Tidelands Health centering encompasses emotional and physical aspects of pregnancy in group care
June 9, 2016
Little Piper Jayne Hildebolt rested quietly on her mother’s lap – oblivious to the talk of contractions, epidurals and breastfeeding.
As the six-week-old looked inquisitively at the faces of the adults seated nearby, one couldn’t help wondering if their voices seemed familiar to her. After all, she’d been hearing them regularly for nearly nine months, in utero, at Tidelands Health’s centering sessions for mothers-to-be.
Centering, launched nearly three years ago, is group prenatal care that encompasses more than just the physical aspects of pregnancy. It’s a way for expectant moms and dads to bond, share fears, concerns, advice and even a few laughs as they prepare to welcome a new baby into their family.
And on this late spring day, Piper Jayne and her mom, Jody Henley, were joining other centering “alumni” for a reunion, where moms and dads were proudly showing off their newest family members.
For most, the gathering, their last official one as a centering group, was the first time they’d been together since their babies were born. The mood was nothing short of jubilant as moms cooed and traded advice on how to sneak a catnap while dads balanced diaper bags and an occasional bottle.
Tidelands Health nurse-midwives Anne Vierela, Maureen Nowak and Vanessa Breeding, who lead the centering sessions, got caught up on delivery experiences and how the families were faring.
Centering groups are voluntary and include from eight to 15 expectant moms whose due dates are close to one another. Nowak says its most important element is autonomy.
“The women take care of themselves,” she says. “Every three weeks when they come for their prenatal visits, they take their own vital signs and check their weight. Then a nurse-midwife checks fetal heart rate and growth and reviews the chart. Once that is done, the moms join the rest of their centering group.”
Discussion lasts about 75 minutes and is free-wheeling, touching on everything from mood swings and physical changes to relationships and apprehensions about motherhood. What’s unfinished gets continued on the group’s private Facebook page.
To build relationships and trust, Nowak says one midwife leads the same group, and she’s quick to note that they’re not teachers. “We’re merely leading a conversation so the moms will take charge and get the information they want to know,” she says. “We’ll have something in mind to get it started, but if someone has a question, the topic can change according to what they want to know instead of what we think they need to know. Nothing is off base.”
More than 400 expectant moms have participated in Tidelands Health’s centering groups, which sometimes double as a friend group and a support network.
“A lot of these women don’t have family here, so centering is a way for them to make connections and establish friendships in a way they wouldn’t be able to with traditional prenatal care visits,” Nowak says. “They can build a family outside of work and family.”
Sarah Rouet, who is from England and moved to the area with her husband three years ago, says the moms in her group provided a welcome shoulder to lean on at times. “Because my family is overseas, it was comforting to see familiar faces and to know I could count on them for moral support,” says Rouet, cradling two-and-a-half-month-old Scarlett in her arms.
Fellow group members were also a handy source for heartburn remedies. “I asked them what to do, and I quickly got suggestions for remedies and assurance that I wasn’t the only one suffering,” Rouet says with a smile.
Henley, a postpartum nurse at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital, says just getting together with other women on the same journey helped her feel more “normal.”
“It was reassuring to hear that other women were experiencing the same changes or feelings that I was,” Henley says. It was like, ‘OK, I’m going through that too. I’m normal.’ ”
Henley says centering not only helped her manage her pregnancy and delivery; it also has made her a more understanding nurse. “I learned how to prepare for delivery, to manage pain and to know what to expect,” she says. “And it has helped me understand what moms feel.”
And what about the dads? Says Nowak: “Often, men are intimidated by labor, so we teach them how to be supportive and help their partners. Dads are learning, too.”
Vierela says centering is delivering some pretty impressive medical benefits. A statewide study indicates that the state’s preterm birth rate and growth retardation rate have dropped by 40 percent in women who receive the centering model of prenatal care. “We don’t know why,” she says. “This could be due to the relational aspects of centering, increased peer pressure or reduced anxiety, but these results are highly encouraging.”
Perhaps the biggest indicator of centering’s success are the repeat moms. “We’re seeing second- and third-time moms come through the program,” Nowak says. “Most say they participate again because the experience just can’t be duplicated through traditional prenatal visits.”
Lauren Dunk, who gave birth to baby Drew in March, says she’d “absolutely do it again” and would recommend centering to anyone who is expecting a baby.
“I wish it had been available when I had my first child. I’m sure my experience would have been much better,” she says. “Centering definitely made me feel more confident. It’s a wonderful experience, and it gives you the opportunity to have that intimate conversation you wouldn’t be able to have otherwise.
“When you see the physician, things escape your mind. But in centering, the visits are longer and the atmosphere is more laid back. Listening to other expectant mothers express their feelings, concerns and fears makes it much easier to express your own.”
As the reunion drew to a close and moms were making plans for play dates and babysitting co-ops, Henley summarized the feelings of everyone in the group.
“We’ll stay in touch,” she says. “I feel like I’ve made some lifelong friends.”
For more information on centering, visit www.tidelandshealth.org/care-treatment/maternity-care/centeringpregnancy-group-care/