Lead Your Birth Clients to Claim Their Expert Role

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?

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The Obstetric Gynecology establishment is authoritative, no doubt

Anthropologist Brigitte Jordan wrote in “Birth in Four Cultures” that birth and the immediate postpartum period have always been considered dangerous times for the family and the entire community. Therefore, people have been producing a set of practices and beliefs that they trust to be the best way to bring a child into the world. In another article from 1989, Jordan stated that the experience of childbirth has been controlled and shaped by “Those who know” since 1860, with the establishment of Obstetric Gynecology. By she means those who are considered an authority of knowledge and whose ideas about childbirth shape and control our decisions and actions in maternal care. These hierarchic relationships between caregivers and their patients do not result in patient satisfaction nor higher safety of care.

I stepped down of my expert position, and my clients got to practice with more impact and ease

The presupposition of the Guide to Patient and Family Engagement in Hospital Quality and Safety is that patient and family engagement and partnerships between caregivers and patients, are important components of the safety of care. 

Do birth support pros establish different relationships?

One could assume that natural birth advocates will practice from a different position.  A position that is lacking authority. However, I am afraid this is not so. Birth support practitioners were trained with the agenda of promoting natural or unmedicated birth for many decades. Birth advocacy relies on the practice of informing couples about best evidence-based maternal care while neglecting to mention that this approach is indeed authoritative. As a seasoned childbirth educator and birth doula who was trained in the mid-90s, I admit that only in the past 8 years, after becoming a transformational coach, I learned to give up the “expert” position.  I began seeing my students and birth clients as experts in their own lives. They are the only experts in designing and achieving their desired birth experience. Ashley Peak, my student, and a recently certified Transformational Birth Coach stated that: “The overall shift in perspective is what is most helpful in this course. It’s a different paradigm from trying to change a person’s perspective to align with yours. Now I support them in understanding their beliefs and values and help them achieve the experience that they want. The Birth Coach Method is more of what we need in this world! Throughout the course, I learned how to support my clients in achieving their goal to ultimately have a more satisfying experience–for both me and my client”.

Can we adopt a new position for better outcomes? How about a partnership?

Seeing the client as an expert in their own life is a basic principle in coaching. I emphasized this principle as one of the biggest shifts in The Art of Coaching for Childbirth, a guide introduces my new approach to birth support – transformational birth support coaching.  Studies show that by handing over the expert role to the client, coaches lead individuals to own their experience, or take charge. This ownership is manifested in a higher level of commitment to do the work or take the steps needed to achieve one’s goals, rather than becoming a victim of one’s circumstances or fears. Additionally, when clients are enrolled and committed, the coaching process is fulfilled with much more ease. By handing the power over, our birth clients become accountable for their desired experience. Additionally, by being the expert in their one lives, birth clients generate strong convictions that will allow them to advocate for themselves when needed.

How do you bring out the ‘experts’ in your birth clients?

Here are five steps I suggest you follow:

  • Ask powerful questions
  • Facilitate Clarity
  • Elicit accountability with
  • Remain attached to the process, not to the outcomes
  • Practice trust in your clients and their processes

Ask powerful questions: Instead of teaching or sharing, ask expectant individuals more questions about themselves. For example: When they say “I would like to give birth naturally”  try not to assume you know what it means and ask: “What do you see in your mind when you say natural childbirth? What does it look like? What happens in natural childbirth? How does it feel to give birth naturally?  “Does the experience you just described fit naturally within the framework of your current lifestyle?”.

Strive for clarity.

Facilitate clarity and encourage clients to set up a clear vision: Clarity of mind and vision will help you provide more accurate support to a particular individual. Ask: “How can I best support you in achieving this vision/goal?”  Whether you are a doula holding your first coaching session with your client or an L&D nurse who was just handed your patient’s birth plan, you may initiate a conversation about it using this opening question. Dring a continuous series of prenatal coaching sessions, you can conduct laser coaching, meaning that you help your client focus on areas that are currently vague or very abstract. Think about your coaching as a navigation system. No one gets anywhere unless they give their navigation system a clear and well-defined destination, right? When you lead toward clear beliefs, goals, values, and visions, you help your clients find their compass and claim themselves as experts in their own lives.

Elicit clients’ accountability to their process: Holding our clients accountable for their process is a core principle in coaching. When you join the Birth Support Coaching course you’ll learn strategies and techniques that will help you elicit your clients’ accountability levels. A higher commitment level to their process will, in turn, result in stronger convictions about their way and will allow them to navigate and advocate better during birth. You’ll learn to design and assign calls for actions that will empower your clients and make them feel in charge! 

Coach them with no attachment to the outcomes:  This is a tough one! But hey, in childbirth, just like in any other area of life, there are no guarantees. What matters is the process. As long as your client experience herself accountable, engaged, and in charge, deviations from her initial vision won’t be experienced s failure or trigger negative self-esteem. Clients’ satisfaction level is in correlation to their performance and not the actual unfolding birth, which is unpredictable as we all know.

Trust them as the experts: Even if they currently don’t seem to trust themselves, your trust in them is crucial. As a coach, your most valuable asset is that you believe in their potential and competency.  This is true empowerment. When you conduct continuous prenatal coaching series in which you respect your clients as experts, they learn to expect this partnership from their medical caregivers. It is a higher level of relationship – much more empowering and satisfying for both sides, and once your clients experience it, they are not willing to be submissive to anyone, anymore. 

Resources:

  1. Irwin S. and Jordan B., (1989) “Cosmopolitan Obstetrics: Some Insights from the Training of Traditional Midwives, Social Science and Medicine,  28(9):925-944
Neri Life-Choma

coaching, natural birth, prenatal

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