It seems that everywhere I turn these days, people are talking about doulas, midwives and birthing options (and at 5 months pregnant, I’m all ears!). Of course my mother-in-law still says "huh?" every time I mention the word doula or midwife, but I’ve found that even some of my most conservative pals are seeking out resources for their best birth.

The options can be overwhelming but luckily our friends over at NYC-based Choices in Childbirth are passionate about educating and encouraging expecting moms to explore what's out there. From breaking down the differences between an OB, midwife or doula, to detailing the benefits of doula care before, during and after birth, Choices in Childbirth is all about promoting safe, healthy, and empowered births. We recently chatted up the new director, Michele Giordano, about birth centers, expectant parent groups and what NYC area hospitals are the most doula-friendly.

Tell us about Choices in Childbirth.

Choices in Childbirth is a non-profit education, policy, and advocacy organization that advances women’s health by promoting safe, healthy, and empowered births. Choices in Childbirth offers workshops, tools, and resources to help expecting moms evaluate the many options for where, how, and with whom to birth. Choices in Childbirth also advocates for evidence-based birth practices and improved maternal health policies on the local, state, and federal levels. We put the power of childbirth back in the hands of women and families, one birth at a time.

What brought you to the organization?

My own pregnancy and becoming a mom was the catalyst to want to be part of Choices in Childbirth. I realized how important it was during my own pregnancy to feel informed about my birth choices, have a childbirth educator I trusted, have midwives who knew me, and feel empowered to make the choices that fit for my family. I knew right away after experiencing some of the challenges I had in seeking these options in NYC that I wanted to get involved with Choices in Childbirth and ensure all women had the best care possible for their birth experience.

What are the challenges CIC is currently facing and how do you plan to address them?

In terms of maternity care in NYC, there is a birth center bill that will be the center of our advocacy work for 2015. This bill would revise regulations covering birth centers and allow for more birth centers to exist in NYC without a physician. This would solve the hospital vs. home birth dichotomy we see in NYC. Right now we only have two birth centers, one at Mount Sinai Roosevelt, which is an in-hospital birth center, and the Brooklyn Birth Center, the only free-standing birth center in New York City. Two birth centers for the 123,000 women that give birth each year is not enough!

Tell us more about your recently released doula care report, touting the importance of doulas during labor and the postpartum period.

We constantly have this conversation in our office! Three of us are moms, and if we had a genie bottle and could make a wish, we would love to give every mom a doula! I had a doula at my birth and a postpartum doula, and I would say that the biggest difference doulas makes is to support and coach you throughout your labor and birth and then afterwards when you are shifting to newborn care.

One of my favorite sayings is: “Asking your partner to be your sole guide through labor is like asking them to lead the way on a climb of Mt. Everest. Your partner may be smart and trustworthy, you may love them, but in the Himalayas you’d both be a lot better off with a Sherpa.” –Pat England, a doula based in Albuquerque

It’s not my quote, but I feel it really illustrates why a doula is so important—they have experience with birth and newborn care! Also, it’s important that we acknowledge that moms need just as much nurturing as their babies after birth. We need professionals who can provide experience and information so families feel supported in the fourth trimester when there are many changes and new ways to take care of our babies and ourselves.

Which NYC area hospitals are the most doula-friendly? Why do you think these spots welcome doulas more than others?

NYU is extremely doula friendly. In fact, in our recent survey, doulas overwhelmingly voted NYU the most doula friendly hospital in the city. NYU has consciously made the effort to educate their nurses about doula care and collaborating with doulas. I gave birth at Maimonides, which was also very open to my bringing a doula into the room. Maimonides has the only hospital-based doula program in the city, and the providers and nurses have become accustomed to working with doulas over many years. When providers and nurses get to work with doulas regularly, they are able to see the numerous benefits they offer--making it a smoother, more empowering, more satisfying experience for the mother, while hopefully also making the nurses’ jobs a little easier by offering another set of hands to take care of the woman giving birth.

Do you have any advice on where NY area moms can find a network of women who have experience with a variety of birth options?

At our workshops! We offer interactive workshops for expectant parents and just had one this past year on doula care. The unique aspect of our workshops is we bring in a panel of parents who have made the very choices the expecting parents are considering. For expecting parents it’s a great way to hear from new parents whether they were happy with their choice and why and how it made a difference for them. I would also recommend that expecting moms ask their childbirth educator, their maternity care provider, and other moms in their network for doula referrals. However, choosing a doula is very much about chemistry and fit, so it’s important to speak to a few doulas and determine what feels right for you as an expecting mom.

What's coming down the pipeline from CIC in the coming year?

We are excited to launch our next policy report, Realizing the Affordable Care Act through the Midwifery Model of Care. Choices in Childbirth is committed to bringing women’s voices to each part of the maternity care experience in NYC. This upcoming project will investigate how midwifery care is being experienced in NYC and what the barriers are for women who want to give birth with a midwife. We also will continue to offer our Healthy Birth Choices Workshops and we will have some new topics to offer expecting parents.

Image courtesy of Choices in Childbirth.