Issue 3 Stories
Feature

Childbirth Class at Sentara Martha Jefferson Leads to Longtime Friendships

When Larissa Paule-Carres and her husband, Andrew, signed up for a childbirth class at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital a decade ago, they were simply making preparations for the birth of their first child. By the time the six-week course was over, however, they’d gained a support network of parents who remain friends to this day. This past summer, eight families from that class who have stayed in touch gathered to celebrate the 10th birthdays of their first children.

“Pregnancy, especially with the first child, is one of those times when you don’t really know what you’re getting into,” says Paule-Carres. “The childbirth class at Sentara Martha Jefferson was a bonding experience that came at a critical juncture in our lives, when nothing else seemed as important as due dates and delivery.”

Sharing Common Experiences

The couples met in the summer of 2006, while taking a childbirth class taught by Betsy Collins, ICEA CCE, coordinator of maternity education at Sentara Martha Jefferson. They all hit it off quickly and enjoyed sharing their experiences and concerns.

“Betsy is funny and outgoing, and she got even the quieter people in the group to step out of their comfort zones,” recalls Dubie Dubendorfer, who took the class with his wife, Carrie Oertel.

One evening after class, Dubendorfer recalls, several participants talked about the possibility of getting together after the births of their babies, who were all due between late August and early September.

“Everybody thought it was a great idea, but I don’t think any of us actually thought it would happen,” Dubendorfer says.

Dubendorfer began blogging in late summer 2006 about the couple’s experiences as new parents of Charlotte, and those blog posts helped to spark a reconnection among the childbirth class members. The Paule-Carres family, whose first son is Jackson, invited them all over to their house in December for a Christmas party, and they had so much fun that they continued to get together regularly for several years. Eventually, however, due to busy schedules and the addition of new family members, the group began to lose touch—although they would still see each other around town at events like Fridays After Five in downtown Charlottesville, often mentioning their intentions of getting together again someday.

After Dubendorfer and Oertel moved into a house with a swimming pool in 2016, they decided their new home would be the perfect setting for a summer birthday party for all of the group’s children born in 2006. The kids didn’t really remember each other from their get-togethers as young children, but it didn’t take long for them to start reconnecting.

“The kids didn’t know each other very well, and they hadn’t spent much time together since they were preschoolers,” Dubendorfer says. “They were shy momentarily, but soon they were jumping in the pool together and having water fights. If you’d told somebody that these kids had not hung out in about six years, no one would have believed it. It was a blast. We parents are all still friends, and it was one of the most fun afternoons we’ve had in a long time.”

Childbirth Classes Empower Expectant Parents, Quell Anxieties

The Preparation for Childbirth class, where Paule-Carres, Dubendorfer and the other couples in their group met, is one of a variety of classes offered at Sentara Martha Jefferson to help expectant mothers and their partners prepare for the birth of a new baby. Typically taken during the last trimester of pregnancy, the class reinforces the information couples receive during prenatal doctor appointments.

Collins explains that the program is meant to empower women to have a voice in the decisions surrounding delivery and to gain confidence in their ability to handle the birthing process.

“We all know that you don’t have to take a class to have a baby,” Collins says. “So why are people drawn to childbirth classes? I believe it’s the power of the group that diminishes their fear. It’s being with other couples and hearing their same concerns that normalizes pregnancy. I hope it makes women realize that every day in this world, another woman is facing birth. It’s not a crisis—it’s a beautiful journey upon which they’re about to embark. And that’s the beauty of these classes.”

Other prenatal childbirth classes at Sentara Martha Jefferson include an online Understanding Birth class for couples who can’t make it to an in-person class, as well as breastfeeding classes, baby care classes, sibling classes, and free weekly tours of the hospital’s Labor and Delivery unit. There’s also a postpartum support group for new mothers.

“These classes help clear up so much misinformation out there and give expectant parents evidence-based information about pregnancy, birth and baby care,” Collins adds.

Collins was thrilled to learn about the childbirth class group that had gathered to celebrate the 10th birthdays of their children.

“It just warmed my heart from top to bottom to think that we didn’t just help them understand the labor and delivery process—we also helped create a community,” Collins says. “That group of people became a community of friends raising children together. That is the ultimate gift of what these classes can do.”

A New Community

Paule-Carres and Dubendorfer say the group had so much fun during their latest summer gathering, that they’ve pledged to get together at least once a year going forward. Now they can support each other through new stages of parenting. While every childbirth class won’t necessarily result in long-lasting friendships, Paule-Carres encourages expectant parents to enjoy the supportive class environment and absorb as much information as possible.

“Be open to whatever happens,” she says. “Embrace it as a community you might not otherwise have experienced. Run with it and see where it goes, because we definitely have gained some good friendships.”

For Dubendorfer and his wife, the group that formed out of the childbirth class helped to alleviate any worries they had in preparation for the birth of their first child.

“As we went into the class, we had read a million books and talked to a million people, but you never really know what you’re getting into,” Dubendorfer says. “This group of people was so welcoming and open to connecting. We never had any anxiety about any of it because we had others we could turn to with questions. I credit this group in many ways with making me a better parent, and that goes all the way back to Betsy and the phenomenal class she taught. We’re all extremely grateful to Betsy and Sentara Martha Jefferson for helping to put us on this path.”

REGISTER FOR A CLASS:

Expectant parents are encouraged to sign up for one of Sentara Martha Jefferson’s childbirth classes, taught by certified childbirth educators and lactation consultants with more than 30 years of combined experience in their fields. To learn more, visit sentara.com/charlottesville-virginia/medicalservices/services/maternity/classes.aspx or call 1-800-SENTARA.

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