Happy late spring Dar a Luz community! The weather is finally warm, the spring winds have mostly died down, and homeschool for those of us who didn’t choose that method of schooling is almost out for summer [insert large-crowd applause]. It’s been a tough 2+ months in a lot of ways but there are always good things that come from hard times. I hope this time has brought you closer to those in your home and have given you time to do and learn things you hadn’t in the past. I hope this time has allowed for reflection and an understanding towards a new way of living: hopefully a little slower, a little less consumer-minded, a little more local-focused and with a lot more intention.
We made some big changes at Dar a Luz over two months ago that were difficult to make and that I knew would have a great impact on the families that we serve. Things were moving so rapidly in March and the fear of the unknown was constantly weighing on me; this was difficult to navigate, as most will tell you that I do not practice or make decisions out of fear. I percolate and marinate and sometimes move slower than some are comfortable with, trying to tease out the most important aspects of the decisions at hand. Tensions were high everywhere and all I could do was take in as much information as possible, while trying to sift through what was solid and true, and approach our care with everyone in mind: how do I keep my staff healthy and safe; how do we keep our clients and their babies safe; how do we prevent the spread of this virus throughout our tiny group of employees; how are we going to stay open if we can’t prevent the spread? That’s only the tip of the iceberg but the main questions that I grappled with over and over in those early days and honestly still grappling with today.
Making the decisions to limit the number of clients in the center, birth partners, children, wearing masks—none of this was easy, none of it felt good. Even though I knew these decisions were the best way to keep everyone safe, it was heart-wrenching and painful. Dar a Luz is supposed to be the place that protects the normalcy of birth and gives clients more options, not less, when it comes to how they want to birth their babies. Sure, we have requirements for care but this felt like I was letting so many people down, requiring more than should ever be required when bringing forth new life.
With that being said, this was not a time to be cavalier and it was not the time to back down because of the fear of the fall out. Some of our clients cried when they heard they had to wear masks in labor, some have had severe anxiety over it, some have left the practice for other birth options. Some made harsh comments on social media, and some to the midwives in their visits, and some over email. And I listened to and processed all of them and every single one made my heart ache all over again. Looking back, I feel very clear that we made the right decisions and that really, we were several steps ahead, and because of that, we have remained healthy and we have remained open. There are just 12 clinical staff at the center between nurses and midwives: it would take only a small fraction of us to be sick at the same time and we wouldn’t be able to continue offering the services and care that make Dar a Luz unique. In a time with so much uncertainty, we are, and have been, if nothing else, a constant for the families that we serve. We are still here and we aren’t going anywhere. We are here for you, our community.
A few weeks ago, I attended my first birth in full personal protective equipment (PPE) including an N95 respirator mask which the nurses and midwives are required to wear for birth. The sweat under the mask was dripping down my nose and my chin. The fibers in the mask were tickling my mouth and if I didn’t concentrate on taking even breaths, I would start to feel a small rise of panic, claustrophobic in the gear that I required everyone to wear. Then I reminded myself to come back to my breath: in through the nose, out through the mouth and with intention, just the same as I was reminding this laboring mother the exact same thing who was surrounded more by those she didn’t know than those she did. Yet there she was, trusting in what we were telling her and giving every morsel of energy into birthing her baby. She was searching our eyes for encouragement and agreement that she was indeed making progress. I realized that while the expressions that I normally give someone in labor were still there, they were covered by that mask and I needed to share that encouragement with her with the most grand gestures that I could make with my eyes while softening them just enough to keep her at ease. I hope that my eyes conveyed to her my deepest humility in the hard work that she was doing and my greatest joy as her baby was lifted to her waiting arms. This work is hard but it is the most rewarding work that I can imagine and I am in awe of birth over and over and over…
As we move towards opening non-essential businesses and getting back to some sense of “normal”, much at Dar a Luz will remain as it is now. There is some guidance from the New Mexico Medical Advisory Team about how to operate medical clinics and basically, it is clear that what we are already doing is what is recommended for the foreseeable future. We will continue to have one full clinic per day and only the pregnant client for the prenatal visit and still no children; we will continue with the prenatal visit schedule of in-person visits at 12, 20, 28, 32, 36 weeks and then weekly; we will continue to practice social distancing within the building; we still only allow a birth partner and certified doula during labor and birth; we will continue to wear masks for all client encounters including during labor for everyone. We have made one change: a partner can be at the center with the mom/baby dyad for the first week postpartum. I know it’s not much, but it’s something towards how it used to be. I hope that is even a little bit of comfort.
We can’t let our guard down now. With a gradual re-opening, we might even be at more risk now than we were in the past 8 weeks. More people are out, more businesses are opening. My staff and I believe that wearing masks can greatly reduce the transmission of this virus and I thank and applaud everyone for the willingness to do so—remember this keeps you safe and it keeps us safe and open to care for you. The changes we have made are now the new normal and will remain that way until the threat of this virus to our most vulnerable has been mitigated. Thank you for taking the time to read this. We are in this together.
Abigail Lanin Eaves, CNM
Executive and Clinical Director