- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2001

Renee Brock of Alexandria had no trouble recalling the main reason she wanted to sign up for Inova Alexandria Hospital's "So You Want to

Have a Baby" class several years ago.

"Money," she says flatly before chuckling.

They're called different names by different hospitals and health care systems, some of them rather clever: "Maybe Baby" or "Preconceptions." Most of the classes are free, and all of them offer the same information, giving couples who are thinking about having a baby some solid data and advice on what to expect.

Call it "What to Expect Before You're Expecting."

"For us, the biggest eye-opener, and the part I got the most out of, was the part about money," says Mrs. Brock, a computer consultant for American Management Systems in Fairfax and mother of 18-month-old Grayden. "How much diapers really cost, how much formula costs, how long your baby is likely to be on formula, that kind of thing. And college … wow, that was an eye-opener by itself.

"But they talked about the trade-offs you make when you're considering having both parents work, and how to balance things on one budget if you're going to do that. That is what I thought was most beneficial," she adds.

At Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, which offers a class called "Preconceptions: Thinking About Having a Baby" about twice a year, a financial planner often speaks to couples about money issues.

"We show couples the updated costs of college and how it's going to go up in about 18 years," says Pat Rial, coordinator of prenatal education at Holy Cross. "It's pretty amazing when they see it."

Other issues are covered at these classes, too. Ms. Rial says a mother of three small children spoke to a recent class to tell couples firsthand what life with children is like.

"It was really a voice of experience talking," Ms. Rial says. "She had a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old and a 2-month-old, and she was really good at bringing her own life experiences into the picture."

Couples who are thinking of having a baby often consider their prenatal planning complete with a Lamaze class on childbirth and a tour of the delivery room at their hospital of choice, Ms. Rial says, and often miss out on the information a pre-pregnancy class can offer.

Dr. Arthur Kane, a pediatrician in Clinton, says couples he counsels in his private practice often forget to consider some of the smaller details of preparing for pregnancy.

"Getting their immunizations up to date is very important," Dr. Kane says. "Women should be getting plenty of folic acid. There are things like that people don't think about. There is the psychology of having a youngster in the house."

Lynn Kuba, a Lamaze instructor at Inova Fairfax Hospital, says Inova has had trouble scheduling pre-pregnancy classes because of a lack of interest.

"We tried to do it at Fairfax, but it was difficult to get people into it," Ms. Kuba says. "A lot of it was simply because of work schedules and finding a good time to do it. People are working all the time, and it was hard to drag them out for a one-time session like this."

All the same, Ms. Kuba says she wishes more people would take advantage of a pre-pregnancy class, even if they think they know what having a baby will be like.

"It's very helpful," she says. "Most people are kind of clueless when they have that first baby. People choose to have babies for very different reasons. Their [biological] clock is ticking; they want to give the grandparents a baby; everybody else is doing it; whatever. They rarely look into the issues. And then there is also the aspect of what women and men should be doing as far as maintaining a healthy lifestyle before the pregnancy comes. But it's just not as popular a class as we would like it to be."

Mrs. Brock certainly found it helpful.

"I think more than anything, taking the class at Inova helped get us in the right frame of mind," she says. "This is the next step of our lives, and this is where we want to go. So it was more of a reaffirmation for us. It was a good class. We came away thinking, 'This is the reality now. We're ready now.' "

Mrs. Brock's husband, Matt, says he didn't consider the seminar as informative as it was comforting and reassuring. As a reporter for NewsChannel 8, a local cable news station, he says, "All I do is collect information for a living," so he felt prepared for having a baby from that standpoint.

"But it was nice to know we were on track," he says. "There were no big surprises."

Pre-pregnancy classes and lectures are offered two or three times a year at Holy Cross, Inova Fairfax, Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton and Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville.

Couples thinking of having a baby should call their local hospital to see if it offers a pre-pregnancy class as part of its adult education program.

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