Editor’s Note: City Births will be holding a special workshop on childbirth called “Pregnancy and Beyond Unplugged” on March 20. See our calendar post for more details.
A few months after Andrea Lee had taken time off from her job to care for her newborn son she, like many women who make the unpredictable transition from professional life to motherhood, found herself feeling somewhat bored. Instead of going back to her career in event marketing at UBS, Lee went back to a few of the other expecting mothers from her prenatal class and together they started a not-for-profit support group for women looking to birth and raise their children in the city. It became known as Bowery Babes.
Lee has once again moved on to a new and exciting chapter of life. A little over a year ago, she opened City Births, a center for pre- and post-natal support and education. We caught up with her to hear all about City Births’ success and find out what expectant moms can hope to find at City Births this year.
Tell us a little about City Births and how it all came about.
When I was pregnant with my own son, I started to do a lot of research on giving birth, what was expected, the different hospitals within the city, different doctors, having really no prior knowledge to any of this. What I was coming across was there seemed to be a big disconnect between the childbirth community and the medical community. In general, there’s a sort of mistrust between both sides. Doctors in general are not very trusting of what the childbirth educators are telling their patients and likewise, a lot of the child birth educators are a little distrusting of what the information doctors are giving to their patients.
After I took my childbirth class, I walked out of there kind of afraid. That doesn’t do anyone any good to have a mom who is frightened and anxious going into labor. I became in a lot of direct contact with other moms in New York. The more I talked to them, the more I heard the reoccurring theme of just having a really unhappy birth, that they were frightened by their childbirth classes, they felt like doctors weren’t listening, and that there was just sort of this void that sure, they had a healthy baby at the end of it, but they didn’t necessarily have a great birth.
I went back and I became a certified educator and a certified birth companion.
I started teaching privately, and then I just started branching out within the community. I earned a good reputation by speaking with other OBs in the city. I had really reached out to both sides of the community- the patients and the OBs–to form a collaborative that we can work together and not against each other.
What sets City Birth a part from other birthing education centers?
My goal is not to frighten moms. Our goal is to provide moms with the reality of giving birth. We don’t have any theory based agendas or hidden agendas of what type of birth we think moms should have. What we want to do is spell out the options that they have.
We provide moms with the different options and with anything in life there are pros and cons to whichever path you take, and our job is to give moms the factual-based information. This information comes from extensive conversations with OBs and midwives and research from peer-reviewed journals like the AmericanCollege of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It is true factual-based backed research on the pros and cons of say getting an epidural, pitocin, or an episiotomy.
The other aspect of City Births is to teach parents and moms how to work with their care providers and not against them because the last thing you need in a labor and delivery room is conflict. We teach parents how to have discussions with their doctor that are non-confrontational. I sat with many people to create a curriculum that provides parents-to-be with education. It’s in a nonjudgmental setting. All of the teachers that I work with are like-minded in the approach to birth.
The other aspect that really makes city births different is we do our classes in a one-day intensive. Everybody says that these four to five week sessions that are offered at the majority of the places are way too long. People really do not desire that much information. They’re tired; they work all day. These are New York City professionals that come to the majority of our classes. So we sat down to look at how we can provide a service that we do not compromise the information that we’re given and at the same time we can be mindful of people’s schedules. So I keep my classes very small; we don’t do any more than five couples in a class. We also don’t spend a whole lot of time watching lengthy videos.
I’ve been told my office provides a sort of spa like setting. We provide six different types of seating options for moms because they become uncomfortable. I provide catered luncheons for the one-day intensive. We provide a variety of snacks and beverages from sparkling waters to special teas to drink during pregnancy. I really try to make it a very comfortable environment for everybody.
Can you tell us a little more about this one day intensive?
We have the one-day intensive that provides the vast majority of people with the background information on what to expect when they go to the hospital, what’s going to happen to their bodies during labor. The non-pregnant support partner generally is concerned about making sure they get mom to the hospital or birth center on time, and they want some basic coping skills.
What else services does City Births provide as far as prenatal and postnatal classes?
People who want to spend the time and the effort on learning more about birth and more about natural coping techniques, we offer classes just in that, and those people become a self-selecting group of people. Those are the people that are more likely to bond with each other. Those classes can run anywhere from two to three to four sessions in length. They create a bond with the other couples because these people are a little more like-minded as opposed to having one mom who wants to have a C-section and one mom who wants to have a home birth. I’m really trying to make City Births a resource for pregnant couples right on through the first year to two years of having a baby in the city.
About 70 percent of the people that come to us sign up for three classes together and that’s the child birth education One-day Intensive, the Infant Care and Breastfeeding, and then the Infant CPR and Safety. In terms of popularity, I would say it goes in that order.
The post natal right now would be the New Moms Group that we offer monthly as well as the Breastfeeding and Lactation Support. Most of my patients are probably 8 months past post partum and through pregnancy. As City Birth grows and becomes bigger, I would love to offer classes on introducing a sibling.
You do have one class for dads-to-be right now, the Daddy Boot Camp. Explain what that is exactly.
It is a class for dads; it is run by dads; there are no women in the class. These dads who run the group bring their babies and they’ll give a dad-to-be a baby who’s fussy and say: “Okay, what are you going to do?” It’s very different than practicing on a doll. They practice diapering on a baby who’s wiggly. It’s great that these dads get to actually practice on a real living baby.
It gives them an opportunity to say, “my partner is going to breastfeed, I feel helpless. How can I help her out?” Dads who have already gone through it can give them real solutions and real advice on how to deal with it. One of the concerns is post-partum depression, which is a reality. How do you approach a mom who is suffering without making her more anxious? They talk about those issues from a male perspective of how to really help your partner.
Yeah, life has changed but it goes on. You can sit there still and have an adult conversation with other people and have your baby with you. It gives a lot of calm to the dads-to-be that they are still able to continue on with a life. Every person who has come to these classes has spoken very highly about what it has done to them. It’s a really exciting time.
What is your favorite thing to do with your son around the city or just in general?
We love bike riding in Central Park. We go in the nice weather probably a few times a week after school.
In general, our overall favorite thing to do is we cook together. He knows how to make smoothies. I don’t let him obviously operate the oven unsupervised, but he knows how a gas stove works. He can flip an egg, he can flip pancakes. He’s six now. We also think it’s educational: “Count out six strawberries.” Now we’re working with fractions: “We need a half cup of milk.” We have fun with it.
Do you miss your job as an investment banker or do you think you made the right change?
I truly love what I do. What I do is a labor of love for me–no pun intended. I feel so much more rewarded working with expecting couples. It’s usually a very exciting time for most people in their life. You’re witnessing them transform into a mother literally in front of your eyes. We really truly care that they feel supported and that they got the information that they need.
I don’t miss the banking. I will be honest, there are times I look in my closet–I miss the clothes. I don’t wear Manolo Blahniks or Gucci shoes to the hospital or when I teach. [But] I really love what I do and I feel really grateful that I have the opportunity to wake up and do something that I truly love everyday. I don’t see it as work.