Pregnancy class brings prenatal care to support-group setting

Taking a group of fussing newborns and arranging them in a baby circle could have gone poorly.

But as nine little faces turned side to side, and 18 tiny hands found one another, the kids didn’t seem to mind.

Maybe the fussing stopped and smiles started because the babies weren’t strangers.

They’d been going to the same room in utero with their moms and dads since February, for prenatal care and education as part of St. Joseph Medical Center’s new Centering Pregnancy program.

The first class of babies — born between the end of July and about two weeks ago — had a reunion Thursday with the new additions to the families.

Midwives led the meetings, which included all the necessary prenatal checkups, as well as support group discussion and pregnancy education.

They start out as monthly, and occur once every two weeks closer to the births. St. Joe’s midwives trained to start offering the established curriculum and now are starting two new classes a month for expecting parents.

Private insurance and Medicaid usually cover the cost of the program, and classes typically are on evenings or weekends.

Jeremiah Gartland was the last of the reunion group to be born, at 7 pounds flat Sept. 5.

Mom Alexandria Gartland said the mix of parenting experience in the class was helpful.

“It was nice that third-time moms and me as a first-time mom had the same concerns, still,” she said. “It’s longer than a 15-minute checkup. I definitely looked forward to coming to the appointments.”

Parents start each session by recording their own vitals, such as blood pressure, and then take part in discussion about labor, breastfeeding, back pain and all other pregnancy-related topics.

Rebecca Cook said she wasn’t sure about joining the group at first, wondering what it would offer her as a third-time parent.

But sharing her experiences as a mother with first-time parents was fun, she said. And as a military wife relatively new to the area, she liked making new friends.

“I just enjoyed being in the group and socializing,” she said. “I also enjoyed getting to know my provider a little more.”

Big sister Juliet, 9, hopes another girl is in the family’s future to even up the numbers. Brothers Hunter, 7, and 1-month-old Josiah Jude have the advantage.

“I want a fourth,” Juliet said. “I’ve grown on the baby.”

Mom and dad said that if that happens, they’d go through the centering program again.

“There were other women she could share the experience with,” husband John Cook said about his wife.

And it gave mom some “me time,” she said.

Which is part of the program’s design.

During the class, siblings stay at home to give parents time to devote to the unborn babies.

Thursday, new big brothers and sisters got to visit, playing with the babies and seeing where mom and dad had been going to class the past several months.

First-time dad Ken C. Buis said the program makes it easier for men to ask questions. Somehow, he and other dads said, it was less intimidating to ask questions in a group setting, than one-on-one with a provider.

“You have a bunch of guys around, and we all think the same things,” he said. “The guys can ask questions, and it’s really encouraged.

It’s also nice to have peers to vent to just a little bit, he said.

“I was coming to the class for her,” he said of first-time mom Karly Paz, “But it was such a good environment for guys, then I was doing it for me, too.”

Shayla Rae Buis-Paz was the first baby in the class to be born, weighing in at 6 pounds, 11 ounces on July 29.

At the reunion, as dads walked around and met the other babies and moms visited, some bouncing newborns on their knees, midwifery director Jennifer Riffel swooped in to scoop up babies she hadn’t yet gotten to hold.

She led the class and said it was special to meet the babies, some for the first time.

The best part of the program, she said, is “really to share a pregnancy with people. It’s about their family, and that’s what birth is about.”

She and other adults at the get-together shed a few tears, along with the newborns.

And if the infants holding hands was any indication, the babies and parents were on the same page in terms of friends made in the class.

Phone numbers were exchanged, and there was talk of future trips to the zoo.

“They say it takes a village,” dad Ryan Blanchard said. “This is our village.”