by Bonita Katz, BA RN ICCE ICBD IAT CLC
Twelve years ago, a friend of mine who taught at the local high school asked me to come in to her health class and talk about pregnancy and birth. Trying to prioritize what to say in 55 minutes was agonizing. I had to leave out so much important material! And as much as I enjoy teaching adults, I was not nearly as comfortable teaching teenagers. I felt as though I rushed through the presentation and walked out of the classroom having no idea how the information was received. The next year she asked me to return for three days: one day each for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Evidently, I had done something right! Today I only have one day to present in the health classes, but I teach for three weeks in the Human Growth and Development class. Recently I have been asked to do similar presentations in other school districts. I hadn’t even considered these possibilities when I accepted that first invitation. It is hard to predict where those open doors will lead. I am going to offer some unsolicited advice here. There can be some discouraging times in birth work. It seems especially difficult when you are first starting and you want to share what you know with everyone. Your enthusiasm is great, but your audience is small. It can be frustrating… so here is my advice:
- Do good things. Build bridges. Help people. Volunteer. There is a time for standing for a cause when you may alienate some people, but for the most part look for the good things you can do. Others may not notice right away, but they will notice eventually.
- When they do notice, be ready. Have your “elevator speech” ready. If you only have a minute or two with someone to talk about birth, what would you say? Have a couple of options that will fit different situations. Develop a short 20-30 minute presentation in case a civic organization asks you to speak. Learn it well enough that you do not have to look at note cards.
- Ask questions that help other people think. You may run into those who do not have the time or inclination to listen to you, but you can ask a question that will make them think. A couple of my favorites: “Cesarean rates have continued to climb for the last fifty years and yet outcomes have not improved. Why do you think that is?” or “We know that continuous labor support helps women. Why do you think more people don’t take advantage of that?” You do not always have to tell what you know. If you spark someone else’s curiosity it – at the very least – lets them know that there are questions to ask.
One last piece of advice: Take advantage of those open doors. Speaking for 55 minutes in a health class did not look like much at the time, but it provided more opportunities than I had imagined… and rewards that I had not considered. Several years ago, one of those high school students saw me downtown. She had graduated, married, and moved away. It was only happenstance that we saw each other. She was in town for a short family visit. She thanked me saying, “I didn’t remember everything, but I did know that I should ask questions… and I did!” It made a difference in her birth experience. It may take time to see the fruits of your labor, but when you do, it makes the work worth the effort. Look around. Do you see any open doors?