Review: The Art of Coaching for Childbirth: Integrating the Principles of Coaching into the Field of Birth Support by Neri Life-Choma, MA, CD, CBE, CHT, Life Coach
Review by Tanya Strusberg
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 education has also been around for a similar length of time, but until now the two have never crossed paths. That is, until birth doula, educator and life coach Neri Life-Choma thought to combine them.
Israeli-born, but now California-based Neri Life-Choma started teaching childbirth education and practicing as a doula in 1997. A decade later she felt that birth activism had failed to convince both women and the obstetric world of the advantages of natural birth over medicalised birth. With Caesareans and other major interventions ever on the rise, it appeared that society as a whole had lost faith in what was once our natural pathway for childbirth.
Birth professionals - doulas particularly – have learned the hard way that a companionship position or “mothering the mother” is not enough to lead women to healthy births. Doulas, we know, experience an extremely high level of professional burnout, with many having found themselves traumatised during the births they support and helpless in the light of the overwhelming prevalence of medicalised births and the growing rate of Caesarean surgeries.
Birth professionals, by their very nature, as passionate birth advocates and have a strong desire to effect positive change in their communities for birthing women and their families. It is this, according to Neri that makes coaching strategies that create the perfect bridge to achieve positive and powerful outcomes for both mothers and birth professionals.
According to Neri, “Coaching, by using questions rather than factual statements, can lead others to reveal their own truths and desires. Good coaching is the art of empowering and inspiring rather than teaching or correcting. It is the art of leading others to identify and fulfil their goals and visions by overcoming potential challenges along the way. Coaching is perfect for childbirth.”
The Art of Coaching for Childbirth, while compact at just over 70 pages, nonetheless packs in an incredible amount of practical information and useful tools. She has skilfully transferred classic coaching strategies and made them totally applicable to birth educators and doulas. These strategies enable us to transfer the power back to the birthing woman, encouraging her to take responsibility for her own birthing journey. Empowerment, as we know, is not something we can give another person. It is something that originates from within.
Neri has taken the classic “GROW” coaching model (Goals, Reality Check, Options, Wrap-up or Will), conceived by Graham Alexander, but which was brought into the mainstream by Sir John Whitmore and has skilfully adapted it for childbirth. While primarily aimed at doulas or birth attendants, her Four Domains of Coaching for Childbirth can still be effectively used by birth educators in a class environment.
The four major domains which Neri has identified are;
1. Prenatal coaching;
2. Coaching throughout the birth experience or through pain;
3. Coaching through medical complications and interventions;
4. Coaching for a healthy closure.
As educators and doulas, we can use these domains to help our clients clarify their own goals for birth, to facilitate alignment – helping our clients to understand that a gap between their wishes and underlying beliefs might hold them back from achieving their desired birth experience.
When discussing medical complications and interventions, it is important to restate our scope of practice. As birth educators and doulas, our role is to empower the birthing woman to;
· Seek more information (for example by using the BRAIN strategy)
· Express her questions, requests and needs to her care provider (birth plans, communication and informed decision-making)
· Adopt a positive perspective and practice flexibility, in order to let go of things she wished for which became impossible for her, and preserve everything that is still possible for her to achieve (PAL exercise – Possibility, Ability, Limitations - which Neri details in her book).
Neri’s book set off some real “lightbulb” moments for me and will definitely change the way I approach topics such as fear, pain and interventions in my Lamaze childbirth classes.
The Art of Coaching for Childbirth is an innovative approach for birth professionals who are seeking practical tools and exercises to incorporate in their childbirth education classes or in their one-on-one interactions with doula clients. These tools help us to become less “teacher” and more “facilitator”. They encourage us to listen more, reflect and ask strong searching questions, rather than stating and informing e.g. “evidence-based research tells us…” At the end of the day, we must remember that it is not our birth journey; it is the individual journey of every woman we teach and support. We need to pass on the tools to enable them to have a safe, healthy and satisfying birth.
In summary, Neri’s own words say it best; “Stop telling her what is good for her. Be curious about her and learn her ways. That’s how you lead her towards a healthy childbirth.”
The Art of Coaching for Childbirth: Integrating the Principles of Coaching into the Field of Birth Support by Neri Life-Choma is available from www.BirthCoachMethod.com
Tanya Strusberg, LCCE, FACCE is the founder of birthwell birthright. She is a Melbourne-based Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, doula and a Fellow of the Association of Certified Childbirth Educators (FACCE). She is a passionate advocate for women’s maternity care and her articles have appeared in The Journal of Perinatal Education, Australian Midwifery News, Science & Sensibility, Interaction – the journal of the Childbirth and Parenting Educators Association of Australia (CAPEA), International Doula, Empowering Birth Magazine and Rockstar Birth Magazine. Through her internationally-accredited Lamaze Educator Training program, she is very excited to be training a new generation of Australian Lamaze educators. Last, but absolutely not least, she is also the mum of two beautiful children, her son Liev and daughter Amalia.