The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives. Some being impacted in more significant ways than others.
But life goes on, and with that – the milestones and monumental changes that are a part of being alive.
For most people navigating pregnancy during this time, they may have had a much different experience than what they envisioned for their pregnancy and birth.
Baby showers, birth preferences, and postpartum plans may all have changed, but one thing has stayed the same – their need for support before, during and after birth.
What is a Doula?
One of the biggest ways a pregnant person can find support is by hiring a doula.
A doula is a non-medical provider that offers continuous support during labor and birth, as well as prenatal planning, and postpartum check-ins.
How this looks logistically will vary from doula to doula, and from birth to birth, but some of the tools a doula utilizes to support their clients are education, help with a “birth plan”, hands on massage and counterpressure techniques to help ease contractions, making sure the birthing person is hydrated, making sure that any partner of family member present has eaten and gotten some sleep, and so much more.
COVID-19 and Doulas
As you can imagine, a highly infectious virus complicates the extent to which a doula can provide their services.
The risk of contracting COVID-19 increases with exposure, which means it’s up to the clients and doulas how much time they want to spend in person, if any. They can choose to provide prenatal and postpartum care in person, while virtually supporting them during the birth itself, or vice versa.
Or their care might be entirely virtual or over the phone.
Some doulas may choose to only provide virtual support, because they don’t want to potentially expose themselves or their families
In The Hospital
In the United States for example, where doulas are typically paid for out of pocket, and are not affiliated with a hospital, they must stay up to date on rapidly changing hospital policies, which are now limiting the amount of people they can have present at a birth.
Certain hospitals are not allowing any people outside of the birthing person, while some will allow one support person, which is typically their partner if they have one.
Luckily for their clients, some of the key traits that make for a good doula is resourcefulness, creativity, and adaptability!
If a doula is allowed into the hospital with a client, they will have to wear a mask the whole time, and may not be able to leave the room, which limits their ability to get extra supplies. They also may not be able to bring their “doula bag” full of tools and tricks in – like birth balls and essential oils, which means they’ll have to use what they’ve got.
One option for hospitals who are not allowing doulas in, is for the doula to stay with their client(s) in the hospital parking lot, offering their support until the last minute, when the client then goes into the hospital.
This is only an option for those who are low risk, and do not plan on having an epidural, cesarean section, or other procedure that would necessitate them being admitted earlier on in labor.
Obviously there are many tools a doula cannot utilize virtually, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t an incredibly beneficial part of a person’s birth team. For doulas supporting their clients virtually, they are still able to talk their partner through hands-on techniques, talk clients through contractions, and provide advocacy and education.
Of course not everyone gives birth in a hospital. More and more people are opting for home births amidst COVID-19. In this case, it’s up to the client, midwife, doula, and local regulations on whether or not a doula can be present during the birth.
My Experience with Virtual Doula Support
While I have for the most part taken a sabbatical from doula work since the start of COVID-19, I have had one client that I supported entirely virtually.
I believe one of the biggest roles of a doula is to “hold space”, meaning creating an atmosphere where the client feels seen, heard, and supported. For a skilled provider, this is entirely possible over the phone, even if it’s not the same.
In the case of this client, that meant being up through the night, talking her through contractions, using breathing techniques, visualizations, and affirmations as she progressed through labor – much as I would in person.
Once she was admitted to the hospital, I was able to answer her questions about procedures, risks, and choices that her providers were not giving her adequate information on.
I explained to her what her options were when unexpected situations arose, and how to communicate with her providers so that she still felt empowered during her birth.
Every birthing person deserves to have the support they desire for their birth experience. Hiring a doula, even if it’s virtual, will help them navigate the birth journey with the steady foundation of someone who is there entirely to attend to them and their needs.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.