“We talk about birth stories starting from the moment we go into labor, but I really believe birth stories begin the moment you conceive.”
At Mae, we understand that as Black women, having the right pregnancy support can have a huge impact on our health, experiences, and birth outcomes. Because we are far more likely to receive unequal care, making sure we have culturally competent support around us is so important both during your pregnancy and delivery and after you give birth.
Esther McCant is an experienced doula who has not only spent years supporting mothers through pregnancy and postpartum stages but has also dedicated herself to mentoring doulas at the beginning of their careers. She is an entrepreneur who has developed a business that includes birth support and doula training as well as the business growth and professional development of her peers.
Esther is a doula featured in Mae’s expert network and we were honored to grab some time between her birth support, mentorship, and running a business to chat about her approach, the importance of partner support, and some advice on how to best manage the doula/mom-to-be relationship.
Tell us about your philosophy.
“Women are going to give birth the way they are designed to give birth,” Esther shared. “When given the proper support and appropriate education for that birthing experience, they will have the most success. What I am trying to do as a doula is to make sure moms feel prepared for whatever birthing journey they are on.”
Esther speaks a lot about trusting timing and working with a woman’s body throughout the process. She also focuses on educating her clients around the idea that there is no one or right way to labor and deliver. “Women sometimes get caught up in how long their births are taking,” but she stresses, “I respect time – and babies will be born at the perfect time.”
As a mother of four, her own experiences have taught her so much about how to approach labor support. “I believe that you’re going to give birth the way you’re designed,” she says. “Personally, having birthed outside of a hospital setting, I learned that I can trust my body to do so much. I bring that experience into my work as a doula. I have noticed that the level of relaxation that a mom is able to achieve during the process dictates how her birth is going to go. Supporting that natural process is so important. The only thing that can get in the way of that natural process is a special circumstance outside of our control. And also people. People who you surround yourself by who will either support you or not.”
Given that support is so important, how do you provide that emotional support and how do you approach the topic with your client’s partner?
“Women can express doubts and anxiety in many ways and knowing how a patient works through that is key. If she’s mostly in her mind, I know I need to provide emotional support – have her say out loud what her fears are – every step of the way.” Esther emphasizes eliminating judgment around labor and stresses the importance of setting partners up for success.
“It all depends on the level of interaction and support the partner really wants to have or provide and it also depends on what the mother has vocalized as her needs from the partner. I can have a mom who is aware that her partner’s work schedule is not conducive to her partner meeting her emotional or physical needs during labor. So then the challenge is how do I get that partner involved in the most appropriate way?”
Esther’s advice for getting partners involved in different ways:
- Include them in prenatal calls to talk through goals and objectives
- Explain procedures and manage expectations
- Map out the birth plan with the partner’s support and input
- Acknowledge the role a partner may play in enforcing the mother’s birth plan and ensure their comfort
- Establish boundaries around partner expectations
- Leave space for partners to express what he or she is or is not comfortable with
- Roll play possible scenarios to allow both partner and mom to feel prepared
- Reinforce a partner’s importance and empower them, but also reassure both mother and partner that she (Esther) is there to fill in gaps, allowing the partner the ability to step back when necessary while confirming for the mother that her needs will be met
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in your work as a doula?
“Hospital policies during this pandemic. Booking a client months out and then finding out their hospital won’t let you in is a whole new challenge.”
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had a huge impact on labor and delivery and the support women are allowed to have in a hospital setting. Virtual options have become a great way to support births while respecting Covid policies but virtual support is actually nothing new for Esther.
“I’ve been supporting virtual births long before Covid. I tell them to set up a tripod and I always have the labor and delivery wing number on speed dial. I will track them down!” she laughs. “I actually remember one nurse walking up to the camera after delivery and thanking me for ‘being there’. We can definitely still have an impact virtually and I’m really grateful for that.”
Esther’s final thoughts:
She emphasizes the importance of building a healthy relationship, setting boundaries, and managing expectations – both from mom to doula and doula to mom. Fit is essential and just like every doula will not be right for every mom-to-be, every mom-to-be will not be right for every doula. “It’s about making sure there’s a connection, that expectations are clear and that both of us are able to provide and receive what we need in the relationship.”
“Your pregnancy journey begins the moment you become pregnant. I would encourage every mom to know that the decisions you make throughout your pregnancy will influence how your birth will go and how satisfied you will be. It’s not just about once you start to go into labor, but it’s about every choice you make along the way, and beyond.”
We thank Esther for her commitment to supporting our sisters on their birth journey and we are so honored to have her here to support Mae Mamas. Curious if a doula is right for you? Visit MeetMae.com to learn more. To learn more about Esther, visit MetroMommyAgency.com.