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:
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.
You can learn to empower expectant individuals to perceive their own mindset and desires as the most valuable ‘data’ their providers should focus on, by doing so yourself! Learn to provide transformational birth support coaching, and you’ll get to see them conducting themselves brilliantly and with confidence throughout their birth experience, and celebrate themselves.
Some of the most heartbreaking news that doulas received along with the outbreak of COVID-19 was that we are banned from hospitals. Many of us were already committed to couples and families that we have come to love and care for, and with the increased level of uncertainty and fear, we knew that our clients needed us even more. As the numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to increase, it becomes clear that this crisis might last as long as a year or even more, raising a growing concern about doulas’ source of income. As upsetting and tormenting as this ban might be, the current crisis bears an opportunity; an opportunity to achieve work-life balance.
In light of the current social distancing imposed on us due to COVID-19, Birth Coach Method is giving away free access to lesson #4 of the Birth Support Coaching Course-‘Prenatal Coaching’! We hope that it will help you as you keep providing valuable and necessary support for expectant individuals using online communication platforms (Facetime, Zoom, etc.)
Birth workers are mastering strategies that relieve fear and doubt!
Our lives have been changing rapidly lately. In the past few weeks, the whole world has been reacting to COVID-19 with our fight-or-flight (FOF) response. Being alert and living every day on our survival mechanism might be as dangerous as the virus itself, if not more dangerous. We, birth workers, are experts in preventing or reversing the FOF response that leads to labor arrest. We are experts in managing the fear of pain and of what’s unpredictable or unknown. Psychotherapists might help their patients cope with anxiety and fear in a process that lasts weeks, months or years. However, we, birth workers, are first responders specializing in saving people from fear and doubt.
I am called to support my colleague and friend. How do I step up for her and make a difference?
I have been practicing as a doula for almost three years. I’ve also certified in the Birth Coach Method as a birth support coach and am extremely grateful for the training I received under Neri Choma. I love this role of supporting families. My main goal is for them to feel supported and loved as they welcome their baby to the world. I was a teacher for over ten years prior to launching my doula career, so planning and organizing was a big part of what I did. I like structure. As a doula, I try to structure my prenatal sessions. It helps me get to know the needs and goals of my clients in a systematic way and to understand how to support them and meet them where they are at. As part of my service, I also fill in any educational gaps as needed. I want to help them understand their options.
But what happens when I have a client who is a doula? How do I inform her? Do I just offer labor support and skip all my sessions with her? I usually offer each client three to four sessions. This client didn’t need to practice the tools of labor support with me since she is a trained doula and prenatal yoga instructor. She also had taken a childbirth class with her partner. So I felt like the bulk of what I usually offer my clients was off the table.
I needed to go beyond informing and all the way to coaching.