I am the founder of Birth Coach Method and am celebrating 20 years of leadership in the field of childbirth support. Throughout my career, I have been honored to provide doula support and teach childbirth ed. classes to hundreds of expectant couples, as well as to direct two birth resource centers. I am also a doula leader in my community in the South Bay area of Silicon Valley in California.
Does an ‘Expert Position’ benefit professionals in the field of birth support?
Do you consider yourself an expert in ‘How to have a healthy birth’? Whether you are a childbirth educator, a birth doula, a midwife, or an L&D team member, I’m almost certain that you believe your practice cracked the formula of the right way or even the best way to a healthy childbirth. But do we all agree on what the phrase healthy birth stands for? And how would you feel if I threw in just one more word – experience. How confident are you now that you have mastered the best way, or the right way, to achieving a healthy birth experience? Perhaps it’s time to rethink our position. Can we give up the expert position and hand it over to our birth clients?
I have shifted the focus of my birth support toward prenatal coaching and led many birth practitioners to implement this transformational coaching approach into their birth support practice. I’ve noticed five common negative mindsets that expectant individuals may hold throughout my teaching and as I coached my own birth clients. These repeating themes can sabotage birth givers’ birth experiences, even when there is no physiological or anatomical problem. In coaching, we call these negative mindsets limiting beliefs or success blockers. Regardless of individuals’ awareness of their thought processes or beliefs, those run subconsciously like a program you downloaded and installed on your computer unintentionally. And just like a computer program, these negative mindsets may change clients’ attitudes, behavior, and the decisions they make.
Ever wondered why you’re super stressed when you commit to a birth client?
When I ask the community of Birth Coach Method’s doula students to elaborate on their stress level and its source, they usually begin talking about being on-call. I wholeheartedly agree that being on-call 24/7 when you are a career doula is super stressful. It’s been alsoreported by midwives that the unpredictability of childbirth – when will it begin and how will the process unfold, is one of the biggest hardships of the role. It keeps us on our toes – always having to arrange support for our families, always ready to cancel plans or miss family events. It’s messing up our vacations, and more.
Another source of stress that often emerges in our community meetings, or personal mentorship sessions, is our accountability for clients’ birth experiences. While medical caregivers are held accountable for the outcomes, we are held accountable for the quality of the birth process.
Becoming a birth support figure is more than an exciting career choice – it’s a calling. We feel called to empower, support, and lead people during their journeys of pregnancy, birth, and beyond, toward achieving their satisfying and empowering experiences. We are called to take part in their journeys of growing into parents. This is true for childbirth educators, doulas, prenatal yoga teachers, and most medically trained professionals such as midwives and L&D nurses. Sociologist and maternal care researcher Christin Morton states in her book “Birth Ambassadors” that when trained birth professionals begin to practice, they notice that “the impact shown in the early trials has not been realized for most practitioners today” (p. 75). This gap between our desired impact and the reality of our practice can be closed by a series of prenatal coaching sessions. Integrating strategies and models of transformational coaching into birth support is the key to achieving our goals and fulfilling our calling. Here are the five main reasons to conduct a series of transformational prenatal coaching sessions:
“Impression without Expression Causes Depression. Study without Service Leads to Spiritual Stagnation”. I recently came across this saying by Rick Warren, and it has reminded me of how depressed I was some years ago. I was feeling that my birth support practice is no longer impactful, nor sustainable. I wanted to quit because I found it impossible to provide the service I was trained to provide. As a doula trainer, it made me think of all my lovely doula students who had never established a doula practice or served birth givers because they found it to be irrational in its demands and not sustainable. This is not longer the case. I was blessed to reinvent and reclaim my passion for birth support by developing transformational birth support coaching. The miracle grew even bigger when my students began offering transformational birth coaching exclusively, without being hired as a doula. Some decided to stop providing doula services completely. Naima Beckles is one of them. Soon after Naima graduated from the course, she wrote to me thanking me for the inspiring training and shared that she was now exclusively coaching birth clients. I felt inspired and interviewed Naima to learn about her professional revival.
Pregnancy and childbirth are the most profound experiences in human lives. It is the utmost transformation. However, in our culture, the conversation about these meaningful experiences has been reduced to one topic: labor pain – the fear of it, coping with it, and praising or cheering those who succeeded to avoid it and had a ‘Natural Birth’. The cultural idealization of those who gave birth using no pain medications has had its emotional toll on birth givers. A 2018 study found relationships between an increased chance to develop postpartum depression when birth givers took epidural to alleviate pain in childbirth and did not meet their goal to avoid it. These birth givers experienced “negative emotions related to unmet expectations or a sense of personal failure”. These findings suggest that decisions about coping with labor pain have social and personal values attached to them, presenting individuals with ‘The Epidural Dilemma’. This dilemma is fervent and can be navigated with coaching strategies.
The psychological birth of a mother, similar to adolescence, involves hormonal and identity shifting.
Listen to my interview with Maureen McGrath where we discuss Matrescence
January 24, 2021
Throughout this profound identity transition, an expectant individual undergoes an average of about 13 doctors’ appointments during pregnancy, 3 urine tests, 4-5 blood tests, 4 ultrasound tests, 2-3 vaginal exams/swabs, and 2 monitor exams. That is if they are healthy, give birth before or on their EDD, and do not need further diagnostic or screening exams. Then, they will go through the childbirth experience. An experience in which the transparent fabric of one’s routine is disturbed by pain, fear of death, and temporary loss of control. Their body expels a new human being while they are under the care of medical caregivers – most of them practice from an “expert” position. This abundance of encounters with medical maternal healthcare providers amplifies the neglect of expectant individuals’ emotional state and mindset during this profound transformation. Not even one behavioral assessment is routinely recommended for this individual. Instead of focusing on individuals’ well-being and mental health as they transition to parenthood and prepare for the profound transformation of childbirth, maternal caregivers and researchers tend to focus on how the baby is doing.
As a seasoned birth support professional, I have witnessed the maternal care system implementing so many new procedures and clinical policies over the 23 years that I’ve practiced. Since 2010, new reforms in maternal care associate the quality and safety of care with the increase in vaginal birth rates and the reduction in cesarean rates. However, the origins of obstetric gynecology lead maternal care policymakers to search for new clinical reforms to resolve a problem that may have originated somewhere else. I believe that none of these reforms will be able to achieve the three major principles designing safety of care: patient- engagement,patient-centered care, and partnership among patients, their family members, and their medical caregivers.
When doulas provide prenatal coaching sessions they can help clients be better prepared for the birth of their child and demonstrate a higher level of accountability for their childbirth experience. This is not done by means of education. Prenatal coaching goes beyond teaching and delivering evidence-based knowledge.Its purpose is to help couples discover hidden gaps, resistances, or inner conflicts, and work together as a team to resolve them.