‘Birth is meant to be the best day of your life’
The isolation experienced by many local mothers around the time of lockdown births had a lasting impact on their mental health, a local support group has found.
Wellmama Ireland is a recently -established non-profit group involving five women based between Cloughjordan, Newport and Thurles. They provide a wide range of services to mothers, their partners and families on the journey to birth and beyond.
Much of the support Wellmama provides is done in conjunction with North Tipperary Development Company, including a course for pregnant mothers that continues into the early stages of parenthood. Many of the women they have worked with have spoken of the isolation they endured during the pandemic, and of how they were affected by the enforced absence of their partner or family around the time of birth.
“So many more people struggle with mental health issues because of the way they were treated during pregnancy and birth during the pandemic, and the fact that they had to go through miscarriages on their own, and labour on their own and inductions on their own,” said Susann Huschke of Wellmama. “Doulas still aren't allowed into most hospitals and that is outrageous because of the mental health affects of that - mental health is part of health! That should be taken into consideration.”
Susann, like her four Wellmama colleagues, is a Doula, a person trained in pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum support. Doulas work in unison with - rather than instead of - midwives in meeting both the physical and mental needs of mother and baby.
“A huge part of it is emotional support and the continuity of having someone who knows you and can offer discreet skills around self-care and accessing services when you need them,” Susann said. “We're not medical professionals, but we are trained in finding resources about medical evidence...
“As doulas, we can pass on information and say: ‘Look, you can make your own mind, inform yourself; it's your decision’.”
Susann stayed with one single mother for three days and three nights during a birth. She outlined how a doula strives to make the birthing mother feel safe, and provides practical support in terms of breathing and contractions, all geared towards making birth a positive, comfortable experience.
“Birth is at the bottom line of everything we're doing because birth is meant to be the best day of your life; it's not meant to be horrible, painful, lonely or traumatic. When you talk to women about their experiences, how many are going to say: ‘This was the best day of my life; it was a fantastic experience’? Very, very few.
“That's what we're trying to change. That's not the way it's meant to be. That is that way because the support isn't there, the education isn't there, the choices aren't there, and that's not right.”
She said there is evidence indicating that having a doula throughout pregnancy can reduce the need for interventions such as a C-section or episiotomy.
ALL WALKS OF LIFE
People seeking Wellmama support come from all walks of life; many are actively seeking a more positive birthing experience having perhaps undergone a traumatic previous experience. “A lot of people might say: ‘Oh well, I'm having an elective cesarean, so I don't need a doula or I don't need this’,” said Natasha Sinclair of Wellmama. “But that support is ongoing - it's emotional, it's physical, it's in confidence; it's a non-judgemental space for that person and it doesn't matter what your birth path is or your decisions are, everybody deserves that level of support.”
Natasha's background is in complementary therapy, while Susann is a researcher who has done a lot of studies around sexual trauma. All of them mothers, the other members of the group include Aisling Finucane, whose background is in social work; secondary school teacher Michelle Ryan, and midwife Sandra Healy.
“As different as our backgrounds are, together, collectively, we all have the same vision and that is to change birth and support people, and make sure people are coming out of birth having a wonderful, empowered experience and not disempowered, and not traumatised, or disrespected or unheard,” Natasha said.
She described how Wellmama set up a “hardship fund” to which people have donated with the aim of supporting those from disadvantaged backgrounds, people who cannot afford services where birthing is concerned.
Susann, whose previous clients include refugee women living in direct provision, who needed help navigating the Irish maternity system, said Wellmama would like to be able to do more to help the marginalised.
“Because we have so much experience in the group, having worked with different marginalised communities, such a homeless people, people struggling with addictions, sex exploitation, sexual abuse, migrant communities, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ communities - we would like to do more of that.”
Anyone who would like to find out more can visit the wellmama.ie website, where a monthly newsletter is published. Local organisations that have identified a need for this support in the community are also invited to make contact. Wellmama is also on Facebook.