As an Antenatal teacher, experienced Breastfeeding supporter (trainee Breastfeeding Counsellor) and Doula, I work with pregnant couples and help them understand the process of childbirth whilst still maintaining choices from pregnancy to childbirth to parenting. Once the hurdle of childbirth is behind couples, I support them in feeding their babies and help them navigate the early paths of parenting. All this is normally a face to face process, where I can read adults’ body language, help them understand their worries and concerns and adapt my teaching styles to suit the group or an individual’s needs.

Prospective parents are naturally anxious, they are experiencing their greatest life challenge, usually for the first time, it can be quite overwhelming at the best of times but now add Covid-19. As soon as the government included pregnant mothers in the vulnerable category, they were told to not only socially distance themselves, but to go into lockdown.

NCT: the country’s largest charity for parents; for whom I’ve been an antenatal teacher for 10 years took up the brave decision within 2 days of threatened lockdown to offer our gold standard 17 hour face to face antenatal education course via video conferencing. 800+ NCT Teachers needed to get on board and we had 48 hours to do so. All NHS maternity services have been drastically reduced and first time pregnant couples are anxious at the best of times. Thank goodness then for the brave new world of online teaching, video conferencing and terms I had never heard of a few weeks ago; like Zoom, screen sharing and breakout rooms. Here I am suddenly requiring to be well versed in Power Point presentations, screen sharing and all via the very corporate feel of video conferencing. I’m hardly a London calling New York type. More Bishopstone calling Fugglestone Red!

It’s completely incongruous in this very personal 1:1 counselling style work to support via online video conferencing. Yet as soon as lockdown kicked in, that’s exactly what I’ve had to do. My challenges are simple: no face to face facilitating, no body language reading, no chance to help a dad cope with the childbirth advocating, no opportunities to sit on a sofa next to mum and help her position and attachment when feeding her newborn, no easy way I can help couples transition to parenting. That very necessary support network of parents needing the close connections of similar parents feels severed. But NCT teachers are some of the most adaptable people I know and we’ve risen to the challenge.

Weekly updates by RCOG and RCM for childbirth are limiting mothers to 1 birth partner when it is guaranteed that her labour is underway. Partners are expected to sit in hospital carparks waiting for the mothers to call and tell them to enter labour ward bringing everything that they need in 1 journey. At the time of labour and birth, medical staff are now heavily gowned, masked and wearing extreme levels of PPE. The most natural thing a human can do has suddenly changed and become even more challenging.

This is not the joyous meeting of the 1st grandchild, not the excitement of welcoming a new family member, not the supportive wrap around care so vitally needed to those sleep deprived, birth recovering, overwhelmed parents that so many of us experienced. Maternity Leave does not now look like baby classes, meeting up with new parent friends, devouring cake and coffee in the cafes of Salisbury whilst moaning and laughing about the extraordinary sleep deprived changes in their seemingly once uncomplicated lives.

To date I have now run 2 nearly 3 courses of my standard antenatal courses, run daily breastfeeding groups for the mothers of Salisbury with much needed face to face help and adult connection when midwives are now doing their home visits via phone calls, and I’m on call as a birth doula for a local couple who are having a homebirth. I’m expecting to be on an iPhone resting on the couple’s windowsill watching and helping Dad via FaceTime. We’ve had several midwife appointments like this and whilst it clearly isn’t ideal, it’s going to be ok. I know the couple and the midwives well and we’re doing the best we can in extraordinary times.

When all this is over, I shall relish my normal face to face teaching, supporting couples, breastfeeding counselling, doula-ing, but, sadly now is not the time for me to read more books, learn how to make bread or learn a new language. I’ve never been busier or on a steeper learning curve!

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Doula

A Doula (pronouned DOO-luh) offers emotional, practical and signposting support to someone before, during and after childbirth.

I believe in “parenting the parents” – enabling new parents to have the most rewarding & empowered time that they can during pregnancy, birth and the early days as they step into parenthood. Research shows that if a parent is respected, listened to and heard, they are more likely to view their birth and the early days of parenting as a positive experience.

This can have a lasting impact on how the family copes with the changes of parenthood and the mental well being of each family member.