Varsha Shridhar, PhD, LCCE
Where do you live?
How long have you been teaching?
Just a few months
What was your journey to a career in childbirth education?
My interest in childbirth began with my own pregnancy while pursuing doctorate studies in microbiology. During this time, I had attended multiple hospital-based childbirth education classes that were very dry, very factual, but hardly thought-provoking. I had assumed that was enough preparation. My husband and I had been among the first in our friends' circle to have kids and I found myself in the position of an informal guide for other friends who were planning kids or were pregnant. I stumbled upon the actual Lamaze philosophy while reading up on things to share with these friends (and this was very different from what the hospital decreed was "Lamaze" childbirth education), loved the experience of sharing it (while suffering many pangs over not having known all this information for my own pregnancies) and decided that I ought to follow my heart and do what I clearly enjoyed. So during my postdoctoral fellowship, I contacted the local leaders in Lamaze and began my training as a childbirth educator! We moved back to India before I wrote the certification exam and I got offered a job almost immediately by a local hospital.
Why did you choose to become an LCCE Educator?
Frankly, that was what every childbirth educator around me was. Even those with ICCE certifications were becoming LCCEs, so it made sense for me to pursue an LCCE certification. Plus, the word "Lamaze" is fairly well-known in India, where I knew we would be moving, whereas "childbirth education", as such, is not that common.
How, where, and what do you teach?
Here in Bangalore (and I'm sure in most of India), there's a lot of diversity among the various communities about what information is considered appropriate for whom. Most of my clients are pregnant women or new mothers. It is rare for them to be accompanied by their husbands; more commonly, they will be accompanied by their mother, sisters or mother in law. My sessions are almost always one-on-one with each family. They end up more as counseling sessions, rather than classes, because we talk about diet; family customs (which are very variable, according to social, economic and educational status); perceptions of the family about childbirth, labor and motherhood; support systems during labor and the first few months of motherhood; the importance of exercise (most families are aghast at this- they find it hard to believe that exercise can be good, even essential, during pregnancy); the importance of staying calm and not over-reacting and so on. You might realize that there are a few differences between what CBEs normally teach and what I find is necessary in this setting. My job requires me to be part counselor, part educator and mostly a nonjudgemental facilitator/supporter. Some of my clients call me "Akka" (meaning elder sister) and this is the image I strive to convey. My sessions are entirely within a hospital context. I work in a semi-charitable hospital run by a Christian convent. Patients are referred to me by pediatricians (who refer new mothers who require some additional counseling on postnatal issues like newborn care or breastfeeding) and obstetricians (who refer pregnant ladies and their families).
What or who influences your teaching?
During the Lamaze training workshop, one of my mentors, Ngozi Tibbs (Pittsburgh) had spoken about how to be nonjudgmental and how to be aware of the biases we innately bring just because of our backgrounds. I always recall her talk every time I meet a new client. What she had said was spot on and so very valuable. My other mentor is Deena Blumenfield, of Shining Light Prenatal in Pittsburgh. I try to channel some of that same sense of dedicated passion that she has to my sessions. As to what influences my teaching, it is my perception of my client's education levels. Because the hospital I work at is a charitable Christian missionary hospital, I see a lot of women who are uneducated (illiterate sometimes), who have no source of income other than what their husband provides, who have multiple kids and are exhausted. At the same time, I see women who are highly educated, with large support networks, who are keen to know everything so they can make the best decisions for their families. Finding the right balance and tone can be challenging at times.
What is your goal as an educator?
To feel that I have helped my client problem-solve so that they can come closer to whatever goal they have in mind with regards to birthing or baby care.
How do you use Lamaze Resources to support you as an educator?
I read the JPE and the Science and Sensibility blog fairly often to keep abreast of what's going on with the childbirth education world in the US.
How could you suggest other members receive maximum value from Lamaze?
I would love to read about how members deal with unexpected or challenging situations in their professions. I think this "member spotlight" idea is a great step in this direction. I would also love to hear about how the experienced educators handle serious situations, such as what to do if they suspect intimate partner violence (I realize the laws might be different in different countries, but I would appreciate any insights into matters like this).
When you aren't teaching, what do you enjoy doing?
Reading and hanging out with my family.