The Ultimate Birth Experience: Podcast Episode #149
Kristin chats with Gail Janicola about what it means to have the ultimate birth experience. Gail is a birth expert, author of “The Ultimate Birth Experience,” and a mommy mentor. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, hello. This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am joined today by Gail Janicola. Gail is a national board-certified health and wellness coach. She is the founder of Moms On Top, which is an educational resource for parents and parents-to-be. She is also known as the mommy mentor and lives in New York. She’s been a birth professional for over 26 years as an educator, a coach, a doula, and a doula trainer. So wow, Gail. So many accomplishments!
Gail: I guess it sounds really nice when somebody else says it.
Kristin: And you’re an author, so how does one balance all of that?
Gail: Oh, my goodness, well, it’s almost 27 years, so I guess you just have to spread it out a lot.
Kristin: And you’re a mother as well? You have three grown children, correct?
Kristin: So Gail, I am so fascinated by the topics you cover in your book, The Ultimate Birth Experience. And it’s all about taking control and proactively choosing your birthing options that are best for you and your baby, communicating your needs, and so much of this content is what we discuss in our online Becoming a Mother course because it’s so important, especially during the times of COVID, to really be clear about the type of support that you want and communicating your needs with your medical team, your professional team, your personal support. So I love the premise of your book.
Gail: Yeah. A lot of synergy, Kristin, I feel that we have, because that is our focus. I know it’s your focus, also. It’s my focus in everything that I do because it’s not just about the information, even though the information is so important. But it is about empowering yourself to figure out how to communicate effectively, how to advocate for yourself. Because it doesn’t matter; you can have all the information in the world, but if you’re not skilled in those areas and you don’t have a perspective of yourself as a consumer in your life and of course in birth specifically, then it doesn’t matter. You can have all that information, and it sort of goes to waste.
Kristin: Exactly. So you’re right, it’s not just about taking a childbirth class and a tour of the hospital, if that’s even an option in your area. If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any. So really understanding the full scope of what is available to you, everything from physical therapists to, later on, a pelvic floor therapist to thinking about a postpartum doula and a birth doula.
Gail: Yeah. It’s all the stuff that so many people don’t know exists. All of those resources. I certainly didn’t know they existed when I was having my children, and the issue that I see happening all the time, as I’m sure you do, is that people go through the birthing process, and even if they have the most amazing experience and they were informed and they did work with a birth team that they felt was on the same page as them and supportive, unfortunately, you get into the postpartum period, and then if you have not really set your ducks up, at least just in knowledge – it doesn’t mean you have to hire people in advance necessarily, although I am a big advocate for hiring a lactation consultant or having a relationship with one beforehand. But if you don’t know who exists out there, then you’re scrambling, and you’re scrambling at a time where you’re so vulnerable and feeling so lost. It’s hard to become an advocate in that moment.
Kristin: Exactly. Yes, and in the moment, you know, in the birthing space itself, sometimes you might have a written birth plan, but if you don’t have a doula or your partner reminding you, you get lost in the moment. I know with my own births, I had moments where everything was going out the window. Once you hit that transition phase…
Gail: Yeah, it’s hard. Nobody’s sugarcoating – or I should say, I’m not sugarcoating it, and the whole process is not necessarily all rainbows and unicorns, but it’s the most miraculous, awesome time in somebody’s life. This experience has the power to truly transform you forever and ever. So to kind of brush it off as just an event that you have to get past and allowing everybody else to commandeer that event and you having no part or control in your own experience – first of all, of course, it could end up with trauma, which is very upsetting, but it also – it’s such a waste of this opportunity to create that level of confidence and that ability to, you know, to use the word again, to advocate, but also to pull together your resources, because think about how many times in your life you’re going to need that and probably have already needed it, even before you got pregnant. But going forward as a parent, how many times – you know this, Kristin – how many times have we had to step in and figure things out at least initially for our children? But really, I have adult children. It never ends where they’re coming to you and they’re looking for guidance and things are happening in their lives, and to be a parent who can manage that, who can understand it, who can oversee it, who can support it – I mean, this is where I sit now in my life, so I can tell you that what I did, at least in my last birth experience, because I was truly ignorant in my first two. But once I became a professional and then I had another child, I can look back on that now and see that that experience and everything I did throughout that experience has informed so much of my life since.
Kristin: I would agree, with my own experiences and having doulas a second time around. I felt so much more prepared and empowered. And there’s so many unknowns, just like you described in parenting. You need to adapt and make big decisions throughout parenthood, even with adult children, and so really preparing with the uncertainties and assembling the right team around you makes a big difference. I felt like my team was on board with my wishes and I knew I needed to be flexible, but I had preparation and a plan, and I felt like birth wasn’t just happening to me. And that’s what I want for all of my clients and students, for them to feel like they had some control, unless of course it was an emergency.
Gail: Right. And then even when it is an emergency – I mean, that’s really the – you know, you’re swinging the pendulum all the way to one side when we talk about emergencies and crises, because although we hear about those things a lot because they make for great stories and they’re very dramatic – I mean, birth typically is not filled with crises. Birth is typically a physiological event. But wherever it is on that spectrum, whether it goes exactly as you thought it would, which is hardly ever does, or you have options and decisions and different paths to take along the way, and then sometimes in situations where you have to participate kind of as a spectator because there’s a crisis, I still very, very much believe that knowing what you can know in advance, having evidence-based information, having been surrounded for a period of time during pregnancy with those who honor birth, who see it a certain way, who have a certain perspective, and then going through whatever it is that your unique experience is going to give to you —you will come out of it as a different person. You know, I always say to my students, my one goal for you, because I know I can guarantee this, where I can’t really guarantee exactly what your birth experience is going to look like, but my one goal is for you not to have any regrets. So disappointment, yes. That may very well happen. Sometimes even grief for a lost goal and having to kind of sort through that and debrief and figure that out for yourself and get the support you need – yes, that happens. But to be able to look back and say, I know I did everything that I could. I know I was conscious. I know I had communicated effectively, and I put my birth team together effectively. I know I had the support I needed, and I know that I was able to make those decisions, those unique decisions, for myself in partnership with my team in the moment – again, to use the word, it is really powerful when you can look back and feel all of that.
Kristin: Exactly. It’s so powerful.
Hey, Alyssa here. I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming. Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between. You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood. You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more. You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most. And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls. If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at email@example.com, or check it out at www.thebecomingcourse.com. We’d love to see you there.
Kristin: And then to get your partner on board with your vision and really support that. I know you talk a lot about preparing for birth and assembling, again, your team and picking the right provider, but how can a partner best support this process and the goals that the birthing person sets?
Gail: So I guess the overarching thing that I would say is that a partner needs to understand that they’re in this together. You know, so many times I will hear partners say that before they became educated, before they went maybe through the process of a childbirth education course, they felt like they were just on the sidelines, that they were kind of pushed into the corner and they had to just – and I get it. I understand that feeling. I’m respecting that feeling of, like, well, especially physically, this is not happening to me, so how can I make decisions? How can I even speak up, because I don’t really deserve that. It’s not helpful to have that belief system, that perspective, around birth, even though it seems like it’s selfless in some ways, but that feeling of being helpless is certainly not going to be serving to the mom who’s going through this labor but also to your relationship and also to the entire birthing experience. I would say that for most of us, if we were asked, what is the most important thing, we would say, well, we want the safest experience, right? We want this to be safe. And then a close second, even though I think they should be equal, would be that it should be the best experience. It should be the most uniquely best experience for you, for this couple, for this family. So if that is the case, if that is indeed the goal, then partners must be more involved. Yes, I agree that at the end of the day, if we’re talking about – you know, sometimes it comes up around pain medication, and they’ll say, well, I can’t tell her not to get pain medication or to get pain medication. And I think, well, there you go. It’s like now you’re taking the role of a doula. That’s true. That’s not your role. You don’t tell her what to do and what not to do. But you have that beautiful experience prior to going into labor where you are building this bond around this experience, and you get to talk about it together. You are the ones who are going to unfold the plan, just like if you got married, maybe you worked together to unfold the plan of your wedding or you’ve gone on vacation and you unfolded that plan together. So that’s kind of the way that I hope partners can feel that their role is vital. It’s absolutely vital.
Kristin: Yeah. I mean, their connection is central, and even if a doula is involved, we can step back and help husbands and partners find tips to be hands-on or be that emotional support that she needs in the moment.
Gail: Yeah. I love that you have brought up a lot that whole idea of a birth team. So just like a tiny little story, because I think this is really relevant to partners: when I was in the beginning of my career, my doula partner and I at the time – now, remember, back then, most people didn’t even hear of the word doula. They didn’t know what a doula was. So we were asked to go to a local hospital to do an in-service for the nurses to discuss exactly what a doula was; what did we do. And we were met, as you can imagine, with a decent amount of resistance, and when we talked about what it is that we do, we had a couple of nurses say to us, well, that’s what we do. You know, we provide emotional support. We help couples to figure out what they want to do. Whatever it was that we were talking about, they were feeling very aligned with that role and feeling defensive that we were going to come in and potentially take over that role. And what we explained, which is exactly what I would say to a partner, is that even though there is always going to be overlap, every single person on the team has a very special place that they need to recognize. You know, they have their strengths. And they also have situations where they may want to have a certain goal, but they can’t for some reason. So for nurses, of course, if you are caring for three people in labor, you can’t like a doula stay with this person the entire time.
Kristin: Exactly. And charting and monitoring and – yes.
Gail: Yeah, I was just going to say that. They have to provide clinical support. They have to do, you know, whatever they have to do. They have to start IVs. And that is not the role of a doula. So for a partner, a partner is a doula in a sense, but a partner also is a parent. They’re the parent-to-be. They’re experiencing this so very, very personally, unlike a doula, and they can provide that extreme – I mean, I’m a very nurturing person. I feel like I could meet somebody and instantly love them and nurture them, but I am not the partner. I don’t know this person intimately. So that connection is invaluable during a birth, and I hope that partners can start to recognize that and not feel like they’re so useless.
Kristin: And we can give partners a break. I mean, the last birth I attended, the husband was able to make some phone calls to family and go down to the cafeteria, and he knew that his wife was taken care, that I would call if anything changed, and so he was able to take that moment that he needed to regroup and come back and fully engage in the birth process.
Gail: In all the years I’ve practiced, Kristin, I know that you feel this way as well. When I would have those postpartum meetings, I would hear even more from the partner than from the birthing person, I would hear the partner say, oh my gosh, having a doula was the best thing in the whole world.
Kristin: Yes. Yeah, there’s often hesitancy, again, of that replacing of the partner’s role initially, but then after the birth, dads are our biggest fans. Yeah, I’ve had so many fathers tell coworkers and friends to hire a doula and to never do it without a doula. But you don’t know until you go through it.
Gail: Exactly. It is great for people to know as they’re going through pregnancy, as much as they can, about each of these people that could potentially be on their birth team, especially doulas, because I know – now, I don’t practice as a doula anymore. There’s no conflict of interest with my students. I’m not necessarily reeling them into another business venture. But I am a huge advocate for doulas, obviously, because I was one. That’s how I started my career. I train doulas now. So when they come to me, I think the benefit of that when we talk about doulas is that I can help them to figure out how to – I guess we can say interview doulas because you and I both know that there may be doulas who might take over a situation or might feel left out. So I do think that it is very important during a pregnancy if you’re considering having a doula to have those conversations and decide, like, what the plan is when you’re going to have conversations and choose a doula potentially.
Kristin: I totally agree. It’s not only finding the right fit with the background that you’re looking for and their philosophy on supporting the client, but also making sure it’s a good personality fit and that you fully align in so many ways. Similar to, again, finding the right nanny, for example. Good resume, but a good personality and flexibility.
Gail: That’s a great example because I think people can relate to that even more. Like, doulas still are a little bit foreign, and certainly if you’ve never had a baby before and you’ve never had a doula, you’re not exactly sure how that works. But the idea of having somebody come into your home and take care of your child and be living with you and your family, I guess that feels a little bit more familiar.
Kristin: Yes, then choosing, you know, a pediatrician or choosing their midwife or doctor. So Gail, what other tips do you have either from your Moms On Top group or The Ultimate Birth Experience book for parents as they’re preparing for their upcoming birth?
Gail: I know this is going to seem sort of vague, but I do want to say first and foremost that – you know, I talk about this right away in the book, and I think about this all the time, that there is no one way to have a baby, and no two births, no two people, no two physiologies are alike. We are so unique, and unfortunately, in at least the maternal health care system in which we live, and I don’t only mean here in the United States. I do a pod on an app called Peanut where we just kind of talk live, and I have people on there from all over the world, basically, but mostly from England, Australia, Canada. It’s the same thing. So it’s not – it’s really the same situation. We’re kind of subject to this idea that we have to do things based on a checklist, and that is how you have a safe experience. So it doesn’t give us room to really investigate who we are, what’s important to us, what our values are, which I’m sure can overlap, but we’re unique. We’re so different. And the birth experience is not just – I say this. It’s not just a medical event. Often, it’s not a medical event at all. But we engage in medical care through the process of pregnancy and having a baby. And so we do get caught up in that idea that there really are no questions to ask and we just have to find the “best doctor” and just follow the rules and listen and don’t say anything. And that cannot be further from the truth because we deserve to see ourselves as unique and we deserve to be treated individually, and so I would say that that’s like – saying “mission” sounds so dramatic, but it feels like a mission to me. If I reflect, it’s not like I had this idea going into the birth work that this is what I was going to do. Literally, when I first started this, it was all about – I just wanted to hold somebody’s hand through labor. That was essentially it. In living it, this is what has come from that, this idea that I really, really encourage everyone to advocate for seeing themselves as – well, first for seeing themselves as individuals, but advocate for that sort of treatment, that when you go in to have a conversation with your medical provider, that you expect them to really listen to you, to give you the time to be heard, to ask you questions about what it is that’s important to you. And I know, because we do this; when we’re good doulas, we do that, right? Don’t we ask people what’s important to them?
Gail: We don’t just walk in and just say, you know, this is how we practice, and this is what we’re going to do. And there’s some really intimate, personal questions that have to be asked or have to be received. You know, you don’t necessarily have to ask them. But in any case, that would be my very first and most prominent source of encouragement to everybody that I talk to is just recognize that you are different than everybody else, and then to kind of piggyback on that, also keep your eyes open. Be realistic. Don’t assume that because you take a childbirth class and you hire a doula and you’re doing all these amazing things and you have a provider that’s so supportive, that you’re going to have your birth a certain way. But instead, maybe, as I was saying before, make the goal that you are going to hone your skills as a consumer, that you’re going to build a sense of confidence, that you’re going to have such a different perspective on all of this once you recognize that really, evidence-based care is not the same as standard of care; that you get to ask questions; that you get to formulate this plan the way you would any other plan.
Kristin: Like building a house, as you mentioned, or planning a wedding, yes.
Gail: It is the same. People will argue with me, and they’ll say, well, it’s not the same. You’re just having a baby. Like, you know, complications could happen, and you know, it’s much more – like, so what if you go someplace and it rains? It’s really not a big deal. But to me, when I hear that, my comeback, my answer to that, my feelings around that is that that’s even more the reason why you should be prepared and plan because, again, you’re not planning for a guarantee. You’re planning, and in the process of planning, you become a partner with your medical caregivers. And that is how you end up with the highest level of safety in a birth. If you leave everything up to your medical care providers, who are not, can’t possibly know you the way you know you, and also might I just say – I know this may seem blasphemy for some people – but they are human beings. They’re human beings with a skill set that I greatly respect, but no more than I respect anyone else’s skill set. So let’s just kind of have that perspective and understand that that partnership, that true partnership where you’re doing a dance, you’re hearing their suggestions, you’re giving your thoughts, you’re asking for what you want, you’re receiving their feedback – that is how you have the healthiest and safest and best experience.
Kristin: I agree 100%. And certainly – you said having those conversations with your provider during pregnancy versus just showing up with a birth plan. It’s really making sure that they understand your unique needs and how you’re looking at your experience for your birth, even if your provider’s not on call that day. Having that conversation and seeing what they’re okay with and what they might have some concerns and questions about for any sort of desire that’s listed on there or something that they want to forego potentially as far as an intervention.
Gail: So important not to just show up in your labor, and sometimes people do this when they hire doulas where they feel that, okay, I didn’t really prepare. I’m not really sure, and I’m still very anxious and I haven’t had these conversations, but I have a doula. And although I do think that it’s still lightyears better to have that doula than not to have that doula. It is not going to give you an ideal situation because you have to learn how to advocate for yourself.
Kristin: Exactly. There’s no guarantee with a doula. You’re still doing the work. We can help you cross the bridge, but you have to actually cross it yourself. We can get there halfway, and then it’s all up to you.
Gail: And I get the feeling of intimidation around having these conversations, but I do want to say that there’s less intimidation, or the intimidation decreases once you do receive evidence-based information in a setting where you can ask questions and you can start to perceive things differently. Then you feel – you know, you feel like you’re more able. There’s more self-efficacy around that communication where you can go and you can have a conversation. So the intimidation decreases in that respect, but that first initial time you do it, of course, it’s going to be a little bit scary because, you know, we feel that our doctors, our midwives, are authority figures. But what I want to say is that you’re always using your intuition. Yes, it is about the actual conversation you’re having and the subject of the conversation and the back and forth, but it’s also how you’re feeling in that conversation. So if you go into your doctor or midwife and you’re having this conversation to start off and let’s say you’re discussing fetal monitoring and IVS and walking around in labor, and you come away from that interaction, like, shaken – if you feel like in that conversation you were needing to defend yourself and you were feeling even more intimidated, I’d like to say, I know that not everybody can just switch providers. I know it’s not as easy for some as for others. I do get that. But if that happens to you, then you have to take some kind of action on that, whether it’s seeing somebody else in the practice or ideally, possibly starting to interview other practitioners. Because what you should feel after that initial maybe somewhat intimidating conversation is you should feel a huge sense of relief. You should feel that this person literally said to you, oh my gosh, of course. It is not evidence-based to do that, so we’re not going to do that routinely, but we’ll be there to guide you, and we want to support you, and tell me more about why you want to do this and what it is and how we can support you. Can you imagine if you had that kind of conversation? You would rush into the next conversation at the next prenatal visit because you’d be so excited to have that partner supporting you with that demeanor. So that’s what I want people to look for.
Kristin: That’s so helpful. So Gail, I would love to hear how our listeners can connect with you. So let’s start with your Moms On Top group. Fill us in a bit about the purpose for the group, how one can join, and we’ll go from there.
Gail: Okay, so Moms On Top is really just the title of my business. The business side of this is all my course offerings. So as of right now, although I know that this will not be airing right away, so by the time it airs, there will be another option. So I can say it now. So right now, I have only been working with people individually. Everything I do is either recorded online classes where we have at least one to four sessions after the class. So there’s always interaction with me, no matter what. Even if it’s a recorded online class. Or if somebody lives locally to me, it can be an in person class, or I can do live online classes, as well. What is rolling out now and will be available by the time listeners hear this is a group version of that where people will be able to take a course online – by the way, it’s a very informal sort of production because I want people to feel like they’re sitting there with me. So it’s me teaching the class as if you were live with me, but unfortunately, you don’t get to ask questions in the moment. However, I give tons of resources, and as I said, every single one of my students always has interaction with me personally. So this new rollout is going to be that sort of course where everything is recorded. You get all kinds of things. I will not list, but you get all kinds of things that go with it. But then we will meet as a group four times throughout the course, which I love because that group interaction is magical. So there is that. That’s really – the umbrella of Moms On Top includes all of that. I am also rolling out a postpartum group, which is coming up, and hopefully we can update everybody when that happens. And then I do so many things for free. Like, I give free classes every few weeks. People can find me on Instagram. So it’s just my name, @gailjanicola. So I’m either announcing what I’m doing there; it’s in my bio, or in stories. And if people want to be on my email list, I’m always giving updates and all kinds of really valuable information so they can just request. They can do that by contacting me on the Moms On Top site. Or they can DM me on Instagram. I would say those are the best ways of reaching me.
Kristin: Great. And then how can our listeners order The Ultimate Birth Experience book?
Gail: So it is on Amazon. If you want it nicely wrapped with a note and possibly a signed copy, which I don’t charge anything for, of course, then you can order it on my website.
Kristin: Wonderful. And I’m so excited about your postpartum group. It’s very needed. There are a lot of pregnancy support groups, but not enough in the postnatal phase.
Gail: Yeah. And although I did not coin the phrase mommy mentor – that was a name that was given to me, and I have to say in the beginning, for whatever reason, I don’t know why, I resisted it. But it’s truly – I feel like my purpose because I have no judgment, and I am – I’ve made mothering my life, so for me, it is all about listening and hearing and helping and part of this group will be bringing in the experts. The pelvic floor therapists and the mental health counselors and the lactation consultants. So I just want to make this a tribe, and I do know how needed it is. So I’m here to mentor if that is something that somebody wants.
Kristin: I think it’s a perfect description for you as a blend of both a coach and a doula. It’s perfect.
Gail: Thank you, Kristin.
Kristin: Well, it was so wonderful to connect with you, Gail. I appreciate your time, and I hope you have a great day.
Gail: Thank you so much!
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