2015-12-01 / Features

Making Parents

For 45 years, the Childbirth Education Association of Centre County has been helping couples become confident parents, from pre-birth classes to post-baby play groups.
By Robyn Passante


Zuech starts her “Happiest Baby on the Block” class, a crash course on infant soothing techniques made famous by

Harvey Karp’s book of the same name, by telling her students that she’s been a certified teacher for three years and involved with the Childbirth Education Association of State College for 15. But her last credential gives her the most credibility.

“I’ve had four babies,” she says. “But I haven’t had your baby. Every single baby is different.” Nervous glances suggest some expectant parents in the room wonder what’s in store for them in the weeks and months to come, and whether this will really help. That’s when Zuech puts their minds at ease.

“Luckily, I’ve never met a baby that didn’t respond to this,” says Zuech, launching into an informative, hands- on 90 minutes, where parents-to-be practice swaddling, shushing, holding and swinging dolls that Zuech provides in order to get them ready for the real deal.

Dad-to-be Brandon Bowden practices a labor massage technique on his wife, Kody. Dad-to-be Brandon Bowden practices a labor massage technique on his wife, Kody. Zuech’s “Happiest Baby on the Block” course is just one of several offered by the Childbirth Education Association of State College, a local nonprofit chapter of an international professional organization created to give expectant and new parents a wealth of resources and educational opportunities regarding labor, delivery and infant care. The local chapter has been serving the Centre Region for 45 years and now rents space at The Indigo Wren’s Nest Wellness Center in Bellefonte.

“Our motto is ‘Freedom of choice based on knowledge of alternatives,’” says Lorin Spangler, the chapter’s teacher coordinator. By giving people up-to-date, unbiased information on every facet of labor and delivery — localized to include how things specifically work at Mount Nittany Medical Center, where most local couples will deliver their bundles of joy — the CEA teachers are really giving soon-to-be-parents one thing: confidence.

Area couples learn birthing techniques before the baby arrives and can gather together for playgroups after the big event. Clock­wise from top left: Meng Zheng and Qi Li of State College (due Dec. 21), Amber Yarrish with 13-month-old Tristan of Bellefonte, Kody and Brandon Bowden of Centre Hall (due Dec. 14) and Lindsay Puhlman with 8-month-old Ruslan of Pleasant Gap. Area couples learn birthing techniques before the baby arrives and can gather together for playgroups after the big event. Clock­wise from top left: Meng Zheng and Qi Li of State College (due Dec. 21), Amber Yarrish with 13-month-old Tristan of Bellefonte, Kody and Brandon Bowden of Centre Hall (due Dec. 14) and Lindsay Puhlman with 8-month-old Ruslan of Pleasant Gap. “They just need to know that they’re going to be able to do this, and it’s going to be fine,” says Spangler, who’s been active with the organization for 16 years.

Her sentiment echoes the rationale behind the movement that would spawn the international organization’s own birth back in 1950. That’s when the very first group dedicated to the concept of conscious, cooperative childbirth was formed in a community in Milwaukee, Wis. It was a direct offshoot of Grantly Dick-Read’s 1944 book, “Childbirth Without Fear,” which stressed the importance of educating pregnant women about all facets of childbirth.

Today, there are Childbirth Education Association chapters across the country, and the ICEA website offers a host of educational resources regarding everything from water birth to episiotomy to VBAC AC (vaginal birth after C-section).

“Our teachers have gone through an intensive training process by an ICEA -certified instructor,” Spangler says. “We like to think we offer the best [childbirth classes] in town because we’ve been doing it for 45 years.”

The mother of two got involved the way most other CEA board members and teachers get involved — by taking one of its classes before her son, now 16, was born.

“My [Prepared Childbirth] teacher was instrumental in getting me involved after my son was born. She said, ‘Come to the playgroup, come to a board meeting,’” Spangler says. “I wasn’t going back to work, so it was a good way for me to get out.”

Besides inviting new parents to attend a CEA playgroup or Moms’ Night event, teachers of the group’s signature Prepared Childbirth class invite couples who took the class and recently delivered their babies to return for the last class of the next session to share their birth stories. State College resident Heather Bolinger said the tell-all night was the highlight of the six-week class for her and her husband, Bryan.

They had four or five couples come in with their new babies to talk about their birthing experiences and what the first couple weeks at home are like,” says Bolinger, whose due date was Nov. 17 and had not delivered at press time. “We loved that, because they all delivered at Mount Nittany, which is where we’ll be delivering. So we were able to hear what they have available in terms of equipment, like birthing balls, and different things you can request while you’re in labor.”

Bolinger says the class was exactly what they were hoping for to prepare them for labor and delivery and give them tools to make informed choices during the process. “We were very happy with what we learned,” she says. “The whole structure of the class was interactive. It’s not sitting there and listening to her. We practiced the breathing. We asked questions.”

Instructors are trained by a registered nurse who has a master’s degree and is a Certified Childbirth Educator through the ICEA . In addition, Bolinger’s teacher, Susan Chase, is a labor and delivery nurse at Mount Nittany and has doula experience as well, making her a trusted personal resource for jittery parents- to-be.

You can go on the Internet and look up stuff and you’ll get five different answers, and you’ll most likely be scared out of your mind,” Bolinger says. “So to be able to go to a class with other couples who are relatively at the same stage as you and all have your questions answered by someone whose level of knowledge far exceeds the typical person, it just puts your mind at ease for a week, knowing you can just ask her whatever you’re worried about.”

Boalsburg resident Maribeth Fura, who also recently took Chase’s Prepared Childbirth class, said the insider’s knowledge about the hospital where she will deliver her baby was the biggest benefit — and the biggest anxiety reliever.

“She was very knowledgeable about the specifics of our hospital. That was a nice insight, to know how Mount Nittany does things,” says Fura, who delivered Eliza Catherine on Nov. 12. “We asked a lot of questions about cord clamping, what shots are given and when, when the baby is taken out of the room, things like that. Because every hospital has a little different practices.”

In addition to the Prepared Childbirth and Happiest Baby classes, CEA offers a Baby Care class, which gives the lowdown on dirty diapers and newborn care, and a Sibling Preparation Class, which helps older siblings get ready to become big brothers and big sisters. Spangler teaches the Sibling Prep class, and loves it.

I’m a certified preschool teacher, so relating to kids comes naturally to me,” she says. “I teach the younger children what it’s going to be like to have a little baby in their house.”

That hour-and-a-half class is taught on Saturdays at Mount Nittany Medical Center, where Spangler brings them by the nursery to see the new babies and gives them a little tour of where mommy and daddy will be the day their sibling arrives. “I think it’s really important to give the kids who may or may not have ever been away from mommy an idea of what’s happening,” she says. “This might be a completely new thing for them, for mommy to not be home for a couple nights.”

Older siblings can also attend CEA ’s playgroups, which are held twice monthly: the first Friday of the month at the Bellefonte Library, and the third Friday at Schlow Centre Region Library. All are welcome. Parents don’t have to be CEA members to come out for some playtime and adult conversation.

Amy Debach-Confer hosts the Bellefonte playgroup, making sure there are plenty of toys and snacks available for those who come, while her 3-year-old daughter, Laurel, plays host to the toddlers in attendance. Debach-Confer squeezes the playgroup duties around her day job as an employment specialist with the ARC of Centre County because she believes in the organization’s focus and expertise.

I just think it’s a really good resource for expectant mothers and people who have children,” she says. “The hospital offers some classes, but our classes are in a more personal, intimate setting, with really good instructors.”

It’s the instructors like Zuech who make the difference in the minds of expectant parents like Matt and Stacey McIntire, who dutifully swaddled and shushed their baby doll and listened to Zuech’s reassuring yet realistic approach to teaching couples what to expect — and how to handle it.

I really like her candor with how really tough this can be,” says Matt McIntire.I feel like there’s this pressure out there today regarding parenting. You see people who post photos and things on Facebook, and it’s like every moment with their baby is nirvana. And I know it’s not like that.”

Zuech’s humor and practical tips give parents the chance to understand that parenthood will be hard at times, but they can manage it.

Even if your baby’s not colicky, they’re still gonna cry a lot,” she says toward the end of class, before reiterating the biggest message every parent wants to hear. “And these techniques will help them. Any baby can be soothed with these steps.” •SCM

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