Families these days have many options to assist them in making the childbirth experience as personal as possible. Kathleen Miller Murphy, coordinator of the First Steps Education Program at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, has made it her professional mission to make sure Crouse offers patients a variety of educational options, no matter what kind of birth they envision.
Most recently, this has meant a focus on educating families about cesarean-section births. In November, Murphy will begin offering a 90-minute course for mothers-to-be who are having scheduled c-sections. Although information about cesarean section is included in the traditional five-week childbirth course that Crouse and other birthing facilities offer, Murphy says she felt it needed more attention.
“The c-section rate has increased 60 percent since 1996,” Murphy says. “We wanted to offer something that goes a bit more in-depth. These days, there are more moms who know that they are having a scheduled c-section.”
Murphy started volunteering at Crouse when she was just a teen, and she has been a labor and delivery nurse at the hospital for 20 years. She says while the regular First Steps childbirth preparation courses do a good job of covering the subject, those mothers who know they will not need the breathing techniques or pushing tips will find—if only for the duration of the course—a small community of women and partners who will share a similar experience.
“All these women are in the same boat,” Murphy says. “And we do talk about the role of the support person in an operative delivery.”
The new course also encourages the new mothers to think about aspects of c-section beyond the needs of the new baby. Murphy points out that a c-section is surgery, after all. That fact alone demands a different kind of preparation than that for women planning a non-surgical delivery.
For some, this will be the first time they are undergoing a surgical procedure. So, there is a tour of First Steps’ mock operating room. “A lot of our patients have never been in a hospital at all, so this can do a lot to help alleviate some of those fears,” says Murphy. And there are services available in the hospital that can help women after the surgery. For example, women can request a reiki session—a Japanese stress-reduction and healing technique—to help them ease back into a fuller range of motion.
There are also tips on how to maximize recovery following the surgery. Murphy says many expectant moms who are having c-sections don’t think about their own recovery in all the excitement over getting ready for the new baby. “It’s OK to line up help during those first days,” she says. “Cut yourself some slack and let people help—but only if it’s not intrusive.”
Murphy has been in her current role at Crouse for 11 years. She says the key to staying in touch with the people you are trying to help is to listen to their suggestions. The c-section course incorporates information that real mothers have expressed interest in. Other courses are inspired by new ideas. As a result, other First Steps offerings such as a Sign, Say and Play course, and Pregnancy and Labor Massage, have become popular.
“I’m very lucky because the administration here at Crouse is always open to new ideas,” she says. “Their mission, as is mine, is to help our patients—first and foremost. And the professionals who teach our classes are wonderful; they are great sources of knowledge. For example, the woman who teaches our Siblings at Birth class is a mom of eight. People like that balance, being knowledgeable and being able to share their own personal experiences. The instructors also love what they do, and I love being part of this collaborative process where we are all working together for common goals.”
Murphy still teaches the childbirth preparation courses on occasion. She says she likes connecting with expectant families. It also gives her the patient contact that she misses now that she is no longer working in the delivery room or the nursery.
“I still miss being there for the deliveries,” she says. “It’s a special part of people’s lives and I felt so privileged to be a part of that. The awe of childbirth never becomes routine because every family’s experience is different. But I feel like this enables me to help people in a different way. I love this job.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, Murphy takes the time to read every evaluation on the First Steps courses. She figures they will continue to inspire the future of First Steps course offerings. The next addition to the Crouse education offerings will be an online class for mothers on bed rest who cannot attend traditional birth preparation courses. Murphy is also developing “something” for post-partum moms.
“Labor is a short time in the parenting experience,” she says. “It would be nice to offer moms an opportunity to get together, exchange ideas, offer support to each other. It may be something as simple as giving new moms a chance to get out of the house. You can come in your sweat pants; don’t worry about your hair. This would be a way help put moms in touch with other resources that are out there. Central New York has a lot of wonderful parent groups.”
Ultimately, Murphy says she views her job as putting expectant families in touch with solid, useful information. Sure, people have many options for obtaining information, but what they need is correct information. “I’ve found books that are wrong about different things,” she says. “And I’ve written to those publishers when I see something that is just not right.”
Herself a mother of two children, ages 6 and 10, Murphy says she always tries to see childbirth education from the perspective of a new mother. And while she has spent her entire career working with expectant mothers, new mothers and their babies, there is always more to learn. “I do this for a living, but when they give you a baby to take home, it becomes much more real. As a mother, I can relate to the women who feel overwhelmed during those first days, when there is no nurse or doctor to answer questions.”
Murphy says she likes to keep the enrollment for First Steps courses small—no more than 15 when possible. But she also tries to get as many families as possible the information they are looking for. “We are trying to meet as many family’s needs as we can,” Murphy says. “With all the challenges in health care these days, it’s nice to be supported in doing that.”
Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.
Photo: Michael Davis Photo