We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re living a life that feels very strange and restricted compared to what we have been used to. There are a lot of unknowns as well as unanswered questions. How long will this go on for? Could I be at risk? Could someone I love and care about die?
At times, it’s easy to fall into a negative mindset and catastrophise, imagining the worst. What makes it even more difficult, is that we have no solid data on what the risks actually are. Instead, we have daily updates and interpretations of the data that is steadily coming in and being analysed.
I realise that many of the questions we have right now are similar to those that pregnant women and their partners might be having as they navigate their way through a pregnancy. What are the risks of going past the due date? What does it mean when a healthcare professional labels someone as ‘high risk’? What is the normal risk?
As doulas, we educate and bring the information to our clients so that they can weigh everything up and then decide what is the right thing for them to do. It’s up to the clients to decide what ‘risks’ they are willing to take, i.e. after looking at the research, listening to their care providers and taking into account their own personal feelings, to make a choice as to what is right for them.
Now, some might see the risks of a birth without a medical professional there as less risky than going into a hospital with bleeping machines and experts on hand. Others might think that doing anything other than what the midwife or obstetrician advise would be absolutely crazy as well as extremely dangerous.
This is it – risk is very subjective and directly linked to an individual’s perceptions and believes. It might not make sense to anyone else, but it does to the person who is making the decision.
When it comes to the doula community, we have the same divide as we see in the pregnant women we support. Some doulas feel that right now, that we should all do what the hospitals are telling us to do and not make it difficult for them to do their jobs. The new policies introduced should be adhered to and women should adapt and accept that their choices are being limited and restricted. After all, these are unprecedented times and it is what it is.
Other doulas are campaigning on behalf of their clients, finding out the legal rights of women, speaking to organisations such as Birthrights who focus on human rights in childbirth. There are groups being setup on social media, supporting women who are planning to give birth at home without any medical support, i.e. freebirthing. These doulas want their clients to be well informed and speak to their medical care providers about finding ways to make it work for everyone. They do not accept that there is ever a time when human rights become less important.
There are also doulas who are self-isolating so that they can still support their clients in person when the time comes, whether that is at a birth or postnatally. Other doulas are outraged that anyone would put themselves, their families and their clients at risk by going against government guidelines to stay at home. Although the guidelines are that you can go to work ‘if you cannot work from home’ and a doula’s work could fall under this exception.
When people are assessing and evaluating risks to themselves and their loved ones, very strong emotions get triggered. Fear being one of those, and this makes it impossible to think logically and calmly. When someone perceives that what someone else is doing is dangerous and wrong, arguments will often follow.
Doulas are by description non-judgemental and respecting of our client’s choices, but it appears that we are not able to extend the same caring values to each other. Are we as doulas not doing exactly the same thing that we encourage our clients to do? To look at the available data and research and then decide what we feel is the risk we are willing to take? The fact is, there will always be a risk or chance that something could happen, as life itself is not risk free.
Out of the personal respect that is a cornerstone of the BirthBliss Academy philosophy, we do not have a set protocol to offer our doulas. We believe that they are best placed to decide what to do as the situation keeps evolving. Whether they decide to continue supporting at births or postnatally in person, while taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and those they are in contact with, or they offer online support, or they postpone all their services, depends on their situation and also their personal choice. There is no right way or wrong way!
It’s interesting to see how easy it is to fall into a child-parent relationship with maternity services when there is a crisis going on and the rights of the women and parents that doulas support, suddenly become secondary. As doulas, it can at times, feel frustrating when we are supporting clients who adapt this same relationship; listening to the perceived authority rather than looking at the actual evidence. Now, we get to experience this ourselves and watch it play out in social media.
I think this situation we’re in has brought about great opportunity for learning and reflecting on our own unconscious bias about what is most important when it comes to childbirth and parenting. Is there ever a time when people should just do what they’re told to make it easier for everyone, despite it potentially being detrimental to them as individuals? I honestly don’t have an answer, but I do know that women are especially good at this.
Kicki Hansard is a member of Doula UK, however any opinions expressed on this blog are personal views and not necessarily the view of Doula UK.