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'Extremely frustrating': expectant parents say doulas should be able to join them in MUHC birthing centre

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Robyn Flynn went on maternity leave in early February and is expecting her first child soon.

The TSN 690 host of She Got Game and her husband were frustrated, however, to find that the McGill University Hospital Centre (MUHC) would only allow one support person (her partner) to be with her in the birthing centre due to COVID-19 restrictions.

They hired a doula to assist, but the MUHC is one of only two centres in Montreal that does not permit a second person at the hospital.

“It’s crazy that in a few days, kids will no longer need to wear masks in schools, and you’ll no longer need proof of vaccination to go to a restaurant, but my triple-vaxxed and masked doula can’t be present while I’m in labour,” said Flynn. “Make it make sense.”

Steph De Sousa is a childbirth educator and birth and postpartum doula at MotherWit Doula Care. She was happy to hear this week that after a letter-writing and pressure campaign, most hospitals in Montreal will allow a pregnant woman’s partner and one additional, fully-vaccinated care provider in birthing centres.

“We’re really hoping that the other hospitals who still haven’t changed their policies will do so,” said De Sousa.

The Montreal West Island health and social services centre (CIUSSS-OIM) said that a spouse and close caregiver are accepted, except in the operating room. But if the former is unvaccinated, the caregiver will not be permitted to join.

The caregiver must be double-vaccinated against COVID-19, the CIUSSS said.

“However, if a unit is in an outbreak (and not under high surveillance), the presence of the second attendant could be reviewed,” the CIUSSS-OIM added.

It’s a far cry from some points in the pandemic when birthing parents were alone, an unideal and potentially stressful situation for both parents, De Sousa said.

“That support is hugely beneficial for both the labouring person and also partners if there is a partner there,” she said. “Having a trained professional in the room who knows about birth, who has been to many events before just to help lower the level of anxiety in the room so that labour can progress as it needs to makes a world of difference and that people have been deprived of that is awful.”

Flynn is not on the West Island and wishes there was a uniform order from Quebec.

“It’s extremely frustrating as an expectant mother to see the rules differ greatly depending on where you’re giving birth,” she said. “How is it possible that COVID can spread one way at one hospital, but another way at a different hospital? It makes absolutely no sense.”

A spokesperson for the MUHC said a pregnant person may be accompanied by a caregiver, so long as they are the only person joining them.

“The current policy allows for one person to accompany the pregnant patient in the birthing centre, and that person can be a doula,” said Sandra Sciangula. “The current policy was put in place in response to a rise of cases of COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of our patients, families and staff. As was done in the past, MUHC COVID-19 policies will be revisited according to public health guidelines.”  

PANDEMIC ANXIETY

De Sousa said that during the pandemic, rules changed often and anxiety levels among pregnant women and their partners rose, highlighting the need to prioritize doula services.

“There is a heightened level of anxiety and one would think that having that extra support that such incredibly emotional intense time would be a top priority, but that just isn’t the case,” she said, adding that she understands that hospital staff want to ensure places of birth are as safe as possible.

“I also believe that having one additional person there to offer support to the labouring person and their partner is essential and also to help relieve the stress for the health-care workers as well because they’re overworked and exhausted,” she said.

Flynn and her husband hired a doula because the health-care system is often impersonal and they wanted to ensure someone was nearby who knew her stresses and concerns.

“You have no way of knowing who your doctor or nurses will be on the day you have your labour, [so] having someone there who knows us is incredibly important,” she said.

PUBLIC SERVICE

There have often been calls to include doula services in the public health-care network.

Flynn agrees.

 “The kind of support that doulas offer should be readily available to the general public, not just to those who can afford it,” she said.

Flynn and her husband spent nearly $2,000 to hire a doula, who was often only available via text or Facetime. It’s a situation she says is not ideal.

“It’s extremely cruel to tell a labouring mother that she can’t have her preferred care team by her side during what will be one of the most painful experiences of her life,” said Flynn.

“Having someone who’s followed you through pregnancy who knows you, who understands what’s important to you, what your values are, what your preferences are for birth, that continuity of care is a big difference and if we can help reduce the level of trauma in the room surrounding birth, then then I think that’s a huge win for parents,” said De Sousa. 

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