During this long-lasting period of social distancing, I find myself struggling when I can’t physically support my birth clients. I began searching for new meaning or a pathway to the concept of providing ‘continuous labor support’ and was reminded of two very different states that I already explored while becoming a transformational life coach: Being and Doing. I am so used to thinking about providing continuous support as an action-oriented practice, filled with hands-on engagement. But the need to practice social distancing doesn’t allow this type of support. There may be many birth support figures who feel the same, and I hope that this blog post will serve all those who serve.
Doulas face a challenge: after many years of service and hard work, our value is finally recognized, but now with COVID-19, we find ourselves cast out of hospitals.
It took us a very long time to get public recognition. Until not long ago, only a minority of expectant individuals knew what a doula is. I believe that it took too long for two main reasons:
Doulas finally received recognition and then came COVID-19. Our challenge is to convince prospective clients to hire us during this time
Some of the most heartbreaking news that doulas received along with the outbreak of COVID-19 was that we are banned from hospitals. Many of us were already committed to couples and families that we have come to love and care for, and with the increased level of uncertainty and fear, we knew that our clients needed us even more. As the numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to increase, it becomes clear that this crisis might last as long as a year or even more, raising a growing concern about doulas’ source of income. As upsetting and tormenting as this ban might be, the current crisis bears an opportunity; an opportunity to achieve work-life balance.
This post is not about your career. It is not about your professional development as a birth support provider, or how you can better serve birthing individuals and their families.
It’s about something happening in America right now.
Birth activists like us have worked hard for decades to guarantee women’s right to choose in childbirth:
Silence is not neutral and it is not an option
It is time to humbly admit that this birth activism is privileged and not enough.
The statements above show that more and more expectant individuals are aware of their choices and options, and this is great! For many decades, birth support professionals have worked hard to promote the notion of birth givers’ right of choice and to spread the idea of advocacy throughout the journey of pregnancy and childbirth. Our goal was to empower birth givers so they don’t feel they have to obey experts who confuse being knowledgeable with being an authority. At the same time, we might have overlooked the motivations behind expectant individuals’ choices or goals. You may wonder why is this important? You may think that as long as you understand clients’ desired birth experiences or their visions for their birth, the “why” doesn’t matter. Well, just keep reading.
Our lives have been changing rapidly lately. In the past few weeks, the whole world has been reacting to COVID-19 with our fight-or-flight (FOF) response. Being alert and living every day on our survival mechanism might be as dangerous as the virus itself, if not more dangerous. We, birth workers, are experts in preventing or reversing the FOF response that leads to labor arrest. We are experts in managing the fear of pain and of what’s unpredictable or unknown. Psychotherapists might help their patients cope with anxiety and fear in a process that lasts weeks, months or years. However, we, birth workers, are first responders specializing in saving people from fear and doubt.
Twenty years ago, when I was nearing the end of the yearlong doula training program in Jerusalem, my trainer advised us all not to quit our jobs in favor of establishing a doula practice. Regardless of the fact that we enrolled in a yearlong program with a commitment to give 100 hours in hospital shifts, Shoshannah guided us to view the doula role in terms of community service rather than a career path.
This perspective is reflected in the well-known saying “A doula for every woman”, a motto I trust was carved with noble intentions but prioritizes the welfare and empowerment of only one woman – the birthing woman, at the cost of disempowering another woman – the doula. It should be noted that the topic of doulas’ monetary compensation, just like the other two dilemmas I addressed before it, has also caused some turbulences within the doula community. This can be read in Penny Simkins’ Real Talk from Penny Simkin, in which she responded to the disagreement with this motto as expressed by a ProDoula member.
This is the second blog in a series of three that I began writing in November. I am very passionate about the doula profession. That’s why I feel called to write this series before it is too late. And by “too late” I mean that I think our profession is in danger. Being a doula trainer and at the same time an approved continuing education provider for obstetric nurses, allows me to be connected and empathetic to both sides of the conflict – doula and medical caregivers. On top of listening to nurses’ pain points in their relationships with doulas, I recently have been invited to speak at a few OBGYN and midwives’ practices and heard that they are on the verge of banning doulas
Additionally, recent events confirm what I have been fearing – the current practice of doulas’ who share evidence-based information that supports better obstetric practice (while not being medically trained and bearing no liability for their clients’ health) is going to hurt us.
In 2005, while I was trained as a transformational life coach (see final subsection below), it became clear to me that prenatal coaching has got to be the foundation of successful leadership in the field of birth support. I am certain that the coaching principles and strategies elevate birth givers’ ability to cope and conduct themselves throughout the journey of pregnancy and birth, and elicit birth givers’ accountability to their desired experience, and as a result of those will increase their satisfaction levels with the whole journey. And so, immediately after graduating, I began integrating coaching strategies into the field of birth support. About a decade after implementing coaching into my birth support practice, I felt ready to publish this method in my book The Art of Coaching for Childbirth.