At the beginning of March I received an enquiry from a solo Mum-to-be looking for birth support as the pandemic had changed her birth plans. She was supposed to have a family member come over from Australia to be her birth partner but as Coronavirus was spreading around the world travel plans had to be cancelled. We spoke on the phone and then met at a coffee shop for a face to face chat, although there was no shaking of hands or friendly hugs as social distancing was starting to become the norm. As we chatted about her pregnancy and what she was looking for in a doula we theorised about what steps we might need to take if the country went into lockdown - although at this point I don’t think either of us could imagine that happening.
Lo and behold a few weeks later the whole of the UK, as well as most of the world, was in lockdown. Usually I would meet with clients 2 or 3 times in person during pregnancy to talk, prepare and plan for the birth and early postnatal weeks. There would be lots of tea, biscuits, essential oils, massage and sharing of resources. We had to quickly adapt to doing our antenatal sessions virtually, with me emailing as many resources as I could in advance. Thank goodness for the technology we have at our disposal which meant that we were still able to see each other’s faces, expressions and gestures as well as chat.
A big part of the antenatal meetings with clients is getting to know each other and for clients to become relaxed and at ease with me as ultimately I’ll be supporting them at a very special and intimate time so I really want them to feel comfortable. Our virtual meetings worked really well and I was able to find out what was really important for my client’s birth, what her hopes and wishes were, how we could facilitate those things and what worries and fears she had and how to work through those. As she approached her due date the hospital policy became that women in labour were allowed only 1 birth partner (usually they can have 2) and birth partners were only allowed to join once birthing women were in established labour and in a birth room.
My client made an informed choice to be induced and I drove her to the hospital but then had to leave her at the door. Often with client inductions and certainly with solo mums I would accompany them into hospital and help them get settled on the ward. As induced labour can take a while to get going I would usually go home for the night but then come back to support clients in early labour as this can be a stressful time when you are not in the comfort of your own home. None of this was possible, I offered as much support over the phone as I could with lots of words of encouragement and reassurances that I would be with her as soon as I was able to.
Once labour was progressing well and with talks of my client being transferred to a birth room within the next couple of hours I made my way to the hospital. But because of the current policy in place due to the pandemic I had to wait outside the hospital until it was confirmed that my client was in a birth room. That hour wait was pretty tough! I knew my client was close to or already in established labour, things were ramping up and she was finding the increasing intensity of labour harder to deal with. Being on a noisy ward with bright lights and lots of people is not exactly conducive to an ideal birthing environment. As soon as I got the OK I went into the hospital and after some security/health questions, alcohol hand gelling and donning of a face mask I made my way as quickly as possible to labour room 7.
I’m not sure who was more relieved between me and my client for my arrival but it was pretty equal! Once in the familiar setting of the birth room I got to work closing blinds, preparing essential oils and rearranging the room a bit to make it as comfortable as possible. Over the next few hours all thoughts of a global pandemic melted away and my client got into her birth zone and I supported her in whatever way she needed while the lovely midwife kept a check on Baby and Mum-to-be. Within the safe walls of that birth room everything was as it should be and the only difference to a 'before pandemic birth’ was that the midwife was wearing a face mask but you could clearly see her reassuring smile through her eyes.
Once Baby Boy was born, my client spent a few hours in the birth room where she had lots of skin to skin time with her brand new baby. I helped her freshen up and find what she needed for Baby and then it was time to go to the ward. Usually I would go too to help them settle in but once again the pandemic made it not possible so I had to leave my client in the very capable (but busy) hands of the lovely and amazing NHS midwives.
I’m sure I’ll always remember my experience of supporting a client during the Coronavirus pandemic and I have so much admiration for all the parents to be having their babies at this unusual time. Hopefully things will go back to normal soon and we will look back with gratitude to all the wonderful NHS maternity staff that as well as doing their usual clinical work are having to also provide the emotional and practical support that partners, family, friends and doulas would usually help with.