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Ascension St. Vincent’s Birth Companions program

Because of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, moms can only have one support person in the delivery room. That means moms who wanted additional support now have to choose between having their doula or their partner by their side.

Determined to help mothers have a positive birth experience in the midst of the Coronavirus St. Vincent’s Health System launched its RN Birth Companions program.

Birth Companions are registered labor and delivery nurses who serve in a supportive role during labor. They are in addition to the clinical staff caring for the mom and baby during birth. Birth companions are there to offer to the physical, emotional, and informational support that you might get from a doula.

“Having someone with knowledge and compassion to support you through your birth is what the service is all about,” says Jenny Mizell, a labor and delivery nurse at St. Vincent’s who was the catalyst for this birth companion service.

With the Birth Companions program, moms can still have the additional support they want and need.

“You have someone who is addressing your emotional needs and your physical needs and working hand in hand as a team with your labor and delivery nurse,” says Madonna Nichols, administrative director of Women and Children’s Services at St. Vincent’s.

How the Birth Companions Program Was Born

Birth Companions pic
The RN Birth Companions of Ascension St. Vincent’s


Long before the Coronavirus crisis hit, Ascension St. Vincent’s had plans in place to train several registered nurses to be certified doulas so that they could serve as a Birth Companion when they weren’t serving as the primary registered nurse during labor.

Jenny Mizell presented the idea to Madonna Nichols last summer. She had experienced firsthand just how important an additional support person could be.

“While having my second child I had complications during the birth and I greatly benefited from having my sister present as my birth companion,” Jenny says. Jenny’s sister is an experienced labor and delivery nurse who could offer both knowledge and compassion.

“I vividly remember with all the chaos going on in the room just looking at my sister and feeling instantly calm,” she says. “The medical team is there working hard to make sure that mom and baby are as safe as possible during delivery, but the birth companion is there to support and hold a space for mom. After that experience of my own, I became really passionate about offering that level of support to every person giving birth who wanted it.”

Madonna encouraged Jenny to move forward with the idea.

“We do a lot of different projects and typically we have staff lead those projects because they’re at the bedside and taking care of patients and they know much better than I what will benefit the patients and what will benefit our other associates,” Madonna explains.

The plan was to roll out the Birth Companions program for summer 2020. But the COVID-19 restrictions kicked those plans into high gear. Heidi Powell, manager of St. Vincent’s Monogram Maternity program, was determined to give her moms-to-be the birth experience they wanted and she knew the Birth Companions program could help. So, she, Jenny, Madonna, and many others got to work.

“Everyone was so interested and wanted to help these moms have their ideal delivery,” Heidi says. “So, we said there’s no reason why we can’t go ahead and push play on this.”

Kelsey’s Story

Kelsey Varallo and her husband Collin (who met on Season 4 of CMT’s dating reality series Sweet Home Alabama) were the first family at Ascension St. Vincent’s to not be able to have their own doula at the hospital during labor.

St. Vincent’s Monogram Maternity connected Kelsey with a nurse named Anna, who had already been working on her doula certification. Anna quickly stepped in as Kelsey’s RN Birth Companion.

“Though it wasn’t what we planned, ultimately, everything worked out so perfectly,” Kelsey says of her experience. “I was able to have a support person there who helped me labor naturally like I had always dreamed. Anna was also a great teacher, and she showed my husband how he could participate and play an important role in the birth of our daughter. Everyone was so incredible, and I cannot say enough about the experience, in the midst of this pandemic.”

Going Home

The team at Ascension St. Vincent’s is working hard to continue to support moms after they give birth, too. The hospital is offering virtual one-on-one lactation consultations and virtual breastfeeding support group meetings. There’s a no-contact baby weight check on Wednesdays. Mom can also schedule virtual counseling appointments with a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in postpartum anxiety and depression.

“This is not something we had planned to implement this early,” Madonna says of the Birth Companions program. “But this and all of our virtual programs have come from this – a patient needs it, how do we meet this patient’s needs, and how do we ensure that she has the birthing experience that was her dream.”

Cecilia Pearson
Cecilia Pearson


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