How to Stay Supported
Giving birth during the COVID-19 pandemic has left many families struggling to stay supported during life’s most important and intimate moment.
I cannot think of an industry or group of people not affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, and there is no doubt that the ripple effects will continue into the weeks and months ahead.
As a birth photographer, it has affected my business, and while I am fearful for my future, my biggest fears are for the families I serve. My current clients won’t have their births documented during the pandemic due to hospital restrictions and stay-at-home orders.
I completely understand the necessity of restricting visitors, and even immediate family members to ensure the safety of patients and staff within the hospitals, and to slow the spread of the virus.
Yet, my heart hurts that women will be without the support teams they had planned for. At such a vulnerable time in life, being isolated from family, children, and your support team can have strong effects on women and how they process their birth, including the emotions, physical changes, and challenges they face not only during birth but in the weeks and months that follow.
Most families hire me early on in their pregnancies, seeing the emotional impact that documenting their birth holds. I believe that value to my core; I have seen how important it is for so many women and families in processing their birth stories.
Rather than focus on the loss of not being able to be there physically for my clients, I hope that this post will bring real tips and advice on how to navigate this period despite the obstacles, and hopefully help you to feel supported even though it may look different.
With some changes to your birth plan and hopefully with some tips here, you can be prepared!
Talk To Your Support Team
Talk to your spouse, partner, or whoever will be your support person. Have conversations about what your anticipated needs are. Of course, birth is completely unpredictable; even having given birth before, each can look so different. Talking about ways language and touch normally bring you comfort can really help. Don’t assume that your support person will know exactly what you need. Offering each other grace throughout will go a long way. I have had families come up with code words for when they need introspective time with no touch or verbal cues, and vice versa; code words for when they are needing that extra verbal, moral, and physical support.
Talk to your extended support team as well. Even though they can’t physically be present for you, their words of encouragement and support can go a long way. Coming up with a plan of when and how you will communicate with each other will help; that way, there are no hurt feelings—perhaps deciding on whether they should reach out to you at set intervals or whether to wait for you to reach out when you are ready. Decide if you prefer phone calls, FaceTime, or texts. Sometimes, seeing your children’s faces via FaceTime can breathe life back into you.
This can be so vital for your support person as well, who often needs those words of encouragement. Remind your extended birth team to check on him or her as well.
Birth can be long and drawn out and just hearing that you are doing a good job and are loved and supported can go a long way for both of you!
Consider Hiring a Doula
You may not have even considered hiring a doula with the restrictions in place because of COVID-19. Maybe you’re asking yourself, “Why would I hire a doula that can’t even be there in person?” I would argue the opposite, doulas are such a great resource and support for women and their families, and their roles can be even more vital during this time! Many doulas are currently offering virtual services that will benefit you not only during your labor, delivery, and postpartum period but through those first weeks at home navigating breastfeeding and all that goes into caring for a newborn without the physical support of family and friends.
The role of the doula is to provide continuous emotional and physical support and information before birth with information on research and choices.
They can help with comfort measures like massage, suggesting different positions, and helping with relaxation breathing. They encourage communication with doctors and nursing staff (a doula does not give medical advice or interfere with the doctor/mother relationship).
Supporting the father or birth partner is the best way to support the mother. A doula never replaces the very important role of the birth partner, and a good doula will help the birth partner by offering suggestions and tips on ways to be supportive. Providing real-time feedback and suggestions to assist you physically and emotionally during all phases of labor and delivery can be vital.
Doula support is helpful not only during labor but also during the postpartum period.
During the postpartum period, when women are even more isolated during stay-at-home orders and social distancing recommendations, this support is even more vital. Needing help with breastfeeding and general questions about newborn care can be even more challenging with mothers more isolated than ever. With the increased risk of postpartum depression, having that support to encourage you and provide real feedback on how you are doing is vital. Although they can’t be there physically, being able to let you know you are not alone in your feelings and fears can, on its own, provide so much comfort.
I will link to some of these resources at the end of this post.
Communicate with your nurse and obstetrician/midwife.
As a retired labor and delivery nurse of 19 years here in the Las Vegas valley (2000-2019), I can tell you that keeping an open line of communication with your nurse and obstetrician or midwife can be so important in ensuring there is no miscommunication. Communication helps in keeping your wishes honored and information about procedures clear.
Their hearts hurt for you during this period. They understand how scary it can be to be in the hospital away from your family, friends, and children during this pandemic.
Your labor nurse is by far the person you will spend the most time within the hospital setting. With 12-hour shifts, she will spend long periods with you and is there to care for you and your baby. She is also a great resource for your support person to ensure they are supported, encouraged, and held. Lean on her and the support she can provide.
Talk to your obstetrician or midwife ahead of time about the current hospital restrictions and what you can expect. Talk about your fears and wishes. I believe miscommunication is the most common cause of hurt and pain in the birth setting.
DO YOUR BEST TO DOCUMENT YOUR OWN BIRTH
And lastly, I highly suggest doing your best to still document your birth. Documenting your birth can be so important in healing and processing birth’s emotions. Your birth may be long and drawn out, with so much of it becoming a blur, or it may be so fast and intense that just laboring on its takes every ounce of your concentration. Your baby may go to the warmer, and while you are being cleaned up and monitored after delivery, not seeing those moments up close can be hard.
My clients hold, look at, and watch many moments over and over in the periods following their births. I have clients who watch their birth films over and over that first year and again each birthday.
Don’t be afraid to ask your nurse and staff to help capture images of you together, your support partner, etc., when they can. Often, you need to ask; they are almost always happy to oblige!
I created a guide for my upcoming birth clients with suggestions on how to document your own birth in hopes that it will help them with real tips and guidance. I am happy to share it, contact me here and I will send it to you when you sign up for my newsletter.
Although one of many reasons I am passionate about documenting birth is that it allows your support and birth team to be present IN the images and footage. Things may not be as you envisioned them during this time, but they can still be wonderful!