Childbirth can be one of the most magical moments of your life. Although, there are no two pregnancies alike. So, while it is difficult to say exactly how each will progress, certain factors can help you get through it. Number one? Having a great support system. If you are pregnant, your body is experiencing major change and the whole journey might feel lonely or confusing. To help you and your baby on your way, Zaftyg introduces you to Ailish McMahon Lewis, Founder of Birthing Bravely, Certified Birth Doula, Hypnobirthing Instructor, Birth Coach and Pediatric Sleep Coach (in training). From comprehensive coaching to emotional, physical, and educational support, here, she shares what she can do to help mothers-to-be.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a mother, a partner, a birth worker and a bonified plant hoarder. I’m a life long learner and I love educating and being educated especially about birth. I actually went to art school then hair school but always wanted to work with families, I just didn’t know in what way. I struggled with infertility and loss for several years and when I became pregnant with my rainbow baby, I looked into what a doula was and I was floored that I hadn’t known about it before. I found my doula and my tribe all in one place by becoming part of a collaboration called Birth Tribe. I learned so much and took every single training I could take inside the group and with my other favorite birth workers. I dove head first into owning a business after going back to work just one day after maternity leave. I knew it wasn’t right for me to work for someone else. This work was a calling and I was lucky enough to have a supportive partner and doula myself that helped guide me.
What is a Doula?
A birth doula is a trained professional birth support attendant that is there for both birthing person and their partner during pregnancy to guide them through the process and inform them of their choices. Some come to your home to help you labor at home longer so you can avoid unnecessary interventions and then are with you during the duration of your labor and birth. They can help you in the immedicate postpartum with breastfeeding and getting you settled into your new role. Postpartum doulas come to your home to help you get some rest, light clean up and cooking and can teach you some newborn care tricks. They are an ear for you to talk about your frustrations and wins and help you with resources for lactation, pelvic floor support and mental health services.
What kind of training do you have? Are you certified, and if so, through which organization?
I am a certified Birth doula through Madriella and a Certified Childbirth educator specializing in HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method. I am also certifying to become a transformational Birth Coach through the Birth Coach Method and a gentle pediatric sleep coach through the Center for Pediatric Sleep Management.
What is your philosophy about birth?
I believe that birth is a very natural and normal process that is also the most transformational event of your life. I believe not all people feel this way and I wish they would. It’s kind of amazing and just like you would hire a tutor to help you in math, or a wedding planner for your wedding, I think people should think more on investing in their parenthood since it’s a life long gig.
How would you describe your doula style?
I am big on prenatal education and partner prep. I am action oriented when needed and a calming presence throughout. I help people find their voice, move their bodies, and learn to follow their instincts. I am definitely more of a birth coach as I believe that a doula is not a savior, but should be a reminder of ones strength. I believe true empowerment is when you can hold yourself accountable and know you did your best and not rely on outside forces (or a doula) to do it for you.
Why did you become a doula?
At first it sounded exciting and gave me the ability to own a business, be home with my daughter and work with families. Now I see it as fighting against a system that sets people up to fail so I center my energy on partner prep and childbirth education and came up with my own self paced course that can be coupled with coaching called Birthing Bravely Academy.
Who do you think that needs one?
I believe everyone should have some sort of support from a birth professional but especially BIPOC. The rates of obstetric neglect and mortality rates are much higher for black women than white due to institutional racism. Their concerns are often overlooked and not believed and they are losing their lives. American women die in childbirth at a higher rate than any other developed nation and black women are 3x more likely. That’s crazy! I think if people educate themselves, stop seeing their providers as authority figures and instead see them as a someone you have hired to help you in this process, there will be less dehumanization and more collaborating and we can get better care to ALL.
How do you most often support women in labor?
I typically work in person but I now support people virtually and it’s great to work with people all over the country!
What makes your practice or philosophy different from others?
My philosophy is that birth as undisturbed as possible is the best way. So many people’s experiences turn ugly due to the amount of pressure placed on a birthing person to perform under a time constraint. I believe when the Dr’s way back in the 1800’s decided birth was a medical event to be taken out of the home it became something we fear and fear is the enemy of the birth space. If we just allow birthing people to move their bodies and do what they need to do, the hormones of birth work together and make for a smoother calmer birth experience. Then if something goes wrong we can be grateful for their medical expertise. If the rules could be rewritten, I would love if there were more birth centers outside of the hospitals that support families the way they need, not the other way around.
What does a session look like? What’s happening? How is it structured?
I offer 2 to 3 prenatal meetings. The first is on zoom where we just talk about what their expectations are and we go over intake questions and set up childbirth ed and meeting. The second is in person if local and I teach them Spinning Babies exercises to practice and the 3rd is planning and relaxation techniques. I gift everyone a hand woven Rebozo from Mexico.
What does a session look like? What’s happening? How is it structured?
As a birth coach, they get my self paced course Birthing Bravely Academy, custom Trello board with tons of extras and we meet for an onboarding call and then depending on the package purchased, we meet bi-weekly to coach them to truly find their motivation, gain accountability, release fears, prep partner and they get a doula in their pocket for the duration of 6 weeks or 12 with unlimited Voxer access.
What are your fees? What is included in your doula package? What happens to my fee if, for instance, I need an emergency c-section and labor support is no longer needed?
My fee’s depend on whether they are in person or virtual and whether they take Hypnobirthing as the cost of the class is higher. My fee range is $1000-$1500. I offer payment plans and eligible HSA cards. Fee’s are same regardless of birth outcome because I believe a doulas work is in the prenatal time. Prepping and helping them feel confident and heard no matter how the journey changes. I also help in postpartum with one follow up visit and text support for 40 days. With my birth coaching it ranges from $400-900 depending on the contract length and comes with my self paced course.
What did you learn from your birth experience?
I learned that I should have listened to my gut and found another provider. I liked her a lot personally but professionally she approached my impending birth as a medical event that needed to be fixed and not the normal natural event that it is. I think the combination of fear, intervention and pre-eclampsia led to my cesarean. I do not see my birth as traumatic, I just wish I was left alone to birth the way I needed to instead of covered in wires and restricted. I was unmedicated throughout and did great and felt good. I pushed for 4 hours with little progress and my Dr called it due to my blood pressure. I agreed to have it because I felt something was wrong. I will have a VBAC for my next birth and I’m thinking about staying home for it although I do love my new midwives and trust them. I trust birth and my body and I know I can do it but being tethered again makes me nervous.
Do you offer any postpartum care or follow up? Does that require an additional fee?
I used to work postpartum overnights but now I just have one client that I see 4-12 hours a week during the day to help her with the baby. It’s an hourly fee. As a doula client you get one follow up visit to talk about your experience and get resources and tips and text support for 40 days but I typically keep in touch with my clients long term since connection is so important to me.
Have you attended home births?
All births are beautiful and I love home births because it’s typically a calmer and more intuitive process. Birthing people follow their instincts and move their bodies the way they need to. It’s more of an undisturbed experience. The hormones needed to relieve pain are more able to flow and do their job to birth baby gently.
Do you have experience with birth complications?
I have seen some stuff and the complications were usually caused by the provider or nurse not knowing how to sit on their hands and allow the process to flow. Now that I coach people in finding the right provider for their goals, it rarely happens. It’s that important. Don’t just stay with a provider just because you’ve been going to them forever.
What coping techniques do you find most helpful?
Preparation is the best coping technique so taking a comprehensive childbirth course is a very important piece. It’s ok to be nervous but knowledge really is power and mindset is everything so learning how to reframe and release fears is key. Breathing techniques, help immensely and help to keep you present and go within your birthing body. Looking into what types of relaxation techniques that help you now can give you a good idea of what you may need in labor. I love Penny Simkins “3 R’s Relaxation, Ritual and Rhythm”. She states that people that utilize these R’s tend to cope better and I’ve witnessed it to be true. I love showing partners how to do light touch effleurage. It’s one of the best ways to release endorphins and help lead the birthing person into deep relaxation.
What are your tactics for pain?
Counter pressure!! Hip squeezes, knee presses and sacral pressure help so much! I use a rebozo, a massage roller, heat, movements and I love utilizing a tub or shower to help people perform better. Light touch effleurage is a great pain relief tool as well.
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