Moving into its second year, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center’s Birth Designer Program proves successful in preparing patients for a positive childbirth experience.
| 12:40 p.m. May 21, 2020
Rachel Schwegel recalls being discouraged from having a birth plan when she had her son, Liam, four years ago in a Michigan hospital. It was different in March, though, when she gave birth to her daughter, Lila, at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. As a participant in the hospital’s Birth Designer Program, Schwegel was encouraged to be prepared for anything.
“When you are in labor, you’re not really in a mindset to be thinking through all the scenarios,” Schwegel says. “So having the birth plan laid out ahead of time that says: ‘If this happens, then this. If that happens, then that,’ helps keep everything less stressful during the process.”
The Birth Designer Program celebrated one year in May, having ushered more than 130 women through childbirth. All pregnant women intending to give birth at the facility have access to it.
Birth designer Chrissy Coney has been at the helm of the free, optional program since its inception and is responsible for all the educational tools patients receive. Her goal is to help women and their families quell the preconceived notion that childbirth is intimidating and instead feel comfortable and confident about what will take place. She becomes a trusted advocate for her patients by facilitating the skills and knowledge they need, so they are not just prepared but also have a positive outlook on what is to come.
“We want to get people away from thinking that it’s a scary, painful experience,” Coney says. “It can actually be really wonderful.”
Coney meets with participating patients on their schedule during the later stages of the prenatal period. Using tools including PowerPoint presentations, she exposes patients to all that the hospital offers, from birthing balls to pre- and post-natal classes. During the in-depth meeting, each patient is asked to fill out a birth plan that can be referred to when the big day comes. Coney has seen patients anywhere from 24 weeks pregnant to full-term at 38 weeks.
“It was really good to sit down with Chrissy and go through all that and say: ‘This is what I want. This is what I wouldn’t like,’ and for her to say, ‘Here is what the hospital offers,’” Schwegel says.
For example, Coney connected Schwegel with a doula, a person who provides guidance and support throughout the pregnancy and childbirth process. It was something Schwegel had never considered before meeting with Coney.
“When patients come into the hospital to see me, many have never even been in a hospital before,” Coney says. “Or if they’ve been to birthing classes, they’ve seen what the hospital looks like, but they still don’t know what goes on in the labor room or about the experience of labor and delivery or even what it’s like to have a C-section.”
Although Coney, as the birth designer, focuses on education and preparedness, her decade of experience as a labor and delivery nurse paired with what patients call a kind and caring nature play a unique role in the successful outcomes of the program.
“Going into it, I had no idea what to expect,” says Danielle Delk, who had her first child in January at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. “I was a little bit naive and didn’t want to face what was truly to come.”
The Birth Designer Program changed that for Delk, and she felt prepared when her son, Prescott, was born at 1:34 a.m. via an unplanned Cesarean section. Prescott was the first baby born in 2020 at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. Coney was there at 7 a.m. to check on Delk and her baby and to present the family with a gift basket.
Although she was unable to be there during Delk’s C-section, Coney says she does her best to check in on patients preceding such procedures and is more than willing to hold a nervous patient’s hand in the operating room.
“Just so that they have that extra support, and again they know me and my face,” she says. “If it is something that is going to help my patient, I am going to do whatever I can for them.”
The program has proved beneficial to hospital staff as well. Coney says educating patients ahead of time and having them fill out a birth plan enables the labor and delivery nurses to instantly tailor their care to that specific patient.
“I think it’s critical for the medical staff to understand the needs of the patient and then the patient to understand the reasons behind things that otherwise you may not know if you were just doing internet research,” Schwegel says.
Then if something unplanned comes up, as it did in Delk’s case, both the patient and their care team are ready to tackle it with less uncertainty and as a team.
“Our patients come to understand what they are asking for, and they understand the reason why they are asking for it,” Coney says.
Although one might think this is only geared toward new moms, Coney sees many who are new to the area or had a less-than-ideal experience with their first birth.
“I still get second- and third-time moms coming through because maybe their first experiences weren’t the best,” Coney says. “We’ll talk about what happened and, assuming things go more smoothly this time, what they can expect when they come in here.”
Birth designer care follows patients through pregnancy and delivery but also offers care postpartum. Coney gives her personal phone number to patients as well as permission to contact her any time after they leave the hospital. She checks in on all of her postpartum patients as well to see if there is anything they might need in the way of support. As a lactation specialist, she can also assist with any breastfeeding challenges patients might be facing.
“It wasn’t like it was the first meeting, and that was it,” Delk says. “It was a continuous help. Yes, she has the title of birth designer and this position, but she’s really a nurse at heart.”