As the enormity of the situation regarding the Coronavirus pandemic became apparent, it meant having to make some decisions about how I would continue in my work as a Doula. Very quickly, the families that I had been working with as a Postnatal Doula and I, jointly agreed to cease our contact. This was very early on. But I still had clients that I was working with as a Birth Doula. Clients I had spent months building relationships with, working to help build the foundations alongside them for a positive, empowering birth. They were planning home births and we stayed in contact as the situation became more serious. Both my clients had discussed the benefits and risks of having me there and felt they would like me to be there if I was still happy to do this. For my part, I knew that my clients had largely been self isolating as it was, I knew there was still a good amount of time before either baby was expected to arrive for us to all isolate and minimise our infection risk, I also knew that I felt a commitment and connection to them. I had to sit with this and balance it up – was it ego? No. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they could possibly do this without me. I also had to address the responsibility I felt towards the midwives who would be coming in to the home. Another person in the space for them meant another potential risk. In the end, it came down to what it always comes down to for me – supporting my clients choices.
My children’s’ schools closed before the national shut down due to staff shortages and so I took the decision to begin self isolation from then. My husband – who worked in the hospitality trade found himself permanently at home just a few days later. This meant that I could – to the best of my ability, ensure that we didn’t have the virus and didn’t come in to contact with anyone who might have the virus, so that when the time came for me to attend the births, I could do so with as much confidence as possible that I wasn’t compromising anyone’s health. Our last Antenatal meetings were held over the phone and contact was maintained via text, email and Whats App rather than the usual physical meet ups.
Hospitals were already beginning to limit birth partners and my clients were wary of what may happen with their planned home births. Sure enough, the guidance came that only one birth partner was encouraged at home births too. This was difficult as I could well imagine how fearful some midwives may be about going in to unknown environments – how exposed they must feel and PPE wasn’t yet always readily available. But I also knew how important it was to my clients that I was there, that for them, I was part of their birth team. For one of my clients, it was also a logistical and practical issue – they had young children and needed another adult in case of the need for hospital transfer. I encouraged them to talk honestly to their midwives. They were lucky enough to both have named midwives looking after them (an example of the importance of continuity of care) and therefore their midwives knew they had been working with a Doula all along. They also knew why and why it was important for them that that support was maintained. I would have felt uncomfortable blindsiding a midwife who wasn’t expecting me to be there – it would have felt unfair on her but I would have also worried about what negative energy it may have brought to the birthing space. A space that should only ever be surrounded with love and positivity.
I was able to be at both births. Both times the midwives made me feel nothing but welcome but more important than that, was the fact that very obviously, everyone’s priority was the person giving birth. I was so relieved because I hadn’t truly known how things would play out until I got there. Being on call for weeks at a time as a Doula is one thing. Being on call and arriving at a birth that you’re not 100% sure you’ll be allowed to support is another. I don’t know if I was lucky – if the families I was working with were lucky. They had wonderful midwives who were professional, wore PPE, were clinically excellent and took every precaution, but who also used common sense, were kind and compassionate. They balanced women centered care alongside rules and regulations. I know this hasn’t always been the case everywhere in the UK.
I did what I could. I washed my hands religiously. I stayed 2 metres away from the midwives (not my clients, my clients I massaged, applied counter pressure, hugged). I didn’t touch anything. When I got home, I stripped naked at the door, loaded the washing machine and had a shower. When the midwives needed to listen in, I moved away. It goes both ways – I want to be there for my clients but I do not want to make their job harder.
I don’t know what the future holds. Many Doulas are supporting births virtually and I am thrilled that women are still able to access support. But I love to be there. I love the smell and the warmth, the little looks. I love being able to give the partner a hug too, to tuck a mum in, make them a cup of tea, watch a Dad’s face as he sees his baby ease his way in to the world. I will support people online, via phone, via Whats App – in short, however they feel it will be helpful, but I hope we find a way to ensure safe physical presence too.