Birth work in a pandemic

As we move back into this latest form of lockdown I’ve been reflecting on how the pandemic has impacted the work birth professionals do.

It’s been a bit of a shit show! Doulas – birth workers – birth professionals are not viewed as essential by government or the NHS despite the evidence to the contrary! This means that restrictions on maternity provision not only impacted the pregnant people we were caring for it basically shut us out of many of the locations we work in – home – hospital – birth unit. 

Looking back

This left our clients often suddenly facing the prospect of birthing without us. The relationships we’d built up, the trust we’d created, the confidence we’d instilled hung in the balance. Whilst thousands of woman and birthing people do successfully birth without the assistance of a doula or birth worker many people choose to have us in answer to very real, tangible problems they may be facing and in order to help them navigate the unknown.

It also meant that many woman and birth people’s choice of birth place was overruled by restrictions in place because of a national emergency. Birth rights are not absolute rights and therefore our entitlement to them is at the mercy of the state. In this case the rights of individual woman and birthing people were trumped by the rights of the many and the power of the state.

Pivoting

After initially – like many people – floundering somewhat – I knew that I needed to adjust the way I was working quickly so that I could continue to support people that needed it. I couldn’t stop and throw my hands up in the air. I needed to pivot.

This meant taking services online, which was tricky but in practice totally workable. Antenatal and postnatal sessions were done via zoom. Lengthy conversations and message threads occurred and whilst I missed the physical contact of working with people face to face I hope that I continued to provide a good quality of service. 

As soon as there was any let up in restrictions I was back doing home births. Kitted out in PPE I was welcomed back into the birth space which felt amazing and supported some women and birthing people through some incredible birth experiences. 

I also know many birth workers who supported clients over the phone through labour – demonstrating the power of a knowledgable, calming presence and soothing words in the birth room. And the strength of having someone who can advocate for you if you feel unable to do this for yourself.

And whilst we often felt powerless in the face of COVID and maternity restrictions I know that many people continued to benefit from our services. 

The future

It would appear the new more stringent measures that are coming into force again this week won’t have the same impact on maternity services (although many of the original lockdown restrictions haven’t ever been eased). 

I am taking the approach that if my clients want me there with them in their birth space I’ll do everything I can to achieve this. I will be seeking out rapid tests from Boots so I can demonstrate that I am COVID free. I’ll be wearing all the PPE and continuing to help clients navigate the shifting maternity restrictions and advocate for client’s needs. 

Given current government guidance I will also be continuing with antenatal and postnatal visits – if my clients would prefer this to zoom calls – because the often hands on nature of this doesn’t always translate well into zoom calls.

Birth work may continue to be a little different in the near future. Whether we’ll be ‘allowed’ back into the majority of hospitals in the near future I’m not sure. There will definitely be situations where I’m working with a client that I will have to leave if they want to transfer into hospital but in these rare cases I’ll always ensure they receive more postnatal help.

I will also continue to campaign that birth workers are recognised as essential to woman and birthing people and that in our democracy the rights of woman and birthing people are not trampled under COVID 19 restrictions.

In short – I like most other birth workers – doulas – birth professionals – birth keepers – are here for you.

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