Being A Doula During Covid-19
What a journey it has been since March of this year. I wanted to take some time to sit back and reflect on the past several months from my (Jessica Bower’s) perspective. It has been a wild ride.
In March of this year we had about ten clients on our schedule due to have their babies. We take about 10 clients each month, so this was normal for us. In mid-March, as you know, things suddenly got very interesting and everything started shutting down. People were nervous and scared of the unknown. In addition to all the crazy in the world, Natural Baby Doulas had some crazy too because one of our doulas was newly pregnant and was vomiting multiple times a day and then two other doulas had possibly been around someone who possibly was in contact with someone who possibly had Covid-19. So, Natural Baby Doulas was down to just me and Sarah. Normally even being down to two doulas isn’t that crazy because we take 10 clients spread out over a month. BUT it was as if all our clients heard that a pandemic was coming and they wanted to get in and out of the hospital STAT. Several moms had their babies early and then the ones who were past their due dates all had their babies in one week. From March 17-March 22 (a six day period), I went to a birth every day. That’s right, six births in six days. And then Sarah went to five births in that same six day window. So 11 clients had babies in a 6 day window right before we were no longer allowed to be in the hospital due to Covid-19 visitor restrictions. It was an insane week. We’ve never done anything like that before. All six births for me were incredibly memorable and special – and none of them were longer than 12 hours so this doula actually made it through without sleep deprivation!
But then the end of March came. And we were officially no longer allowed in the hospitals due to Covid-19. This was obviously devastating for us and our clients. We longed to be there by their side. We wanted to rub their back, help hold a cool washcloth on their head, and even catch their vomit. But, instead, we were forced to provide only virtual support. Virtual support worked very well for some of our clients. We spent extra time preparing them emotionally and preparing their partners for the birth. Then, we were in close touch with them during early labor (like we usually do) and then we used FaceTime / Zoom to “be” in the room with them during their labor. My first virtual birth was a very special and very long VBAC. Because I love what I do so much, it physically hurt me to not be able to be there with the client – my heart literally ached each time I did a virtual birth!
Thankfully, not all births that we attend are in the hospital setting, so we were still going to some births in-person. Magnolia Birth Center in Greensboro was open until the end of June and several of our clients who were going to have babies in the hospital switched to Magnolia at the last minute and we were able to attend births with them there even with Covid-19 restrictions in April, May and June. We also attended a couple of births at the birth center in Chapel Hill and a couple of homebirths with Nancy Harmon, CNM. If you want to know more about birthing outside of the hospital, check out our post on local midwives. Being able to attend births in person was very encouraging for us and for our clients in the midst of hospital restrictions.
Now, in our local hospitals, doulas are no longer considered visitors and we are considered part of the care team. Natural Baby Doulas is back at all our local hospitals supporting clients in-person. This means that a mom can have her main support person (her partner / husband / mom / friend) in addition to the doula. I’m really looking forward to the day when visitor restrictions are lifted so that moms can have more than one support person + a doula. Many clients want their mom, sister, or daughter present at their birth too in addition to their partner. Covid stinks and I completely understand that the hospitals are trying to do their best to prevent infection while having good outcomes and for patients to be satisfied.
So now that brings us to today. Supporting families in the midst of Covid. We are back to teaching in-person childbirth education classes for those who feel comfortable doing that. During the classes, participants wear masks and stay 6 feet apart. We also have an all online class for clients who would rather not meet in person or not have time to meet in-person.
For doula support, we are meeting lots of clients on porches or outside settings. We can also meet with you inside or virtually depending on your comfort level. When we join you in the hospital, we use PPE just like hospital staff. At Cone, we wear a face shield and a mask and in Winston-Salem hospitals we wear a mask. Even though the PPE causes a barrier, we still get to actually BE there. Physically by your side. To speak calm and truth to you as you labor and to give you that look of reassurance in your most vulnerable moments. It is an honor to be by your side and after the past six months and we will never take that for granted.
Now we get to see what happens over the next six months. One piece of reassurance that I want to pass on to our pregnant moms – know that you can still have an empowering and good birth experience in the midst of Covid. You are not forced to wear a mask. And while some birth options may no longer be on the table for you (no waterbirth or nitrous oxide at Cone, for example), you can still have a great birth there! And of course, if you want to have a waterbirth or labor in a birth tub, hopefully you can look into birth locations where that’s a possibility. But something that we are consistently seeing is some fear/anxiety about the hospital experience in a pandemic. But, afterwards, moms are surprised by how normal it all feels. So, take heart. At the end of the day, my hope for you is that you feel supported in your birth, that you feel good about your birth location, and that you treasure those first special moments with your baby in your arms. Because soon you’ll be home from the hospital and be living the newborn life!