The rise of COVID-19 cases at hospitals translates to shifting policies about who can be present at births. Our research looks at data from nearly 400 qualitative surveys on how doulas—women who provide continuous emotional, physical, and informational support to pregnant and laboring people—navigate new restrictions redefining who belongs and is considered an “essential” birth worker in hospitals in the United States. The spectrum of new hospital guidelines spans from allowing only certified doulas, oftentimes with their own personal protective equipment (PPE) and on pre-approved hospital lists, to forcing pregnant people to choose only one support person, and in extreme cases, to banning any labor support—doula or partner. We examine what doulas reported about the changing hospital policies and shifting landscapes of belonging, thinking through what these contestations mean for birth.

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