‘What if you’re not there?’: Doulas advocate for parents during COVID-19 concerns

Updated: Mar. 26, 2020 at 6:40 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - As COVID-19 concerns continue, some families are worried their birth plans will be derailed with fewer visitors allowed in hospitals.

“They are all calling terrified - what if you can’t be there?" explained Kenda Sutton-El.

Sutton-El, is a certified and trained doula, a student midwife and the co-founder of Birth in Color RVA, “a birth, policy, and advocacy collective focused on providing culturally-centered support to pregnant families, and the birth community.”

“[Doulas] help them get through it, we advocate for them, we are really essential,” she explained.

She is preparing for five births expected to take place during the coronavirus outbreak, and concerns continue to arise about the possibility of hospitals limiting doulas from being in the room.

“We’re having them switch to hospitals we know are accepting doulas," Sutton-El explained. “VCU and Henrico Doctor’s are allowing us in their hospitals.”

HCA Virginia tells NBC 12, members of a patient’s medical care team, including doulas are allowed in the room, and the hospital is also allowing 1 support person for labor and delivery patients.

VCU Medical Center says obstetrical patients are allowed to have 1 visitor per day, and the hospital tells NBC 12, doulas are allowed.

Bon Secours’ policy states: “For mother/baby and pediatric patients, visitors are limited to a designated partner or primary caretaker/guardian (only one at a time). Exceptions will be considered based on end-of-life situations or when a visitor is essential for the patient’s emotional well-being and care.”

NBC 12 has reached out to Bon Secours asking specifically if doulas are able to be in the labor and delivery room, we are waiting to hear back.

“Doulas are a part of the essential team and during this time period where we are running out of health care staff, I would think they would want to utilize doulas more so that Labor and Delivery nurses don’t have to do all of the work,” said Sutton-El.

Birth in Color RVA released the following statement about their concerns:

"Birth In Color RVA understands that COVID-19 is affecting the US in a major way. We want to ensure that all pregnant persons are being taken care of personally. The COVID-19 outbreak is affecting birth and postpartum pregnant persons. The only consistent person throughout a pregnant person’s pregnancy is a doula. We take pride in assisting our clients with methods to cope with during labor. A relationship is built on trust and knowing that the doula has the best interest of the pregnant person. We have seen the recent studies that reflect doulas help with maternal mortality and disparities.

As we approach the COVID-19, doulas should not be turned around at hospitals nor should pregnant person be forced to chose between her doula and spouse. As of March 14, 2020 Bon Secours/ Mercy Hospitals are asking doulas to leave. Pregnant persons are panicking because the one person that has been consistent is not allowed to help or be apart of their birth journey."

Sutton-El says doulas are utilizing technology but says not all parents are able to work with them that way.

“You have to think about disparities too because not all pregnant people have I-pads,” she explained. “Are hospitals willing to set up the TV’s in the room--to have a virtual doula to make sure we are still filling in the gap?”

Sutton-El has written to elected officials to ensure all local hospitals will allow doulas to be present in the delivery room. She has also thought of alternatives for mothers who are not high risk.

"At this time I was going to send a formal request to the governor to say ‘since the hospitals are getting overwhelmed, we have birth centers here in Richmond,’” she said. “Are you going to force Medicaid or private insurances to go ahead and take that price tag to where I can birth out of hospital if I am not high risk? Those are things that can be done.”

Sutton-El says birthing centers could potentially alleviate the strain on hospital staff, and free up rooms if necessary.

While she works to ease the concerns of families, Sutton-El is thinking of even more virtual solutions, even willing to provide technology to families who may need it.

“We’re putting systems in place--I have an iPad myself, so I have to where if something does arise, they are all capable of taking just my iPad to take into birth with, and I will be there live with them coaching them through it to make sure everything is going as it needs to go," she explained.

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