February 10, 2006

Simulator gives fathers brief feel for pregnancy

Simulator gives fathers brief feel for pregnancy

Terrence Brown, a 23-year-old marathon runner, now knows what it feels like to be pregnant.

He also knows that, in a roomful of pregnant women and their spouses attending the New Beginnings class at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a 35-pound empathy belly is the perfect icebreaker.

Also known as the pregnancy simulator, the prop is designed to mimic an unborn baby resting on its mother's bladder. It weighs 35 pounds and is complete with a bladder pouch filled with water, two large lead weights, and sand to add more bulk.

“The function is to help the wearer to understand what it's like to be pregnant and make them, hopefully, a little more empathetic,” said Carol Huber, R.N., a perinatal educator and lactation consultant in the Women's Education and Lactation department at Vanderbilt.

“When you put it on, you get a sway back because it changes your whole center of gravity.”

Huber asks husbands to wear the prop during their fifth and final class for expectant parents preparing for childbirth.

“They usually say, 'Wow, it's heavy.’ That is always the first thing they say,” she said.

“And then usually the wives get kind of cruel and they throw a pen on the floor and say 'Pick the pen up,' or 'Try to lay down and get up off the floor.'”

Terrence's wife Jacquelynn Brown, a lab research technician at Vanderbilt, seemed to be enjoying herself while her husband attempted to perform basic tasks like sitting down and standing up during Monday's class.

“It is uncomfortable,” he said. “It is tight across the chest. It feels like you can take in a deep breath but it really doesn't go anywhere.”

Their first child, a boy to be named Malachi, is due Feb. 20.

“My wife is an independent person. She doesn't ask me to help her with anything, but I have been helping her tie her shoes,” he said.

Huber's class meets on Monday nights for five consecutive weeks, beginning with a session on anatomy, physiology and adjustment to pregnancy.

The second class answers questions about labor, and by the third week students learn about epidurals, monitoring the baby, and where they need to go when they get to the hospital to have the baby.

“For the dads, that is a lot of the anxiety, 'Where do you go? What time do we call the doctor?'” Huber said.

The fourth week is geared toward C-sections and understanding the newborn baby and the fifth and final class uses the Empathy Belly and discusses postpartum depression before a graduation celebration.

“I think fear of the unknown is a huge issue for people who are expecting a baby,” Huber said.

“They may have heard a lot of horrible labor stories or horrible parenting stories so I think it is good to get the facts. It is also good to have some tools to use for parents when they are going into labor. Dads need to know what they can do to keep moms comfortable and moms need to know what to expect as far as the series of events so they don't get frightened.”

The $60 class is held 6:30- 8:30 p.m. on Mondays on the fourth floor of Medical Center East. Huber also teaches a crash course one Saturday a month from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. For more information or to register call 936-1414.