Taking BoBB:CE to NJ High School Students

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Friday, March 14

As proud as we are of the reach that The Business of Being Born: Classroom Edition has accomplished in two years, we also recognize some resistance on the part of professors, and particularly high school teachers, to use the film. Maybe there’s a feeling that they should be focusing more on pregnancy prevention at this age. Perhaps it’s the jam-packed curriculum they must get through within an academic year. Whatever the case may be, it’s thrilling to hear from teachers who value the message of the film and find ways to introduce it to their students.

Last Friday, March 14, Shana Stein and Anne Baney of Montclair High School in Montclair, NJ invited Choices in Childbirth to present this quick 30-minute film during 6th and 7th period as part of their Women’s History Month events. Ms. Stein is a Social Studies teacher and Ms. Baney an English teacher. The two teachers advise their school’s NOW (National Organization for Women) Club and asked four juniors and seniors from the club to introduce the film and the work that Choices in Childbirth does. Roughly 140 students and about a dozen teachers attended one of two screenings, some as part of their health class, others from physics, and a group of students from study hall.

This was no ordinary BoBB:CE screening, however. It was the largest high school screening we have ever had.

As I made my way up to the front of the auditorium Friday afternoon, I looked out onto the audience of mostly juniors and seniors, some obviously excited to see the film, others looking for any excuse to escape class for 45 minutes. The lights were dimmed, the soundtrack started rolling, and the students settled into their seats. I watched the expressions on their faces change from skeptics to discoverers as they witnessed three home births, one hospital birthing center birth, and a brief cesarean section. As the first baby was born in a bathtub, students whispered and laughed, clearly uncomfortable and unfamiliar with what had just unraveled. But it was the second birth in a birthing pool that elicited the gasps that make my job worth it. The woman labored silently, squatting and moving through her contractions, and with no more than a grunt she reached down and cradled her baby up to the surface of the water and smiled the truest, most sparkling smile. Ms. Stein jumped over to me in the back of the auditorium and explained, “They’ve never seen ANYTHING like that before!” which makes these students no different from most Americans… except that now they have. This birth was ordinary and extraordinary.

It’s incomprehensible for most high school students to imagine what normal birth looks like when the media portrays it as anything but normal. We live in an age when women are told they cannot manage birth on their own, and that it’s a medical process involving tools and technology and all-too-often surgery. The TV dramas about birth attract droves of teen viewers, so this messaging starts early. Unfortunately it isn’t until a woman chooses to have a baby that she and perhaps her partner seek out any education about their options. When we face the simple truth that this happens for most women when they’re just 4 or 5 weeks away from their due date, it’s easy to understand how the medicalization of birth perpetuates itself. We firmly believe the conversation about childbirth as part of the life span must begin earlier, and BoBB:CE is a terrific teaching tool.

The Montclair auditorium was electric during each of the film’s birth scenes. Students shoulders rocked as the women in labor rocked. Their jaws tensed as the womens’ bodies tensed. By the fourth and last birth, students were incredulous as the simplicity of normal, physiologic birth unfolded.

We know how damaging media portrayals of birth can be for young adults who are rightfully intimidated by the medical system. The old adage “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” was a driving force in creating BoBB:CE. We must awaken and flood students’ understanding of reproduction with positive media representations, making them see that birth can be healthy, safe, and satisfying.

– Clare Friedrich, BoBB:CE Program Manager

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