I met Neri Choma in 2017 and was immediately drawn in by her story and her passion for birth work. As certified business coach, I was intrigued by Neri’s Birth Coach Method because it integrates the coaching process into birth support work.
In today’s World Doula Week post, Neri describes how coaching prenatally is an optimal way to help prepare clients for birth. You can also find a link to a free gift from Neri in her bio following this post.
The concept of a life coach has been around since the early 1970s, but only really started to take off as a profession in the 1990s. Birth Support has also been around for a similar length of time, but until now the two have never crossed paths. That is, until the Birth Coach Method was developed.
Over the past four years, I have urged birth workers to expand their services to include prenatal coaching sessions. This plea was manifested in blog posts and throughout webinars, always as a subtext to another main topic related to childbirth support: epidural, failure to progress, induction, support group for the birth, advocating etc. As I was contemplating different ideas for World Doula Week’s blog, I felt called to explicitly dive into the reasons that make prenatal coaching so beneficial for you and your birth client.
1) Facilitating Optimal Performance during childbirth: Prenatal coaching sessions facilitate women’s understanding that in order to give birth healthily and have a satisfactory experience, they need to optimally perform, rather than manifest their natural skills.
Conceptualizing childbirth as a natural experience in women's’ lives originated as a protest against the medicalization of childbirth. In reality, talking to women about Natural Birth did not bring them any closer to achieving it. In fact, throughout decades of birth activism, the rates of medical interventions and cesarean operation have increased dramatically, which in turn lead to the shaming and blaming of obstetric professionals by those who hold the Natural Birth philosophy. I believe that it is time we all understand that perceiving childbirth as painful and risky is shared by obstetric providers and their patients. Instead of sharing your belief that childbirth is a natural experience they were designed to go through with your birth clients, it is time to accept and embrace childbirth as a challenging process that stimulates internal resistances and fears in women. Therefore, we want to coach women with strategies and tools used by coaches in any other area of life.
2) Establishing Partnership: Coaches see their clients as experts in their own lives, and therefore establish eye-level partnerships with their clients; a partnership designed to help clients achieve their goals. Coaches lead with questions rather than with answers, or as Robert Dilts put it: “It starts from the assumption that people have the answers” (Dilts, 2003).
Eager to reduce the high rates of medical interventions and individualized maternal care, natural birth advocates bought into the assumption that women need to be rescued and that it is the doulas’ and childbirth educators’ role to convince women that unmedicated birth is a superior and safer experience for them. By doing so, they mistakenly saw themselves as experts, holding authoritative knowledge about childbirth that stands in opposition to the knowledge held by medical figures. By working with strong coaching questions, birth support figures can facilitate clarity where there is chaos and fear, distinguish truth from myth and fears from reality, and help women align their beliefs about childbirth with their wishes and actions. This alignment is a key to fulfilling one’s goals.
3) Eliciting Women’s Accountability: Coaches lead clients that are healthy and competent, looking to invite a change in their life circumstances, or achieve a desired goal. Assuming the health and competency of their clients, coaches hold clients accountable to what they say they want and to the steps needed to achieve their goals.
Prenatal coaching sessions can elicit accountability of women to their process. From one meeting to the other you can check-in with your client and asses her level of commitment to her healthy birth. Signing-up for a good childbirth education class, practicing daily physical activity, breath work and other coping techniques, finding a supportive provider who is aligned with her birth vision, these are some examples of actions women might have to take in order to fulfill their vision. If your client does not take the actions needed in order to fulfill her desired experience, you can reflect on that during the meeting, and most importantly protect yourself from the burnout awaiting birth workers who are committed to the natural and healthy birth of a woman who is not accountable for her own experience.
4) Practicing Self-Care and Reducing Professional Hardship: Birth workers, like other caretakers, are at risk of exhaustion and burnout. Conducting Prenatal coaching sessions can empower both you and your clients, and hence reduce burnout rates.
Unrealistic expectations about our role in facilitating physiological unmedicated childbirth in a hospital setting, providing birth support in a work environment that is unpredictable and lacking control, perceiving ourselves as exclusively responsible for advocating for our client's desired experience, being accountable for hours of continuous support of a woman experiencing moments of pain and fear, living lives on-call -- these are only some of the obvious reasons for this burnout.
In the past year, more and more doulas are sharing going through post traumatic stress disorder triggered by a traumatic birth of their client, or by being a witness to emotional or physical abuse during childbirth. By integrating prenatal coaching sessions, you will spend more quality time with your client at a comfortable space, where you are both at power, where you can establish a trustful partnership and earn your leadership position, and most rewarding of all - it is guaranteed to reduce the hours you’ll spend with her when she is in pain.
To begin coaching your birth clients, visit Birth Coach Method. Listening to the webinars, learning The Coaching Tools kit for Birth Professionals, combined with reading The Art of Coaching for Childbirth, will set you off to a good start.
Neri Life Choma, MA, CBE, CD, DT, CHT, Founder of Birth Coach Method
Neri Life-Choma of Birth Coach Method has been teaching and supporting couples in birth for 19 years. For the past four years, Neri has developed the coaching for childbirth philosophy through webinars, blog posts, doula training and workshops, and her printed guide The Art of Coaching for Childbirth, Integrating the Principles of Coaching into Birth Support .Neri is the producer of Practicing for an Active Birth, (DVD/USB) which you can find with great reviews on Amazon. Recently Neri became a CE provider by the BRN, and she is now leading coaching and coping workshops for L&D nurses.
For your free Doula Week gift click here.