COVID-19 for so many of us conjures varying degrees of anxiety and uncertainty and we are well aware there are few areas in our lives it hasn’t touched. Perhaps one area where, for a certain percentage of the population, COVID has really impacted our experiences, is in the pregnancy, labour and birthing time.
New families and families-to-be find preparing for a baby, the changes that occur, and navigating the myriad of options during their labouring time are already fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. Often, families-to-be consider getting additional support as they prepare for their little one. Enter: The Doula…
Why hire a Doula?
The effect on births attended by a Doula is astounding: less interventions, shorter, more manageable labour, less caesareans, increased satisfaction with the birthing experience, and more successful and extensive breastfeeding. In a recent study conducted by Marshall H. Klaus, M.D. and associates,
“continuous labour support from a Doula in…ten studies reduced the odds of receiving analgesia by 31 percent, decreased the use of oxytocin to stimulate labour by 50 percent, forceps deliveries by 34 percent and cesarean sections by 45 percent.”
Statistics are important, but the true benefit rests still with the family – how any particular family feels about the birth of their child; are they satisfied? Did their child enter into the world in the way in which their parents had hoped? Did the birthing person experience the birth they most desired? There is obviously no way to ensure that everything every family desires is always possible. However, the Doula’s role is to instil confidence and trust in the birthing process and the birthing family so that even if special circumstances arise, they will feel supported and guided; held in care during this, their most intimate, life-changing and special time of their lives.
For those who are familiar with what a “Doula” does, the image is often associated with a woman (usually), physically alongside the birthing person, wiping a sweaty brow, giving sips of water, offering words of encouragement, etc as the birthing person works through their labour. And these aspects of a Doula’s role are important, but what happens when that Doula is no longer allowed into most hospitals because of COVID?
This question has come up a lot in the last several weeks and months, and I think it is incredibly important that families know the full scope of a Doula’s role throughout the time they work together prenatally and, depending on the Doula, the amount of time post birth. We are SO MUCH MORE THAN DOUBLE HIP SQUEEZES!!! The tricky part is that it is a bit intangible to describe how we do what we do, and of course it comes down to each Doula’s personality, experience, comfort level, scope etc., so it is always important to talk to a few Doulas before committing to any one.
I was speaking with my client not long ago and she had stated that although she didn’t have a Doula for her first baby, she knew she wanted one for her second and she thought she was hiring me to “help her through her labour”. Right? It’s what we do. But 4+ weeks later, things are still tricky and she is still needing to talk through things she didn’t expect. At the end of our call, she said, “I had NO idea how much I needed support before this baby, processing my first experience, moving past and through it to be able to birth this baby in a different way, and now weeks later, I’m STILL being nurtured and supported, comforted and heard. I had no idea.” I’ll let her say it in her own words:
“I hired a doula because, based on my first birth experience, I wanted more support during labour. I knew the whole package included pre- and post-natal visits but I figured this was simply for discussing the birth plan and getting help with breastfeeding after the birth. What I experienced went so far beyond my expectations.
Ahead of my birth, the birth plan/wishes discussions truly emphasized the “why” and the “how.” Following this I benefited from your plentiful, relevant, and customized resources to help guide both my mental and physical preparation for labour and delivery. There was never any pressure or feeling that any of this was homework – it was simply a library of resources at my disposal. You picked up on what resonated most with me (and my partner) and helped guide me from there. My favourite resource was listening to a recording of birth affirmations before bed – it took the pressure off of needing to “clear my mind” like in a meditation and felt more passive and relaxing. You also gave me written affirmation cards for my birth space, and I was pleasantly surprised with how effective they were during labour – I recall fixating on them during what I now realize was transition (I didn’t realize it at the time – I thought I had a ways to go!) and my baby was born minutes later.
As my due date approached you were proactive with checking in regularly and providing emotional support and understanding during a time that requires a lot of acceptance of the unknown or the unpredictable. You helped me connect with my unborn baby, tap into my intuition and surrender to the experience. When I struggled with this you sent me a short guided meditation which helped tremendously – so much so that my water broke about 12 hours after I did the meditation!
In the days and weeks after my birth you have checked in on me regularly over phone and text, helping with anything from simple breastfeeding or newborn care questions to navigating being a mother to now two young children by providing both practical advice and a (socially distant) shoulder to cry on. Even postpartum you’ve helped me tap into my intuition by guiding me not to the “right” answer but to the one that I already know is right for my baby, me and/or my family.
Although I had a homebirth with you present, I would have benefited from all of the above even if I had had a hospital birth without your physical presence. I feel like I got SO SO SO much more out of my doula experience than I could have ever hoped for and wouldn’t dream of being pregnant or caring for a newborn again without you by my side!”
For those who still list ‘labour support’ as the primary reason for considering a Doula, I tell prospective clients that now more than ever having Doula support is crucial. Without our presence (virtual or otherwise), it is so easy to become lost and ‘swept-along’ in the COVID birthing climate. I let families know I spend extra time prenatally going over ways to be heard, to use their voices, to ask questions and know where their heart and instinct calls them. We spend more time on comfort measures and assurances. I remind them that I AM still with them, labouring at home until it is time to move, and can be a constant voice in their headphones, or be on a video call to listen to questions/suggestions being made by staff. I am clear that I am WITH them in every way and I am a lifeline should they feel confident labouring and just need to reach out periodically. I have found the silver lining in COVID; the ability for new families to have more agency in their birthing knowing I am there, but they “don’t need me” perhaps in the way they thought they would.
Considering a Doula for your hospital birth? Please reach out to a few Doulas, find out how they can nurture and support you and your family before, DURING, and after your baby is born, and perhaps you will find so much more than you had expected!
Karen McWilliam is a Birth Doula, Postpartum Doula, Childbirth Educator, certified HypnoBirthing (Mongan Method) Practitioner, a Birthing from Within Mentor, Lactation Educator and mother of two amazing children. Karen is a member of The WOMB’s amazing team of practitioners and doulas.