Part one of a two part insight into what it has been like being a doula and having a doula during a World wide pandemic.
I don’t think any of us can start talking about 2020 without saying “What A Year”. It has certainly been a year like no other.
For many it has changed our way of life: how we socialise, how we view and look after our mental health and, how we go to work.
And for me this year has been no different, except that at the start of it, before we had really heard of Covid-19, I flipped my own world upside down.
I quit my job of 12 years.
Since the birth of my daughter, way back in 2017, my priorities and outlook on life changed. I wanted to work at something that I truly believed in and that fed my soul, rather than taking from it. So, I trained to be a doula. The plan was to wait a few years until my daughter was at school and I was physically and financially able to really invest in myself and a new business, but when things at work started to affect my mental health; I quit.
This was back in January and by March 2020 I had thought of a business name, built my own website from scratch and I was ready to start supporting…Then lockdown hit. I can honestly say, as well as dealing with the unknown and the intensity of the pandemic, I shit myself. What had I done? Turning my back on a regular income for a world of self-employment and so many unknowns, was surely going to be the biggest mistake of my life?
Then as our new realities set in, I realised how much of a blessing it actually was to now be self-employed and be a master of my own destiny.
I could invest time in myself and my family without feeling pulled or pushed in someone else’s direction. It was still tough, the isolation and lack of normality meant everything felt hard but working on being a doula became a real pleasure. I was learning more than I had learnt in a long time which helped to feed my passion. I had space and time to really invest into what was going on in the birthing world. And a lot happened in maternity care this year and not for the better.
It became increasingly evident how, an already broken system, was starting to let more and more people down. With partners being excluded from the birth room, huge racial disparities beginning to take light and the considerations for people’s mental health coming bottom of the list, I felt impassioned. With all of this, along with the power of the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt compelled to use my voice. A voice that had been quite for a very long time. I began to share evidence-based information about the dangerous disparities in maternal care and surprisingly people wanted to know more. Information that I naively believed everyone would already know. It made me realise just how much this pandemic would affect people expecting their babies and those that had just become parents.
I began having more and more conversations with other people in the birthing world about what was happening but also to family and friends. I think they were taken aback by my passion but also reflected the shock at what was going on, unseen.
Off the back of one of these conversations a family friend mentioned someone who they thought might need some postnatal support. At this point, I had thought that the chances of being able to support anyone this year would be slim but I jumped at the chance to be able to help someone on their journey.
All my expectations for supporting someone went out of the window. How was I going to support someone when I couldn’t be with them? The beauty of this was that they didn’t know either but were willing to try because they just needed support. So, we made it work and both myself and the client were blown away by the connection we were able to make just through video calls, texts and emails (more about this client’s experience in part two).
The experience with this client made me realise that our support as doulas is very much about being there for the person. Our physical presence can be a huge bonus especially during birth and postnatally but actually, a majority of the work we do is creating space and listening to others. This is the thing that this client valued the most and what helped me to continue to put myself out there as I knew I could make it work.
After this experience, it was like I had lifted a vale off myself and I gave myself permission to actually go out and do the work I had dreamed of doing. This may sound cliché but I had finally found my calling.
Since then, I have been able to work with clients in various ways with some support being solely remote, a mix of in-person and remote support including socially distanced walks and in-person birth support where I was able to attend as the client’s birth partner. Each client’s needs have been different so I have been able to tailor my support based on what they needed.
This year has thrown up a level of vulnerability for birthing people that has gone unnoticed in the wider world. Their choices of care have become restricted and this has had lasting impacts on their experiences as they became parents again or for the first time. No one should feel like they have nowhere to turn during times of crisis which has driven me to keep going even when it has been really tough.
I have been very fortunate to be able to support people this year and feel very grateful to the families that have asked me to walk alongside them.