It’s divided up into three main sections: Preparing for Birth, Birth and Immediate Postpartum.
Choose Your Own Adventure: Parenting Class Edition
Parentbirth — which Robyn offers for a very attractive $49 — is three hours of asynchronous content, meaning you aren’t committed to a rigorous Zoom class schedule: You can watch the 35 videos all on your own time, in any order.
“It’s very much like Choose Your Own Adventure,” says Kasirer. “One of the big things about the in-person classes or even the Zoom webinars – when you’re two months postpartum, you’re searching around for your notes from that class. What if you could just go back and rewatch the 10 minutes [you need]? Parentbirth makes it a lot easier for parents to access that information.”
Alex Curtis, 30, a San Diego yoga instructor and Parentbirth client who is expecting her first child in early February, highly recommends the course for its low price and “five-to-15-minute” video lengths. “Just being pregnant – you’re exhausted, and my attention span and brain are not what they used to be,” she says. “You can’t remember everything, so having it be succinct is really helpful.” Although Curtis hadn’t yet completed the postpartum section by the time we spoke, she says she was looking forward to those videos because “what I’ve heard from friends is, ‘[The hospital] just sends you home, like, “Here’s your baby, good luck!”’” One of the videos that has piqued Curtis’ interest is the one on baby blues vs. postpartum depression – topics that I certainly don’t recall being discussed during my childbirth class five years ago. “I think those are important things for women to look out for and to understand,” she says.
The user-friendly structure and price point are clearly two of Parentbirth’s more appealing qualities, but its empowerment slant is something that cannot be overstated, especially considering the rising maternal mortality rate for Black women in the United States. Those who take the course will “be able to articulate their birth preferences to their care providers in a way that matches their expectation and reality,” says Bryant. “There are families that aren’t knowledgeable about what they can choose to do within their birth. We want to make sure our expecting parents have a sense of control over their birth experience, giving them the essential information to make those decisions.”
This sentiment is echoed by Bethany Scott, 37, an OB triage nurse and birth doula who teaches several of Parentbirth’s video lessons, including “What to Pack in My Hospital Bag?” (which Curtis found immensely helpful; don’t forget those socks with grips, mamas!) and “Birth Medication 101.”
Getting Honest, Raw and Real Information
“We’re more beneficial if we’re honest about what to expect, rather than trying to sugarcoat it,” says Scott, who lives in Rowayton, Connecticut. This means telling her clients, “If you’re birthing at a hospital, then your chances of a C-section are higher than you probably expect, and you need to know how to recover from one.” Scott goes on to say that most run-of-the-mill birth classes don’t really discuss C-sections and C-section recovery, even though one in five babies are now delivered by C-section. “So let’s give them the tools, if that happens,” she says.
What’s important to everybody affiliated with Robyn and Parentbirth, is that clients receive the, as Kasirer puts it, “real, raw, honest stuff we need to see.” Like, for example, Scott’s “Introduction to Breastfeeding and Burping” video, which features the mother of three demonstrating her nursing technique on her then-newborn son.
“My approach, in all my lessons, is giving the raw information,” says Scott, “but presenting it to [the clients] to bring calmness, not to increase their anxiety of the ‘What Ifs?’ The ‘What Ifs’ may happen, so let’s take it on in a calm way.”
Since virtual childbirth education remains the only choice for the foreseeable future, it’s not surprising that Parentbirth ends up in many expectant parents’ online searches and algorithms, which accounts for its surge in clients. (Curtis says she found the course through an Instagram ad, “because all I look at is baby stuff.”)
“Based on the numbers that we’re seeing,” says Kasirer, “people are definitely searching for that virtual option.” Combine that with the overarching problem of hospitals reaching their COVID breaking points, and Robyn is in a unique position to relieve some of the strain.
Kasirer says that one of the company’s goals for 2021 is “looking into strategic partnerships with hospitals and health systems, where they would be able to license Parentbirth and make it accessible to all of their patients.”
It’s a shrewd business move, no doubt, but at the same time, it aligns with Robyn’s mission of expanding maternal-wellness provider access and reaching as many of these newborn and soon-to-be born parents as possible.
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