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Lamaze Video Gives Birth to Controversy

October 12, 1986|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

In a darkened room on the maternity ward of St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Tanya Ucher closes her eyes, takes deep breaths and thinks of waves beating against a seashore as tension slips from her arms, legs, neck and back.

"Notice how calm and relaxed you are," a soothing voice coos from a videocassette player. "This is the way you'll feel in labor."

For Ucher, who was hospitalized with pregnancy complications before she could begin Lamaze classes at the hospital, a video is the only practical way to receive instruction in prepared childbirth. So she practices relaxation techniques from the hospital bed to which she has been confined with her "coach"--her husband, Joe--at her side.

She is among a growing number of expecting mothers using "Having Your Baby: Lamaze Prepared Childbirth," a two-hour videocassette on breathing and concentration techniques that experts say minimize some of the pain of giving birth.

On Shoestring Budget

The brainchild of two Orange County nurses, the videocassette was made last year on a shoestring budget. But it attracted widespread attention only recently after its creators were able to save enough money to purchase ads in two publications geared to expectant parents.

Featuring 10 expecting couples from Orange County, the video takes a viewer through a single Lamaze class and includes footage of vaginal and Caesarean births attended by the "coach" husbands.

Though expectant mothers who have used "Having Your Baby" speak highly of it, experts do not always agree. In fact, nearly a year and a half after its release, the video still stands at the center of a controversy.

In the lead are some members of the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis and Obstetrics, an Arlington, Va., organization that certifies Lamaze instructors and sets professional standards for them. Partially in response to "Having Your Baby," ASPO last October released a position statement against videotapes that purport to replace childbirth education classes.

"Our problem with the video is that its makers are marketing it as an alternative to classes in their promotional material," said Cathryn Winters, national director of education for ASPO. "In my mind, it's false advertising. Telling someone that watching a video is the equivalent of participating in a fuller educational experience is just not true."

Creator Feels Need Filled

But the videocassette's creator, Stacy McCullough, 35, of Newport Beach, a labor and delivery nurse since 1974 and a Lamaze teacher since 1978, believes that the videocassette fills an important need that had been staring her in the face for years.

Bedridden mothers constituted only a portion of the population that she believed could benefit from a portable Lamaze class. Physically isolated couples and couples with scheduling conflicts would be served by an alternative to the classes that usually are given in hospitals or instructors' living rooms, she reasoned. But women who had already given birth according to prepared-childbirth techniques sold her on the idea.

"On the average, I teach 200 couples a year," said McCullough. But she saw very few repeat couples, even though she knew that some were now having a second or third child.

Those "repeat parents" who failed to brush up on Lamaze techniques had problems in the delivery room, she noticed: "When they get in labor, they realize they don't remember as much as they thought they did, and they wished they'd practiced."

Then Ronnie Hammond, 34, of Irvine, a labor and delivery nurse since 1976, began to study under McCullough, who also is certified to teach the series of breathing and concentration techniques. Because the women worked so well together, they decided to produce a videocassette.

Though McCullough had a friend film the natural births of her three sons and used to show some of the footage in her classes, neither women knew anything about technical aspects of video production. But a marketing study persuaded them to go ahead. Ten months and $35,000 of combined life savings later, they had developed what they believe to be a unique commodity. While there are at least three videos available on birth-related topics, "Having Your Baby" is the only one to depict an entire Lamaze class, according to its makers.

Designed as Supplement

"Jane Fonda's Pregnancy, Birth and Recovery Workout" includes a brief segment entitled "Skills for Birth." Dr. Art Ulene's three-part series on pregnancy exercises, produced in conjunction with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, includes a two-hour video entitled "Childbirth Preparation Program" for "practicing labor techniques at home." "The Lamaze Method," a full-length video narrated by Patty Duke and produced by ASPO, comes the closest to containing a complete Lamaze course but was designed only as a supplement to regular classes.

With 300 videos sold to date (not nearly enough for the project to break even), McCullough and Hammond appear to be reaching many women who praise the video.

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