Choices, voices and BAME birthing during COVID 19 with Mars Lord (Abuela Doulas)
‘Every birthing person deserves respect, grace and dignity – demand this from your caregivers.’ Mars Lord
We’re excited to have had the opportunity to speak to the wonderful Mars Lord. She spoke to us about our choices and voices during COVID 19. She brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise relating to BAME voices in pregnancy, birth and beyond.
Mars is a doula, doula educator and birth activist. She is passionate about ‘colouring in the landscape of birth’ which for too long has been focussed on the white experience. In addition to being a professional birth companion herself, Mars runs Abuela Doulas; the UKs first black owned, founded and created doula education training course. In addition to supporting during pregnancy and birth, Abuela Doulas are there to nurture, support, nourish and care for the birthing family in the early days after birth as well.
Mars is herself a mother of five and a Nonna to one gorgeous grandchild.
‘You don’t know your own story yet.’
When thinking about our birth, Mars’ first piece of advice was simple – Stop listening to other people. Whist not necessarily intentional, others are often simply debriefing their own story rather than offering insight in to what worked for them and providing support. She reminds us that as we approach birth our own stories are yet to be written. Mars suggests a simple response when others offer their birth stories to you: ‘I’d love you hear your story and I will listen when I have got mine to share with you.’
By responding in this way we can protect our own space and limit the influence of others as we try to tune in to what we really want from our own birth experiences.
Making a Plan A, B and C
We asked Mars how can we support ourselves and access our choices when there seem to be increasing limits on what is on offer in light of COVID 19. Firstly, we talked about how we make choices for birth. Making plans for different spaces and outcomes is something we strongly recommend to all in our community and through our courses.
Mars suggests starting with two simple lists:
- A list of things that you know that you would like
- A list of things that you know that you don’t want
When making these lists consider things like, place of birth, partners, pain management etc.
Mars suggests that these lists (which come directly from you and are a reflection of your own self and values) are a much better starting point than starting from a list of what people are telling you is or isn’t possible.
From here, you can start to craft your individual plan. Mars tells us that you should also consider making plans B and C as things can and do change in birth. For example, you may wish to give birth at home. But at some point you may choose (or need) to birth elsewhere. You may wish for a vaginal birth but at some point things may change and you may opt for an abdominal birth. It’s wise to have considered different options in your plan should things change.
‘Start by trusting yourself’, says Mars. Our choices should be meaningful to us and based on knowledge and experience we have gained on our journey. Whilst acknowledging that during COVID 19 it may feel like you can’t plan, Mars believes that it’s more important than ever that our wishes are heard. Making a plan and communicating your preferences can support a positive birth experience.
Planning for the postnatal period
Mars give us an important reminder that planning shouldn’t stop at the birth itself. The early days of the postnatal period should also be planned for. This may be particularly important during the pandemic as there are additional restrictions on movement and home visits etc.
Mars encourages us to consider planning for how we will be nurtured and cared for after birth: how we can support our own recovery and wellbeing. She suggests making plans to keep our cupboards and freezers stocked, as well as planning for which specialists you may want to have on hand to support with things like breastfeeding. Planning should also cover making lists of people you may need to contact and be in touch with in the early days and specifically how this support may be delivered online during COVID 19.
BAME voices and COVID 19
In light of the existing inequalities present in birth for BAME communities and in addition to the disproportionate impact that COVID 19 is having for that same group, we asked Mars for her thoughts on supporting BAME birthers who may have additional anxieties at this time.
Mars comments that if there can be a positive outcome from COVID 19 it could perhaps be that the voices of black and brown people are now more amplified. We know from the MBRRACE reports that black and brown birthers are 5x more likely to die during the perinatal period than their white counterparts. However, Mars suggests that now, perhaps more so than ever, those voices are being seen and heard. That the medical communities are tuning in and listening out for these voices. This can only be a positive thing.
Mars suggests that if you feel you aren’t being listened to or if you are being denied treateatment by your caregivers then there is one simple, powerful thing you can do by asking you caregiver to write an explanation of the decision in your notes. And speak out. There are people willing to listen.
We finished with Mars reminding us that despite the shocking statistics for black and brown birthers, our rates of maternal mortality in the UK remain very low and that birth is safe. However, this doesn’t change the fact that we all need to be doing more to raise standards, improve outcomes and change the systems and structures in which we birth to gain equality.
- Avoid others stories if it’s helpful. Your own story is not yet written and there is a time and place to hear the experiences of others.
- List your choices – the things you would like and the things you know you don’t want. From here you craft your plan based on you – not on what may or may not be available.
- Make several plans. Plan A, B and C. Things can, and do change in birth.
- As a minimum, every birthing person deserves, respect, grace and dignity – demand this from your caregivers. Speak up if you feel you aren’t getting it.
- Plan for the postnatal period. It can be short sighted to only plan for how the baby will arrive. Having a plan for yourself, your baby and your family after birth can be really important.
- The voices and choices of BAME birthers are more important than ever during COVID 19. Mars is on hand for more support if you feel that you’re not being heard, your choices are being denied to you or you feel that you are at risk.
Thank you Mars!
If you’d like support and tools as you prepare for a birth journey check out our online course