Group Sessions Create Community
The “it takes a village” mentality is the cornerstone of the Northwestern Medicine Centering program, which offers prenatal care and postpartum support in a group setting to new and expectant parents.
The program, offered by Northwestern Medical Group since 2018, is run by Northwestern Medicine certified nurse-midwives, who consider it a “labor of love.”
“I believe that women who feel supported during pregnancy, delivery and parenting do better emotionally,” says Certified Nurse-Midwife Ariel Derringer, APRN, CNM, who has worked for Northwestern Medicine for 20 years. “They have more confidence, feel more secure in their decision-making and have people to lean on in great times and in hard times alike.”
Centering has proven to decrease the rate of preterm birth and low weight babies and increase breastfeeding rates. While these are great tangible outcomes, program facilitators and participants agree that the greatest benefits are the curriculum offered and the community cultivated, especially at a time when staying at home is encouraged due to COVID-19, and many are isolated from their families and friends.
“Most women typically feel alone when they’re pregnant or taking care of a newborn, and with COVID-19, they feel more alone than ever,” says Derringer. “When I hear how our group members are supporting each other during this time, it makes my heart sing.”
Pregnancy and Parenting 101
In traditional individual prenatal care, a pregnant woman will see her OB/GYN for her initial visit, which lasts roughly 30–45 minutes. Then she will have regular prenatal exams at certain checkpoints during her pregnancy, which typically last around 15 minutes.
In the Centering pregnancy program, each session begins with a brief private consultation with the nurse-midwife, followed by 90 minutes of curriculum in a group setting. The curriculum covers a wide range of topics: labor stages, nutrition, postpartum care, parenting, mood disorders, changes in relationship, and relaxation and meditation. The sessions are designed to equip expectant moms and their partners with the tools they need to have the healthiest pregnancy possible and guidance for their birth experience and postpartum care.
“I didn’t know much about parenting or labor or pregnancy, and my husband was even more clueless,” says Centering program participant Melissa Mestrovich. “The immeasurable benefit of Centering was being able to listen to other people’s questions, some of which we would’ve never thought to ask during a regular 15-minute appointment with our OB/GYN.”
Derringer equates this preparation to training for a marathon. “We give Centering participants practices, like meditation and relaxation methods, that they can do every day until they give birth to be best prepared for the actual day,” she explains.
Each Centering group is comprised of 10 pregnant women and their partners, and a certified nurse-midwife and a nurse, who are both specially trained to facilitate Centering. This allows for a more intimate setting, which fosters friendships that last long past pregnancy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Centering sessions are conducted virtually. It’s a move that Melissa says has been vital to her family during the pandemic.
“Communicating with our group via text or social media has helped me feel less nervous about certain milestones during the pandemic, like my son starting solid foods, because I was able to lean on friends from Centering,” she says.