Peggy Caister is a doula—also known as a birth attendant, one who offers physical and emotional support and assistance to women and their partners during childbirth—and the new executive director of Birth Matters, a statewide organization providing resources and support for pregnant women in five active chapters in Virginia. Birth Matters, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has three local chapters: Williamsburg, Peninsula and Tidewater.
Q. What can you tell me about Birth Matters? What does the organization entail?
The mission of Birth Matters is to improve birth outcomes and lower socioeconomic costs for all pregnant women through education and dissemination of information. What is different about Birth Matters is that we have something called a Birth Circle where all women can come and share their birth stories. We honor everybody’s story. We think there is no one right way to have a baby. We believe we can learn something from every single birth. We offer nonjudgmental support and encourage everyone to share their story and educate themselves about their options. We want to increase the awareness of birthing options, whether a woman is looking for a mid-wife or is planning a scheduled Cesarean section.
Q. Why should pregnant women seek out an organization like Birth Matters?
For those who want a normal birth or an unmedicated birth, it helps to hear from people who have been there, to alleviate the fears. If you hear positive stories, you will look forward to the experience, so you want to surround yourself with people who understand because that can really make a difference in your birth experience.
Q. How did you get involved with Birth Matters?
I was a participant in a Birth Circle in Charlottesville in 2009 when I was pregnant with my daughter, and then I joined the local chapter of Birth Matters when I moved to Newport News in 2010. I then decided to become a doula. I had a doula with my son, and it was such an empowering experience. My doula was very supportive. During my birth experience, I also felt that it created a cohesiveness with my husband. I felt more bonded to him when I had a doula, and that is why I decided to become a doula. In talking to women, I have found they want the experience of a doula, but there aren’t many available to serve them here. There is a great need for doulas in this area. Birth Matters encourages doulas and midwives for low risk pregnant women because research shows interventions are decreased for moms and babies who have doulas.
Q. What are your future goals as executive director?
It is my dream to see Medicaid reimbursement of doulas, and doulas available to women who can’t otherwise afford them through the implementation of community-based doula programs throughout the state. I intend to network with statewide and national organizations to offer Birth Matters as a resource to women in their childbearing years.
Q. Why should women consider a midwife or doula as part of their birth plan?
Birthing is such a memorable experience for women, one that we will remember forever, and having a plan in place where you are supported is invaluable to creating a positive memory. What I hear from Birth Circle are women who express more satisfaction with their birth experience when they are surrounded by safety and trust in the people who they are with. A sense of safety is very vital for the birth experience. The decision that will impact your birth experience the most is your choice of a health care provider. If you choose a provider that doesn’t believe in the same philosophies as you, you may be disappointed but if you have a provider who resonates with you, you will be more satisfied no matter what the outcome. My best advice is to know what options are available, know what you want to have happen, and take steps to make that happen. I encourage all pregnant women to educate themselves. Be confident. Knowledge is power. The more information you have, the more safe and secure you will feel.
Q. What advice do you have for new mothers, especially when it comes to breastfeeding?
Birth Matters provides resources to new moms, including information about breastfeeding.
Pregnant women might want to take breastfeeding classes in advance. The method you choose for your birth experience can have an impact on breastfeeding challenges and difficulties. The first hour after birth is so critical in the newborn stage, and it should just be the mom and baby, skin-to-skin, if at all possible. Offer the breast as soon as the baby is ready, and know and trust that the baby knows what he or she is doing. Moms should be present in that moment with the baby. The photos and the visits with the family can wait. That connection with mom and baby during that first hour will do wanders for the breastfeeding relationship.