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SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE — Being informed and supported during the most important moment of their lives is what future parents are looking for. Also known as “doulas,” birth coaches guide them so that they can make informed decisions while offering them mental, physical, and emotional support during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period. To tell us about it, we met with Annick Bourbonnais, president of the Association québécoise des doulas (AQD), director of the Académie périnatale, and creator and owner of the Hypnodoula program.

jessica rockowitz gl50agg5AUI unsplash web - The Birth of a Family: Interview with Annick Bourbonnais, Birth Coach

You’ve coached more than 300 births so far. How did this passion for birth, life, and everything that surrounds that develop?

“I was born to a mother who had a motherhood to heal, who experienced various traumas related to childhood and motherhood. I like to think that I was probably born into this role, since I was the child my mother needed to free herself from her past experiences.

“Birth coaching came into my life as an obvious choice about ten years ago while I was working at the CHU Sainte-Justine. My sister had come to give birth, and it was at that moment that I met her doula. I was fascinated by her work. Three months later, when I became pregnant, I contacted her to coach me in the birth of my child, but also professionally, since I wanted to reorient myself toward the profession of doula. I had a sort of professional crush on her. I went back to school when my daughter was just four weeks old!”

In the collective imagination, the profession of doula seems to be a vocation that goes beyond mere training. What do you think about that?

“I simply believe that we, doulas, carry histories and values that lead us to invest ourselves with people who are preparing to become parents. The profession of doula involves an atypical work dynamic: being on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and possibly 365 days a year. You have to be passionate to be ready to face this type of environment!”

There are several advantages to birth coaching, such as reduced rates of Caesarean sections, reduced use of epidurals and increased oxytocin production, decreased duration of labour, etc. How does coaching make all this possible?

“Thanks to preparation. Childbirth is a natural physiological process. For the body to perform during childbirth, different elements need to come together. First of all, you have to be in a good state of mind.

“We all carry histories and cultures that influence our vision of motherhood, childbirth, and breastfeeding. This memory has been inscribed in us from a young age. Fortunately, it’s possible to become aware of this to free yourself from certain preconceptions and apprehensions, and thereby arrive at childbirth with more flexibility and open-mindedness. In addition, the hormones that facilitate childbirth are timid and easily inhibited by the stress hormone, cortisol. If we are in an environment that appears hostile to us, the anxiety-inducing thoughts that arise will prevent the body from working at its full potential during labour. In some cases, future parents are also uninformed about the physiological processes of the human body, and show up to their labour with a very random preparation, so it’s harder to work with the body when the time comes. The advantage of coaching is therefore to offer future parents a better understanding of how their body works, and to consciously reveal their expectations (they are sometimes unconscious, but there are always some!) to give them back their power. The current culture surrounding childbirth suggests that delivery is something to be endured rather than performed. For example, we might say, ‘this is the doctor who will be performing the delivery.’ Childbirth is therefore often seen as belonging to a third party, the medical staff, while it’s the pregnant person who is giving birth. We allow future parents to take ownership of the experience that they will go through.”

Personal choices regarding childbirth and parenthood may seem polarized: epidural or “natural” delivery, hospital setting or birthing centre, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, etc. How do you view these different perspectives?

“We polarize a great deal about childbirth and have fixed ideas of what we want, but future parents always gain by softening their intentions. Childbirth is an unpredictable experience, a unique story that takes place in circumstances over which we don’t always have control. It’s essential to be able to adapt and adjust our decisions if necessary. Our choices are never either good or bad. They are simply influenced by circumstances, the tools we have, and who we are. And they can evolve. For example, it’s not uncommon to see someone who won’t breastfeed their first child, who will try breastfeeding for a few weeks with the second, and who will breastfeed their third child for two years. This is what happens if we let people go through their experiences without trying to frame them, label them.”

You also practise birth hypnosis. Can you explain to us what this practice entails?

“Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. Each day, we go through different states of consciousness, such as when we are drifting off, between the period of wakefulness and sleep, when we meditate, read, or watch television. In this state, we are in a highly receptive position. Hypnosis therefore makes it possible to work on targeted subjects. In my case, I’m interested in everything related to childbirth, often with the primary objective of allowing the body to work at its full potential on the big day. Hypnodoula is therefore a marriage between the helping relationship and the tools of self-hypnosis, and it unfolds through the practice and implementation of techniques, reflections, and discussions.”

What do you find most difficult and most beautiful as a birth coach?

“Between the start of the labour (the first contractions) and the moment when I join the future parents at the delivery, my life is in complete suspense. It may last an hour, twelve hours, or even a day! But the wait is worth it, because touching the intangible and the extraordinary that occurs during childbirth is a real gift. A whole world is transformed with the arrival of a baby: parents are born or reborn, a new family comes into the world. I sincerely believe that we have to recapture the grandeur and magic of childbirth. My mission is to put this back in the foreground.”


Association québécoise des doulas: AQDOULAS

An initial 30-minute consultation is offered to guide future parents in their search and identify their needs. This may be a good starting point for anyone who has just learned that they are expecting a child. The Réseau des centres de ressources périnatales du Québec (RCRPQ) and community organizations can also be consulted.

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