Doula Stories During Pandemic Times
While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges in how we offer doula services and do this work, our staff and doulas have risen to meet these challenges in courageous and creative ways. Enjoy these stories about Gaibi and P’ah, two of our community doulas…
Hospital Advocacy: A Win for Families and Doulas
Doula: Gaibi Vollbracht
Since the COVID pandemic began, most hospitals have resorted to a “one visitor” policy which effectively bars doulas from providing in-person support to their clients. In late March, when one of our YVK Doula Project clients found out that her doula, Gaibi Vollbracht, would not be permitted to join her and her husband in the hospital for the labor and birth of their baby, she was distraught. The couple had spent many hours in prenatal visits building a relationship with Gaibi and preparing for the upcoming labor and birth with their doula by their side.
With Gaibi’s help, they drafted a letter to the Presbyterian Espanola Hospital advocating that their doula be admitted to attend the labor and birth. The letter outlined many reasons why their doula was a crucial part of the birthing team, including the fact that English is not their first language and they don’t have any family here locally to support them. They explained how they hired Gaibi for her training and competency to help the mother cope with her anxiety around the birth. They also shared that both doula and client had been practicing strict social distancing and were not showing any symptoms during the past 14 days. The letter was coupled with verbal advocacy on the part of the client to her OBGYN. Both forms of advocacy were positively received and the hospital made an exception to the “one visitor” for this family.
In early April, Gaibi attended the client’s labor, supporting both her and her husband. A beautiful baby was born to loving, well supported parents. Their connection has continued into postpartum care. Both Gaibi and her clients report that the strong bond that was created in the birthing room has helped maintain a feeling of connectedness, even as all three postpartum visits were provided virtually. The doula provided lots of emotional and breastfeeding support via postpartum virtual sessions.
Pre-COVID, YVK had been building relationships with OBGYNs and local midwives through quarterly provider meetings, which has helped to create an environment where doulas are truly valued.
Home Birth at the Pueblo: Birth is Ceremony
Doula: P’ah (Julia Wall)
In late May, one of our students from the first cohort of the YVK Doula Training, P’ah, was able to attend and support her client who chose to have a home birth in their Pueblo with the care and guidance of Indigenous midwives from Changing Woman Initiative as well as an Indigenous Doula from our program.
During her pregnancy, P’ah supported her client and encouraged her interest in practicing hypnobirthing, a pain management technique for labor that focuses on deep breathing, relaxation and visualization. During labor P’ah assisted with rebozo techniques and the use of the “hip-squeeze” technique to effectively reduce back pressure during labor. Baby was born healthy at home, and the family is resting with their new addition to the family and community.
P’ah received support and guidance from both Changing Women Initiative and Tewa Women United, to maintain safe practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The day following the birth, P’ah wrote the following social media post about her experience:
Today I am thankfully reflecting on the opportunity and experience of supporting a beautiful woman in her evolution into motherhood.
It’s an incredible process of love and strength, and I am so proud of her and baby’s dad for embodying both in this ceremonial experience.
Surrounded by her homeland, family, those she loves, her birth team from @cwi505, and with the support of traditional foods/medicines, our new mother brought into this existence a beautiful healthy baby- So calm , observant, and intuitive.
I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this experience and I am thankful to those who have guided me and continue to teach and support me on this journey in Birth Work. #BirthIsCeremony #AncientFuture
“Doulas are Not Visitors”
Doula: Aspen Mirabal
We love to highlight the amazing work of our doulas, and have families share stories of their births where they feel supported and honored, especially in these times of COVID.
Aspen Mirabal, YVK Doula of Taos Pueblo, was given the ability to provide in-person labor support to her clients in mid-June, thanks to a successful letter of advocacy written by the family and addressed to Presbyterian Espanola Hospital.
On the day of her client’s scheduled induction, Aspen recalled the staff at the hospital’s emergency entrance already knowing her name; they had been notified by L&D and were awaiting her arrival. This personal welcoming was a relief, as so many doulas have been denied their place as key members of hospital birth teams, for safety reasons throughout the pandemic.
As Aspen was welcomed onto the L&D floor, she greeted her clients and got to work. The setting was calm and buzzing with oxytocin, as her clients were coming down from the adrenalin of intense contractions and back labor. An epidural was administered at an appropriate moment, for all the right reasons, and with the family’s consent. Aspen was able to gather their thoughts and emotions, gauge their thirst and hunger, provide reassurance and welcome them into laughter and rest.
This family’s intentions for the birth included immediate skin to skin time with baby, and delayed cord clamping. They also hoped to avoid a cesarean section. While the family had advocated fiercely for themselves throughout pregnancy and labor, all in one moment they were told by their doctor that a medical concern might make surgery necessary, if the baby didn’t come within the next 45 minutes.
Aspen knew that her clients had less than an hour to regroup and ground. Acting with her knowledge as a birth worker, Aspen was able to help her clients center and gather their strength by creating a game plan and assisting the birthing mother in a space she could relax into. She also assisted the partner with mindfulness practices and guided him to speak to the spirit of their unborn son.
When the doctor came back into the room, they were fully dilated and ready to push! They welcomed their healthy baby boy born into the world ten hours later.
As this family’s baby was born, he was placed on mother’s chest and the cord was delayed to be cut. These two small actions and the voice of this family’s advocacy — “please do not take my baby” — were respected by doctors and nurses without hesitation.
While we welcome this victory, this family’s story of support stands in harsh contrast to the racial profiling and family separation against Indigenous women at Lovelace hospital in Albuquerque, also in June.
At Lovelace in June, Indigenous mothers and babies were separated at birth, due to a racialized hospital policy that required this separation for all families residing at Pueblo addresses.
The contrast in these families’ experiences is stark. It highlights the power and influence that hospitals have, around the blessed moments of a child’s arrival. One family was given special consideration to receive the highest quality of in-person support, while multiple Indigenous families were discriminated against in the very first moments of their child’s lives.
We believe that respect for family unity, support and advocacy should be the standard experience for all families.
We maintain that doulas offer irreplaceable support to birth teams and need to be welcomed back into hospitals for all families, not just under “special circumstances.”
Doulas are not visitors.