It wasn't your typical class reunion.
No one discussed careers, talked about divorces, or reminisced about the good old days.
In fact, the alumni didn't talk at all, preferring instead to coo, bat their brand-new eyelashes and squeeze any nearby fingers that came into grasping range.
At the three-month childbirthing class reunion at Harford Community College, being seen with your parents wasn't even considered uncool. In fact, it was de rigueur.
For the parents who took the class to learn about the stages and techniques of giving birth, the class reunion was the culmination of seven weeks ofhard work and, in most cases, several hours of hard labor.
Almostevery eight weeks a new childbirthing class starts at Harford Community College or Harford Memorial Hospital. The two institutions also offer a variety of related parenting classes, such as "parent effectiveness training."
And area doctors advise parents-to-be to think ofchildbirth education classes as being as commonplace as delivering children in a hospital.
"The more the patients know about childbirth, the more it allays their fear," said Dr. Leopold Bellantoni, a Harford obstetrician who has been delivering babies for almost 30 years."Not having the mother be an active part of the delivery has gone out of style."
Doctors today do not always have the time to answer all of an expectant mother's questions, so Bellantoni encourages patients to take childbirth education classes at Harford Memorial Hospital.
Bellantoni said he advises patients who will deliver at the hospital to take the hospital's classes because they'll meet nurses and other hospital staff who will work on the delivery.
But, Bellantonisaid, the main benefit of childbirth classes is to reduce the anxiety some women feel about labor.
"Studies show that when the anxietyis not reduced, it can interfere with the contractions of the uterus," said Bellantoni. "The labor seems to proceed more smoothly when women know what to expect."
Janice Sugarman, a certified childbirth educator who teaches seven-week classes at Harford Community College,said she believes the knowledge women and their childbirth partners gain from the classes builds confidence.
"I think women have a God-given strength and ability to birth their babies," said Sugarman, who has worked as a supporter for women and couples in delivery rooms and has taught childbirth classes to single mothers.
"Especially first-time mothers have a lot of fear that they won't be able to handlelabor. We teach them that by learning as much about the process as they can, their fears will be lessened," Sugarman said.
Sugarman said the classes also help build the confidence of the childbirth partner, whether that is a husband, family member or friend.
Sugarman said the goal of childbirth classes has been misunderstood in recent years.
"Taking a childbirth class doesn't mean you have to have a natural childbirth without any medication," she said. "And it doesn't mean you won't feel any pain. It means you'll know what it means whenyou do have pain."
Sugarman teaches couples all the options they will have in the delivery room. She shows them the hospital monitors and other medical equipment that may be used and explains the effectsof labor-inducing drugs.
Often, she said, women expect to have a natural childbirth but end up taking medication or needing a special procedure.
"It's important to remember that there is no pass or fail with having a baby. There is no single right way to do it," she said.
That knowledge came in handy for 25-year-old Kim Gettings of Street when she delivered her daughter, Ashley Nicole Bosely, on Oct. 27.
Gettings anticipated having a natural birth, but after severalhours of labor, she was given medication.
"Because of the classes, I knew what to expect," Gettings said at the class reunion. "A lot of doctors have one way they think labor should be, and I think they are less likely to tell you about other options. Janice told us all the options that were available and let us decide for ourselves."
Another benefit of childbirth classes is that they give the child's father a strong role during labor, Sugarman said.
Some hospitals will not allow fathers into the delivery room if they have not taken theclasses, she said.
Ginny Carman, whose husband, Bob, took the classes with her, said the information they learned in the classes made their daughter Laura's delivery eaiser.
"My husband was so helpful, especially with counting and helping me to breathe," Carman said. "It helped me to fucus instead of getting caught up in the pain. It made a big difference.
In addition to teaching techniques of childbirth, most area classes also discuss fetal development, breast feedingas opposed to bottle feeding, beginning parenting, infant care and postpartum depression.
Childbirth and parenting classes availableat Harford Memorial Hospital and Harford Community College:
Classes open to families who are delivering at other hospitals
*Maternity Unit Tour