Welcome to ‘Catholic Baby University’: Unique Program Prepares Expectant Parents
How to raise little ones well, from birth to building up the domestic church.
Denver residents Natalie and Jack Schutzius are expecting their first baby in May, just about a week after their one-year wedding anniversary. To prepare for their baby’s birth, they attended a course April 5-6 called “Catholic Baby University.”
The program, offered in six classes over three weeks ($150 per couple) or in a one-day, one-night express retreat ($100 per couple), combines need-to-know childbirth basics and baby safety with helpful tips on creating a Catholic home.
“We had been signed up for another baby-preparedness class … when we saw a flyer about Catholic Baby University,” 23-year-old Natalie, a finance analyst, told the Register, adding that Catholic Baby University “seemed a lot more comprehensive, and that it was from a Catholic perspective was important to us.”
“The Catholic version was appealing, as it’s who we are as people — it’s part of our identity,” added 25-year-old Jack, a theology student at the Augustine Institute graduate school.
Born in 2017, Catholic Baby University is a collaborative project between Rose Medical Center, which has origins in the Jewish community, and the Archdiocese of Denver. It is an adaptation of Rose’s Jewish Baby University, which was established more than 20 years ago. Rabbi Jeffrey Kaye, director of chaplaincy services at Rose, said the baby university was one of the reasons he was drawn to his position 19 years ago.
“It’s a holistic approach to sanctifying the bringing of new life into the world,” he said. “It not only meets people’s needs, but, hopefully, it enriches their lives in meaningful and substantive ways.”
Although Jewish Baby University has been replicated across the nation, Rabbi Kaye said it has long been his desire to share the program with other faith traditions.
Catholic Baby University, he said, is the first non-Jewish version of the program. “We are excited and passionate about helping to foster and promote it,” Rabbi Kaye said, “especially in our modern-day world, which is so dominated by technology and everyone having to be so fast-paced that we lose touch with what is most important in our life. “To have an opportunity to take time and take stock through the lens of our powerful, beautiful faith traditions can only help build healthy families.”
“The wisdom and timeless traditions of religious faith,” he added, “can provide anchors and grounding and uplift families.”
Mary McGeehan of the Denver Archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries, coordinates Catholic Baby University.
“What’s great is it covers the mind, body and spirit and offers community support,” she said. The Catholic formation is designed to support couples wherever they may be in their faith walk, McGeehan said. For practicing Catholics, it’s a chance to deepen their faith and learn how to build their “domestic church.”
“For those not involved in their faith, it’s a touch point where they might be interested in returning,” McGeehan said, noting childbearing is a milestone that often draws young adults back to religious institutions. “For them, this is a re-welcome to the Church.”
Journey to Parenthood
In the April 5 opening session of Catholic Baby University, licensed clinical psychologist Jim Langley, director of St. Raphael Counseling, addressed the emotional aspects of the transition to parenthood. He offered the couples advice on communication skills, on expectations, on self-care and on how to support each other in their new role as parents.
“This is a fundamental change in your identity,” he told the five couples comfortably seated on couches around a fireplace. “It changes your social circle as well — even more than marriage. Once you’re a parent, you can’t not be a parent. It’s forever.”
Langley shared that as a bachelor in college, he was attending daily Mass and leading a Bible study and found himself thinking one day: “I’ve really got this down. I’m so holy!”
“Then I got married … then I had kids (four sons) … and it was all out the window,” he said, drawing laughter. “Parenting is the school of humility.”
Addressing postpartum depression, Langley said that up to 80% of women experience short-term “baby blues.” Clinical postpartum depression affects up to 20% of women.
“Don’t expect you’ll get it, but prepare to prevent it,” Langley said, emphasizing that the No. 1 deterrent is to get as much sleep as possible.
“Mothers who get adequate sleep the first week have lower rates,” he said. “It’s the single best thing you can do.”
The Birth Process
After attending morning Mass and receiving a blessing April 6, the couples heard from certified childbirth educator and labor doula Jessica Potter, owner of Birth Be Blessed Birth Services. Potter’s session addressed preterm labor, the labor process and techniques, and birth.
“Despite what Hollywood depicts, just 10% of labors will begin with a woman’s bag of water breaking,” Potter told the couples. “It’s the wild-card start to labor.” The most common sign a woman has begun labor? “Contractions,” Potter said. “Ninety percent of labors begin this way.”
Potter discussed comfort measures and support, shared tips on setting up the birth room, and showed videos on medicated and unmedicated births. She also corrected another misconception about birth often portrayed in the film industry: useless, bumbling husbands. “You have a much more positive effect, research shows, even just standing in the corner!” she assured the men.
Dr. Sarah Hodack, a family medicine physician at Bella Natural Women’s Care and Family Wellness (where the Catholic Baby University retreat took place), spoke to the couples about common newborn procedures in the hospital; swaddling, feeding and changing a newborn; sleeping dos and don’ts, and moral and immoral vaccines.
“We all know breastfeeding is best for baby, but it’s not always best for mom or dad. It can be very challenging,” Hodack said, urging those interested to take a breastfeeding class. “Make peace with the fact that you may or may not breast-feed; either way it will be fine.”
Creating a Catholic Home
With their 6-month-old son Benjamin in tow, Elizabeth and Matthew Bigelow, parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, spoke to the couples about life after baby is born and how to foster a Catholic home.
“While dating we had a lot of ideals we discussed about how to raise our family,” 27-year-old Elizabeth, a teacher at Lourdes School, told the couples. Chuckling, she added: “Six months in, (Benjamin) has taught us a lot.
“As a reflection of the call the Church gives us as Catholics, there’s a specific Church document we’ve been reading that calls the family ‘the domestic church’ [Lumen Gentium]. The first place where a child is to learn about God is in the home — that exchange between mom and dad and between the children and mom and dad is their first experience of Catholicism. The purpose of the domestic church is to teach who God is, what prayer is and how to follow the will of God.”
“We’re here to help Ben get to heaven and to help each other get to heaven,” added 30-year-old Matthew, an aerospace engineering operations analyst.
Urging the couples to come up with their own list of family ideals to strive for, the Bigelows shared theirs. Among them: Keep Sundays for God and rest. Observe liturgical seasons and feast days (for example: Avoid early Easter celebrations when it’s still Lent). Pray daily as a family. Make time for each other (even if just a conversation over a cup of evening tea). Be thoughtful about naming the children (consider biblical, family and saints’ names) and about selecting godparents. Seek out mentor couples. Establish family traditions. Be on mission together (be open to God’s will). “Be gentle with yourself,” Elizabeth advised as she and Matthew shared their often-humorous struggles trying to achieve their goals. “We’re the domestic church, and the Church is merciful. Be merciful with yourself and with each other.”
Noting that at the end of Mass the congregation is told to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” Elizabeth applied that mandate to the domestic church, as well.
“That’s what we’re called to do: to go out and spread the joy that happens in the home to others,” she said.
“Your individual family is so important to the world — it’s unique. We’re the Bigelows, and we can offer what the Bigelows can. We’re on mission together. It’s a beautiful adventure.”
The Schutziuses agreed Catholic Baby University was worthwhile.
“It exceeded our expectations,” Natalie told the Register. “I loved how they focused on all different aspects of us as people — the mental and emotional, then the physical aspects of labor and birth, and the spiritual. It felt really well-rounded.”
“They did a great job giving all those areas attention and talking about instilling Catholic values,” added Jack. “You’re not going to get that in a secular setting. I appreciated all of it.”
Roxanne King writes