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Hands-on parentcraft classes for visually impaired people

The following article, by David Mumford and Usha Bhavsar, of The Royal Leicestershire, Rutland and Wycliffe Society for the Blind, is a revised version of an article entitled ‘Learning Parentcraft – The Leicester Project’, which first appeared in the publication,-New Beacon, July/August 1992.

Three severely visually impaired young women, who were all first time mothers-to-be, had independently, yet simultaneously, approached the Royal Leicestershire Society for the Blind, for assistance in coping. Their anxiety, common to many new mothers, consisted in a lack of confidence in coping for the first time with a new baby – a feeling that was compounded by their visual impairment. Initially, literature covering the stages of pregnancy was supplied in Braille and on cassette tape, but this seemed to do little to allay the young women’s and their partner’s fears. More and more they contacted the Society’s staff to share their feelings, talk over difficulties and ask advice on simple practical matters.

At this point contact was made with the Leicester General Hospital Maternity Unit’s parentcraft coordinator to enquire about the facilities their particular parentcraft class would be able to offer these three young mothers-to-be. At first they were taken aback to be asked for specific facilities, not only for one but three visually impaired women. Interwoven in this response was their own lack of confidence with dealing with visually impaired patients. The general programme of the parentcraft classes was obviously geared to sighted parents, since it consisted principally of videos, practical demonstrations and print handouts. Obviously without serious modification the three young women would gain no benefit at all from attending such classes.

This prompted the suggestion of having a special parentcraft course for the three visually impaired women, and it was agreed that if the Society’s rehabilitation officer was able to take the lead role in organising such a series of classes, the staff at the maternity hospital would do all they could to help. It was fully accepted that the hospital was not trying to abdicate its primary responsibility but the medical staff were unaware of the real implications of visual impairment for the mothers-to-be and felt they needed guidance from an experienced and qualified person. They agreed to provide support, literature and a midwife to assist with designing such a class.

So with the assistance of the hospital’s community midwife, its parentcraft class programme was modified to meet the particular needs of the women involved. The emphasis was towards enabling them to receive personal attention and literally “hands on” experience – learning by touch. A ten week course of parentcraft classes was planned and held at the Society’s purpose built resource centre in Leicester. The classes were of two hours duration. The information supplied by the hospital maternity unit was put into large print, Braille and audio-cassette and two dolls were loaned for the women to use at home as a way of practising the parenting skills they had learned during the classes.

The aim of the classes was to prepare and assist the young women for motherhood by enhancing their dignity to cope confidently and independently during their advanced pregnancy and the postnatal period.

The programme covered:

  • Early to advanced pregnancy – consisting principally of giving relevant information and providing a platform for clarification and discussion on all these matters.
  • Practical sessions such as bathing, holding, clothing a baby, breastfeeding, making up feeds and nappy changing.
  • Input from various other professionals – social worker, physiotherapist, health visitor, as well as voluntary agencies such as Babygear and Homestart.
  • A group of “veteran” visually impaired mothers were also invited to come and share their experiences.

For the group, one of the highlights was the final week’s visit to the labour ward of the maternity unit. Here members were actually able to visit the rooms and encounter the equipment that they would be using during the birth of their child.

After each of the classes, the skills learnt were reinforced using the specialist knowledge of the rehabilitation officer and within the context of people’s own homes. This enabled an additional level of confidence. All three women plus one partner attended the ten-week course regularly.

They were all enthusiastically keen, and within the context and ambience of the sessions they were uninhibited in expressing and sharing their views and experiences. A great rapport thus developed between everyone involved in the project including the professionals.

When evaluating the classes, members expressed opinions as to how informative and interesting they had been, and on the gentler approach taken and the benefits reaped from being part of a small group with hands-on experience.

As with any teaching system when visual impairment is involved, classes need to be taken at a slower pace, but because there was a deadline to meet the programme needed to be kept tight and motivation levels high.

The project was a “first”, both in its objectives and in its co-working systems, with the only drawback being a lack of time to cover the many subjects needed.

Unquestionably the classes were a success, as evidenced by the following comments:

Sandra: “I loved the practical sessions. I felt as if I really knew what was going to happen.”

Ellis: “As a prospective father, I don’t think I could have managed without the hands-on experience in a class specially geared to blind people.”

Jo: “I couldn’t have gone through my labour if I hadn’t known what all the machines were for. The classes were very helpful. The personal touch gave me a lot of confidence to cope.”

(There was a suggestion to Jo that she should attend a few classes in her local health centre. On doing so she was very unhappy, as she was unable to keep up with the class and felt isolated. The parentcraft classes run by the society made her feel she was special.)

Harpreet: “Everyone understood I couldn’t see too well and needed extra help. It gave me confidence to face an exciting vent in my life.”

After their babies were born (all without complication), a six-week postnatal course was organised at their request. It was run in association with a health visitor and covered such topics as:

  • Child development from 0 – 5 years
  • Minor ailments
  • Providing stimulation when playing
  • First aid
  • Weaning
  • Transport and mobility

All these are designed to build confidence with caring for their new babies.

There is no doubt that everyone involved gained much in this experience. This project is a very good example of interdisciplinary working that can take place despite minimal resources but with honest commitment and professional security.

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 1, January 1993.

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