A Candid Conversation with Megan from Birth Your Way

baby born in hospital

It was a pleasure speaking with Megan Neal from Birth Your Way Columbus. Megan is a childbirth educator, birth doula, reiki & massage practitioner, and placenta worker. We had a candid conversation about how she became a doula and what she is passionate about in her work.

Tell Us About Birth Your Way

I’m a doula. I live just south of Columbus. So I serve all of Columbus, as well as some rural areas down here south of Columbus. Basically, I’m just out here trying to teach people about childbirth and pregnancy. I really like to focus on the health aspects of pregnancy. I feel like that’s really important, especially for a lot of the outcomes that people are looking for.

What Made You Interested in Becoming a Doula?

I got driven into this work basically from my own births, but then also learning more and more about the health care system that we have right now and helping people sort of navigate that. At Birth Your Way, I’m trying to help people get the births that they’re hoping for.

Your story sounds similar to how I got into newborn photography and it was with my own child’s birth that inspired me. So tell me a little bit about that. What did you experience and what made you want to look into this further?

Even before I started having babies, my interest was always in having babies. I watched The Business of Being Born. I feel like a lot of us were initiated into the system and how it works with that documentary back in 2008. There are some statistics in there and stuff that are a little bit outdated, but the idea behind it is pretty basic and it still applies to most situations, especially in rural Ohio.

Even within Columbus, even before you get to the hospital and labor, they’re talking to you about induction and you agree to induction and the contractions are too difficult. Then they talk you into the epidural and it doesn’t set right or you have a bad reaction from that and you end up in a C-section. So this is the cascade of interventions is what they call it in that documentary. So that was my first sort of light bulb moment.

When you go into having a baby, unless somebody’s talked to you about this stuff, you assume that your doctor has your best interest at heart. They probably do, but they’re just not necessarily going about it in a way that serves you best.

Do you find that doctors are advising patients in a scripted way, even though every patient is different?

Yes. Thank goodness my birth experiences did not end up in that cascade of interventions that I did not want, but I have seen it happen.

I started doula work in 2019. Working through it since then, I really actually see the pressure that’s put on our medical system. And I also see that our pregnant folks should not have to be taking the brunt of that pressure. So it’s sort of this balance of like, yes, we need these doctors for these interventions that they are so good at. And also, let’s please not impose those interventions on every single person because we don’t all want them.

Through Birth Your Way, I’ve seen it happen time and again in our city, in the hospitals that we have here. And so this isn’t just some far away thing that’s happening at select hospitals. This is here.

How did you prepare for you own births?

When I got pregnant, I signed up for the Bradley method class. I think it was an eight week class. We showed up once a week for three hours a night. It was exhausting. Within the class we learned about doulas and I was like, oh, yeah, I would love to have somebody there with me. And I was also reading on my own. So like I had a pile of books. I was like trying to put as much information in my head as possible to just do it the best that I could.

And that’s really kind of how I counsel my clients too. I tell them they’re not going to be able to learn all the stuff in just seven to eight months. So having a class is super because they organize it in a way where they can present it. It’s still a lot of information. You’re probably not going to remember all of it, but it helps you to build a birth plan so that you can communicate with your team.

Did you hire a doula for your own births?

Yes. She was actually super new. When I hired her, she hadn’t attended any births, but she had two births scheduled before mine. So I was like, okay, that should be enough. And she has six kids of her own. That was really what got me. I was like, she has six kids of her own. She’s had six totally different birth experiences. So aside from attending these two births as a doula, she’s going to have that experience too. She had this presence about her that was just very calm. It didn’t even bother me that there was like pretty much a stranger in the room. I’d met her two other times before the birth, but she was just wonderful and was consistent with me.

Is doula your only role with Birth Your Way?

It’s funny that we’re talking about this because I’m actually building a childbirth class right now, as part of Birth Your Way. It will be a paid childbirth class. And I recently did birth basics classes. They are one hour talking about how to advocate for yourself. And those are free. I’m trying to set up a few of those.

Did your own labor influence how you support your clients?

It really depends on like so many factors. It’s all so nuanced. Even how I support somebody prenatally all the way up to having the baby in postpartum. But, in general, I’m reading them. Do they even have enough energy to hear what I’m saying to them right now? It usually falls back on them. I usually just say we have some things that we can try. Do you want to try? And that’s it.

I’ve had a lot of spinning babies and there’s a body ready method. That is another training that I’ve done. Doing that kind of teaches you how the pelvis works and all of these things and how to position the easiest possible situation and the least likely to deal with things like shoulder dystocia, tearing, and that kind of stuff. But, first and foremost, it’s always what I feel like this person can handle right now. And it’s usually, “I know you can do this. Let’s just get your head wrapped around it right.”

How many clients can you take on per month at Birth Your Way?

I like to limit to four. In any given month it could be one to four. Sometimes, depending on the situation, I might make an exception. I like to work with people a lot prenatally to hopefully shorten labors to make sure they’re having a healthy, comfortable pregnancy. And also obviously birth planning and preparing for all of that stuff. So I also have to keep that in mind. So four is ideal. If I have five or six, that’s once a year maybe. And I have backups, amazing backups.

I imagine it’s exhausting for you, too.

Yeah, we go through it. We talk about the best time to call me so that I’m going to be at my best all the way through the birth. I also take care of myself. So, I’m trying to eat well. I’m trying to make sure that I’m exercising and things so that when I have these like gaps in time where I’m pushing myself really hard to stay awake and do physical activity, I’m ready to do that.

How far out should people reach out to you to get on your schedule?

I mean, I love all my clients at Birth Your Way. Okay. I love people who reach out like super early. There’s even people that are like, I’m not even pregnant yet, but can you tell me about your services? And I’m just like, yes! It gives me a lot of time to work with them. I’m working on things like nutrition and movement to do during pregnancy to prepare the body for birth to help prevent those like late pregnancy issues. The earlier you reach out, the better.

And it gives them time. You know, if you, don’t have the money to just pay out of pocket two months before your baby’s going to be born. It gives you time to pay over time, which is a big deal.

Also, I have lots of resources for people that you should also be seeing like chiropractors, yoga instructors, and this amazing nutritionist in Columbus. That’s a huge role of a doula. Pretty much any doula is going to be able to refer you to other specialists who can help you out with stuff like that.

You’re providing such an amazing service and I know that doesn’t come cheap. I know it’s worth it. What should someone expect to pay for doula services?

I actually just learned recently that for the amount of experience that I have and the services that I’m offering, I’m actually kind of not probably charging as much as I could. There are so many different types of doulas and we all work different kinds of ways and we all have different kinds of experience. When you’re looking at it, you’re going to see people charging anywhere from like $750 to $3,000. And so it really comes down to what do you value in a doula and you have to just choose that doula.

Typically somebody who’s charging something like $750, they think that they need to charge that in order to get their first few clients. Or it might be like a newer doula, or it could just be somebody who is in a position where they don’t have to charge more.

Right, you don’t want to just hire someone based on a low cost.

I want people to hire me that value what I’m going to give to them. Not because I’m charging a low price. Yeah, I’ve charged low prices before. Sometimes it works out, but most of the time, folks just don’t get the full breadth of what I can offer them because they don’t necessarily want to hear about the nutrition part. They don’t necessarily want to hear about what kind of movements and lifestyle tweaks that they can do. To each their own, but that’s not my ideal client.

Are there some hospitals and birthing centers that are easier and more welcoming of you?

Birth Your Way in Columbus hospital

Mount Carmel is my number one choice. I’ve attended excellent births there. The providers are wonderful. They love attending unmedicated births. Mount Carmel is also the hospital that home birth midwives love transferring to. Because they just they get it. They’re collaborative. They love having doulas there. I think that the takeaway is just making sure that you’re having a birth in a facility with a provider who supports the kind of birth that you want.

If you’re going in wanting an unmedicated birth, you’re gonna have to fight for it. And your doula can help you. But at the end of the day, it’s your yes or no that’s that they need to hear.

Do you want to shout out any doctors who have been wonderful to work? Is there anyone that you would like to recommend?

Yes. So we have Dr. Rouse.

(Stacey) Oh, she delivered one of my babies! She let me labor as long as I wanted. And then when i got the epidural, she’s like, “This is perfect. You labored and now you don’t have to feel the pushing. And she was amazing.”

Yeah. She totally understands. She’s totally that doctor that’s like, ‘whatever you want. And if there’s a problem, I’ll let you know and we’ll talk through it and we’ll figure it out.’ It’s not like vaginal unmedicated birth or bust. She’s going to have conversations with you if there are complications. So then we have Dr. Ransom. For a midwife, Bethany Wayt. And then Dr. Murnane.

(Stacey) He’s my doctor!

Yeah. So all wonderful providers, all providers perfectly capable of handling complications, but leaving things alone, and honoring birth choices.

What’s your support system like?

First of all, my husband has an incredible job where he works from home a lot. If the kids have to be home all day, there’s a person that does childcare during the school year that lives right next to the school. So he can just drop them off at her place and then she takes them to the school.

I worked really hard finding as many childcare providers as possible so that I can have backups. Then I’ve made stay at home mom friends, too. So that’s been really helpful. In fact, my husband was out of town and I had to send my kids to two separate houses to stay overnight so that I could go to a birth. All of these things felt very out of reach for me, but I literally just dove in. It was like, I’m going to find these people that will be willing to do this. And it’s just worked out. It had to work out.

And honestly, I’ve never had to call a backup, but I always have them just in case.

So if people want to learn more about you or reach out, where can they find Birth Your Way?

The Facebook page is Birth Your Way Columbus and the website is birthyourwayservices.com.

Well, thank you. Is there anything, any last minute things you want to share? This has been very informative, by the way.

Oh, awesome. I’m so glad. Usually when I get on calls with people, I want to hear about them, too. I you’re doing newborn and maternity photography. What area do you serve?

(Stacey) Similar to you – Central Ohio. My studio is off of Polaris Parkway, so Dublin, Westerville, Powell all the way to Delaware and Lewis Center. Just that big circle there around Columbus.

Do you do just in studio or are you going outdoors and in people’s homes?

(Stacey) For maternity, some people want outdoors depending on the weather and if the foliage is nice. So I do about half maternity outdoors. For newborn, I prefer the studio. If their preference is more lifestyle, like capturing the nursery and them holding their baby on the couch, then I’ll go into homes for that for sure. So it depends on what kind of style they want. But what I really specialize in is the posed baby where I get them super comfortable and where they’re just like being curled up and warm. Posing them while they’re super sleepy and just ate, and then just let the mom relax for a few hours while we handle her baby. So that’s what I really specialize in and what I like to do.

I love that. I never thought about like it being a relaxing situation for a mom. As a new mom, I was so anxious with my newborns, I always imagined it being just this super stressful situation. I probably would have stressed out the photographer to be honest.

New Moms Need a Break

(Stacey) No, that’s one of the things I really like. Normally mom feeds the baby and then she just has a couple hours to chill at the studio. I have a bed there if she needs a nap. There’s tea, coffee, and snacks and it’s dark and quiet. So yeah, I prefer them to really just take a couple hours and get a break.

You know, you really need to tell more people. Especially with newborns, because people are so exhausted. If they trust you enough to do that, I mean, that would have been a big deal for me, like this is actually accessible to me.

(Stacey) I had somebody once call me the morning of, and they said they had a really rough morning. The baby was cranky. And I’m like, “Just get here. If you can get here, we’ll take care of you and the baby.” And then the baby slept and mom rested. Otherwise it would have continued to be that way because they were feeding off of each other and their energy. It was going to continue to be a chaotic day. So I convinced them to still come. Mom got a three hour break of calm by coming in. If they just get here, we’ll do the rest.

You know, nobody’s talking about that. Like, honestly, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of that part of newborn sessions.

Yeah, there’s a lot. If you forget something, the studio is stocked. I’ve got diapers, a bottle warmer, and a fridge full of stuff. So I do try to make sure that they don’t have to think. They can just show up and then we’ll take care of them from there. So, thank you for asking! I love connecting with moms and it was because of my experience. I loved giving birth and it’s sad that I only get to do it twice. It’s an amazing thing. I can’t relive that moment ever again.

(Stacey) Well, thank you. I hope many others will check out Birth Your Way. I will talk to you soon and have a good rest of your day!

If you need to know more about midwives and doulas, check out my other blog post: Midwives in Columbus, Ohio

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