Becoming Us is expanding! And we're delighted to introduce our very first Becoming Us Mentor, Barb Buckner Suarez. For professionals who decide to do our Facilitator Certification, Barb's here to usher you through. Here's a little about Barb:
Can you tell us who you are and a little bit about your family?
I’m a Health Educator specializing in Childbirth Preparation and New Parenting. I’m married to Roberto, my BFF and parenting partner for the past 23+ years. He’s originally from Puerto Rico and I’m from Indiana. We met in Portland, Oregon doing work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in 1992. Despite the fact that our four children, Elisa-19, Alejandro-17, Lucía-14, and Félix-10 are native Oregonians, we consider them to be “Hoosier-Ricans” due to their mixed heritage. We’re lucky to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and try to take advantage of all that the Great Northwest has to offer as often as possible.
How/When/Why did you start working in the maternity field?
I began my work with expectant families because my best friend had asked me to be at her first baby’s birth. Because I am someone who never does anything half-way, I decided that I would take a 4-day doula training 3 hours north in Seattle (even my friends considered this overkill!) And at the end of the first day of training, I was hooked! I called my husband and announced, “I think I know what I want to do with my life!” and the rest, as they say, is history! I trained further to become a certified Childbirth Educator and then doggedly went about getting my foot in the door with Legacy Health System – and I’ve been there ever since. Over the years, I’ve mentored close to 20 new educators into this field, I’ve been a leader in bringing quality educational opportunities to my region through my volunteer work with NACEF (Northwest Area Childbirth Educators Forum), I’ve presented at local, national and international conferences, conducted labor support trainings from L&D nurses, and written over 200 articles on my blog, Birth Happens, and have been published in many online journals and magazines within this field. I’m hard at work on a book about vulnerability and parenting.
When did you first start thinking about doing something different from Childbirth Education?
I think for me, I’d always been on the lookout for “something else” when it came to childbirth education. Very early on in my career, I realized something monumental: the baby was going to come out one way or the other, so what was I really wanting to teach my students in a childbirth prep class? And the answer always came back: I want to prepare these people for the task of parenting through having a positive experience as a team in their childbirth experience. I think I’ve been successful at doing this over my two decades of teaching: realistic expectations about pregnancy and birth can help to set up a family for success, no matter what the birth outcome. But an essential piece was missing from my teaching… How could I adequately prepare these couples for the normal challenges and changes that were inevitable when moving from couple to parent - especially, when our classes were being shortened? I was looking into all kinds of information to weave into my classes about birth that were really about preparing couples for the reality of parenthood. I stumbled onto Elly Taylor and Becoming Us via Facebook and a Relationship Focused Birth Professionals Forum – and instantly I knew that I’d found someone who had already done the work for me to fill in the gaps.
Tell us a little bit about the decision to become a Certified Becoming Us Facilitator.
Well, I started “talking” with Elly online about the work she was doing – it was like I’d found my “professional twin.” Someone who was as committed as I was to make sure that new families felt supported – not set up; prepared - not paralyzed; understood - not overwhelmed. I’d found in her and the work that she’s devoted her professional life to an answer to how we could help better prepare expectant and new parents for the normal vicissitudes of life as a family – a way to help them become families that are thriving, not just merely surviving. We were chatting one day about how best to deliver the information from her book to the parents who so desperately needed it, and I was among the many who told her, “Train US! The folks who are already working with this population of expectant and new parents! You train us and we’ll educate them in turn.” And so, Elly created the Becoming Us Facilitator Program and I was the first to sign up and complete the training and then the first to run the group classes for expectant parents through my very supportive employer, Legacy Health System in Portland, Oregon.
Why does this work matter to you, personally?
My husband and I are very happily married 23+ years in and we’d gone through more than our fair share of adversity as a young couple. He’d been diagnosed with testicular cancer just 6 months after we were married. After going through that experience, I remember thinking “What on earth could break us apart if that didn’t do it and we’re strong for having survived it as a couple?” And then we had our first baby! That experience was not really ever going to break us apart, but it was so much harder than I thought it was going to be. And much, much harder than it should have been. We figured it out – but had Elly’s book and parenthood program been around at the time, it would have been so much easier. I want that transition to parenthood to be easier for couples so that they can have a solid foundation to build their family.
How do you think this work will impact women and families?
I’ve been lucky enough to be running a pilot program through Legacy which is just now coming to an end, but it ended up being just over 2 years (!), and I have been able to see how positively this work impacts the couple relationship. The level of perspective sharing that happens when these couples engage with one another and with others in the group allows for so much growth as individuals and as couples. They realize they are not alone in the feelings they have around parenting and that no one is doing this thing perfectly. They are able to focus in on what matters most in those first few days, weeks and months to help set themselves up for greater success in the future. They are more gentle with one another and recognize that they are stronger as individuals if they support one another in their couple relationship. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this work can lessen the risk of PMADs and help save relationships that might have otherwise ended on the heels of the stresses of moving from couple to family. This work is BIG.
How do you envision working as certified Becoming Us Facilitator Mentor?
I’ve worked as a mentor in my professional life for the past several years. I consider this one of my strengths. I love being a resource for newer educators/facilitators and providing them with some insight to make their classes as engaging as possible so that their families can get the most learning out of their time together. In addition to my years as a professional educator, I’ve also taken training on how to be an effective facilitator – which is a very different thing altogether. Knowing how to pace a class, keep time, encourage students to share and then share more deeply with one another and with others in the group, is a learned skill and one that would translate well with the work of a mentor. I’ve also been running the actual Becoming Us Parent Program for close to a year, I’m leading the re-design of the curriculum for the AFTER Baby Parent Program. I can help our new facilitators with ideas about marketing, promotion, materials, and how to manage a successful program from the ground up. From the practical nitty-gritty details about what supplies you need to have, to ideas on how to improve the couple experience in the classroom, I can help both new and veteran educators shine in their work so that the work of Becoming Us has the most impact for the families involved.
What do you know for sure – when it comes to the work that you’re doing?
“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to let your heart go walking around outside of your body.”
Parenthood changes you forever, and if parenting was an emotion it would be vulnerability. I know that this work of Becoming Us has the potential to be some of the best work I’ve ever done. Seeing couples move through conflict to embrace connection, watching them be brave and acknowledge that they’re concerned about how moving from couple to family might be more challenging than expected, or to be braver still and be on the other side of Becoming Us and realize that their relationship has taken a hit but that they’re committed to making it better, is wonderful to witness. I am humbled at the opportunity to help make the transition from couple to family as smooth as possible, and while I might not ever know the full impact that my classes have on these families, I’m happy to be planting seeds and having the faith that these couples will provide the right soil, water and sunlight to make these seeds grow well into the future.
If you'd like to know more about Barb, visit her website!