“CenteringPregnancy" incorporates the three components of prenatal care - education, risk assessment and supportive care - into one entity and encourages women to take responsibility for their own health...The CenteringPregnancy Model ‘centers’ the three components of prenatal care into a whole and helps a woman ‘center herself as she moves through pregnancy.’” - Karen A. Baldwin "Comparison of Selected Outcomes of CenteringPregnancy Versus Traditional Prenatal Care" http://www.centeringhealthcare.org/forms/bibliography/Baldwin_2006.pdf, Volume 51, No. 4, July/August 2006, pg 266
My pregnancy started off with a terrifying miscarriage scare. A trip to the emergency room and several trips to an ob/gyn later, I knew that kind of invasive, highly medicalized care was not what I wanted for my pregnancy. At the advice of our natural family planning instructor, I set up a “get to to know you” visit with a local midwife. I left the visit positive that she was “the one” for my pregnancy and birth. Before I knew it, I was setting up my first appointment and the scheduler enthusiastically asked me if I would consider doing Centering for my prenatal care.
My midwife also excitedly brought this “centering” up at our first appointment, and I began to get interested. Everyone at the office seemed so excited about it. They acted like it was the best thing in the world.
Basically, they explained, Centering is prenatal care done in a group setting. I would be placed in a group of 6-10 women due roughly around the same time. I could bring a support person (husband, close friend, etc) if I wanted. Appointments were 2 hours long (imagine - having my healthcare provider at my disposal for 2 whole hours!). There were ten meetings; they started out once a month and later moved to every other week. At the end of our pregnancies, when we needed to be seen every week, we would make individual appointments to be seen.
I was hesitant to join. It sounded so...different. What if the women I was grouped with were really out there? I’m not exactly very crunchy, or much of a group person. Despite all that, I decided to join. Everyone at the office seemed so delighted to have me - how could I tell them no?
To my surprise and delight, I quickly came to love centering. I was introverted in group, yes. In fact, the moderator often asked if I was enjoying my centering experience, but I looked forward to those Thursday morning meetings as the highlights of my very pregnant existence. Come to find out later, most of the other women had reservations going into centering, too. One of them hesitantly asked the scheduler, “Do they even shave their legs?”
There were six of us. Five were expecting girls. Two of us - the youngest and the oldest - were first time mommies. Two of us had the same due date. One of the ladies was pregnant with twins.
We started every session the same way. The six of us would waddle in at around 9:30am and hit the scale. That was usually the worst part of the morning. Because centering encourages women to take responsibility for their own health, it was our job to take our weight and blood pressure, which our midwife monitored.
We snacked on healthy foods as we chatted while waiting for everyone to arrive. When our midwife showed up she would start “tummy time”. This was individual time with each of us to listen to baby and feel around. She would answer any very personal concerns, (aka, “pst, I think I may have a yeast infection - can you take a look afterwards?”) but anything else she told us to write up on our parking lot. Our "parking lot" was a white board where we posted anything we wanted to talk about - questions, concerns or general pregnancy topics. The idea was that if one of us was concerned about something or had a question about a topic someone else probably was, too. Such is the beauty of centering.
Nothing was off limits for discussion. Sex, birth control, whacky hormones, pain management, hemorrhoids, you name it - we wrote it up on our discussion board and talked each problem and concern through. We shared a few tears, lots of laughter, and loads of support. The dynamic our group had was incredible. Groups of women (sometimes deservedly!) have a terrible reputation for being catty, but that was never the case with us.
Some weeks we had guest speakers come. We had a lactation consultant, a massage therapist, and a doula speak. For one of our later meetings, the moderator dressed up in a bathrobe, stuffed postpartum supplies in her pockets, and made us each take one out so that we could discuss them. It was a fun, laughter packed way to learn about the often not-so fun quirks of postpartum life.
I went into my pregnancy terrified of birth. With the support of my centering friends and midwife, I came to love it. There was so much positive energy in all of our meetings. I couldn’t help but feel empowered. Our midwife gave us so much information about everything pregnancy, labor, and birth related in a fun and positive way. She made me feel like I could face the challenges facing me in my pregnancy and birth, and I loved downing the information she gave us for two hours straight. My husband would come home at night and I’d babble on and on to him about everything I’d learned at centering that day. He was incredibly informed.
Our last meeting, about two weeks before any of our due dates, was unbelievably sad. I felt incredibly let down when I continued to go to weekly check ups. Thirty minutes or so - which is a generous time allotment by any standard - and I was done. No group of friends to chat with. No snacks. No funny stories. I couldn’t believe how much I missed it. I felt so blessed that I’d chosen to do centering. I couldn’t imagine what my pregnancy would have been like if I’d just come to “regular” checkups.
All my “centering friends” became friends on facebook. One by one, I watched their posts go up about their brand new, beautiful babies. Two of them were born on the same day.
I was the last one to give birth and, sadly, it wasn't “our” midwife who was there for it. I was the only one she wasn’t there for. I was disappointed, but it made our centering reunion, about three weeks after my daughter’s birth, even more special. We got to show off our babies and tell our birth stories. Everyone had such wonderful, empowering, special and sometimes funny stories to share.
Our story doesn’t end there, though. After almost nine months of regular get-togethers, we are all fast friends. We get together on a regular basis and one of the ladies created a facebook page for us to keep in touch. We continue with our loving, supportive group atmosphere where we can say anything without fear of being judged. It’s amazing and such a blessing.
I am looking forward to doing centering again with my next pregnancy. Midwifery care is amazing, yes, and so much more than the quick, medical checkups I got with an ob/gyn. But comparing “regular” midwife checkups and centering, there’s no way I could go back. It’s just that good.
For more information on centering, check out http://www.centeringhealthcare.org/ and the “Centering Video” http://www.centeringhealthcare.org/pages/media/centering-video.php