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NC doula wants to help moms giving birth, but hospital COVID-19 restrictions create a barrier

NC doula wants to help moms giving birth, but hospital COVID-19 restrictions create a barrier

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Ashley Sipes, a doula in Lenoir, is an advocate for people giving birth and specifically works to help Black mothers.

HICKORY — Ashley Sipes supports women giving birth. Her job as a doula is to prevent unnecessary cesarean sections and birth trauma for women in the Catawba Valley region.

She stays by her client’s side during the birth, but the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated her job.

Tight visitor restrictions are keeping birth doulas out of hospital rooms while their clients are giving birth, Sipes said. She’s an advocate for COVID-19 safety, but believes there needs to a better way to allow doulas in the room while still keeping COVID-19 out.

“We need to have better plans in place for doula support during this pandemic and recognizing doulas who follow precautions, holding them to similar standards as healthcare workers without asking them to jump through hoops and barriers,” Sipes said. “We need doulas more than ever right now.”

Sipes said doulas work to stop birthers and hospital staff from being traumatized during birth, whether by invasive or unnecessary medical procedures, painful birth, injures, obstetric violence and more. Sipes also focuses on helping those who face higher risk in birth because of their demographic — such as race, age, weight or sexual orientation.

Sipes said she is happy for her clients to give birth in a hospital, but noted during COVID-19 her ability to help has been limited, she said.

Early in the pandemic, hospitals in the Catawba Valley region limited birth support to one person and a doula with certification. After a few months, that changed to two support people. There was no special allowance for doulas, Sipes said. Recently, the hospitals reverted back to one visitor per patient.

“If a client wishes for their mother, partner and their doula, they’d have to choose between a doula or loved one,” Sipes said.

Sipes has tried to support and advocate for her client virtually but it is not as effective, she said.

“I have seen birth trauma occur repeatedly among clients that have been supported virtually,” she said. “Virtual support can be done, but it also creates a barrier.”

At times, Sipes said, she has felt helpless.

“One client, I had to watch her cry on FaceTime because she was taken to have a caesarean and she wasn’t ready, but I couldn’t do anything,” Sipes said. “It’s very hard to provide that support virtually.”

If she is in person when trouble arises, Sipes talks to doctors about the options and helps her client make decisions.

Sipes is worried that the delta variant of COVID-19 may cause hospitals to limit visitation even more, making it more difficult to help patients.

With COVID-19 cases increasing, hospital staff may also get more stressed, Sipes said. Having a doula in the room during birth means another set of hands to help, which can ease staff stress, she said.

With proper protection, like masks and the COVID-19 vaccine, Sipes thinks doulas can safely support their clients in person. She’s urging hospitals to allow for it.


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