I’ve been dreading writing this. I am a person who tries to be honest about my lived experiences, but this topic was hitting too close to home. I write because I know I am not alone, and I want you to know that you’re not either. I’m currently pregnant, in my third trimester, during a global pandemic. This is my first time having a full-term pregnancy and I’m terrified of going through this experience during COVID-19.
I have a lot to be grateful for and I cannot ignore the pain that I hold on a daily basis. For me, there have been challenges that felt exaggerated during COVID-19. Losing loved ones and not being able to be with them in their final moments. Moving into a new home and not being able to connect with this new community. Not being close to family. Experiencing community violence where I thought I would lose my baby during the first trimester or I would die myself, and not having enough time to grieve because the work never stops. The isolation of working from home; the sadness of going through new experiences as a pregnant person mostly alone.
I had been planning this pregnancy for years. Due to the pandemic, it does not look like how I had expected. We should be able to express ourselves openly that we have a joy for this growing child. Instead, there is deep sadness by the ways COVID-19 has cast a shadow on that joy.
As a woman of color, I have little trust in the medical-industrial complex. I’ve grappled with the conflict of deciding to give birth at my local hospital. This was not an easy decision to make.
I’m a trained doula and I work at another local hospital that serves pregnant people. I know too well the ways that racism plays a role in the type of care BIPOC folks receive or don’t receive in a hospital setting. I’m aware that despite my educational background and ability to advocate for myself, I might not get the care that I need or deserve. I tell you this not to scare you, but to let you know that you are not alone. I see you and I am you.
I looked into BIPOC homebirth options as soon as I found out I was pregnant. However, even with a payment plan, it was not financially feasible to be able to afford a homebirth. My partner and I had to take into account the cost of a birth doula, postpartum support, baby supplies, and the many other expenses that come with having a child. We decided that it would be best for our family to allocate the funds of a homebirth for postpartum care since at some point I would be alone with a newborn. We shouldn’t have to compromise on the care we receive because the cost is a barrier.
As pregnant people, we are navigating the unknowns of COVID-19. Throughout the country, hospitals have created policies to limit the number of people who can be present in the Labor and Delivery Unit. In most cases, only one person can be with the birthing person. Often this person will be a partner or family member. These limits deny the opportunity for doulas to be present as an advocate for the pregnant person. Birth doulas provide educational resources, comfort, and advocacy. They have not been considered essential during the offset of the pandemic. This is because of a hierarchical medical culture that does consider doulas as a part of the overall birth experience. It’s heartbreaking because I know community-based doulas have incredible insight to create a space that is respectful, compassionate, and inclusive.
During COVID-19, pregnant people deserve extra support and their bodily autonomy respected. A tangible way that I have felt supported during my COVID-19 pregnancy has been hiring a BIPOC birth doula. Despite the hospital’s limitations, it has been essential for me to lean on the support of a birth doula during my pregnancy. Even though I am a trained doula myself, my doula acknowledges that this is a new experience for me. She makes herself available for Zoom meetings, answers all my questions through texts and calls, and helps set up resources for me.
We shouldn’t have to fight so hard, but I encourage you to speak up for the care you deserve. If you want a home birth, research and find a midwife who can make it happen for you. If you are interested in having a doula present at your hospital birth, inquire about your hospital’s policy. If they are only allowing one person to be present, can you appeal to have your doula be considered as a part of your healthcare team? For my hospital, doulas were originally not allowed because of the one-person limit. I continued to inquire about policy changes. I was clear about having my doula as a part of my healthcare team and needed her to be present or I would get care at a different hospital.
As a BIPOC doula and currently pregnant woman, I’ve seen how challenging it can be to advocate for oneself in a racist medical system. Hospitals need to reconsider their policies to extend beyond one support person and value the work of doulas. BIPOC community-based doulas provide advocacy and support that is needed in healthcare settings more now than ever. We do not have to regress in providing inadequate care. Allow birth doulas to support their pregnant clients.
Birth is a sacred experience. Being pregnant during COVID-19 should not change that. You deserve to be supported, you deserve to have your many feelings acknowledged, you deserve to have the pregnancy that you envisioned for yourself.