You can cancel a sporting event. You can postpone a vacation. But babies can't wait during a pandemic. So birthing people
are adapting to new hospital policies (many limit patients to one support person during birth), without knowing exactly how things will play out, and doulas have a front-line view. They are still there, working in person in birthing centers and at home births, and available to offer virtual support during hospital births they can't be present for.
Their work begins early during pregnancy — and indeed earlier right now, with so much uncertainty — and extends into the postpartum period, when new parents otherwise have limited support from healthcare professionals and family. Their role is to offer emotional support through a birth, alongside a midwife or obstetrician's medical oversight, and the one thing everyone needs right now is a lot of reassurance.
"Birthing persons are panicking," says New York City-based Allison Petrides of
Gentle Beginnings Doula Services. "There is a fear of catching COVID while feeling very vulnerable as a pregnant person. Our jobs have shifted away from providing physical support and majorly into caring for their emotional well-being during this chaotic time."
From virtual visits to radically new birth plans to finding ways to change birth plans that comply with new hospital practices
and make new parents comfortable, doula's working through the pandemic are watching birth adapt. Here's what they are seeing.
Doulas are offering virtual support from start to finish.
"Usually, we are with them, in person, throughout their entire labor and birth. We will have met with them, usually in their homes, to help prepare them for their birth experience. This is all gone now. We are virtually meeting with them and have to limit our connections to just phone and video. This on top of the extra stress of COVID-19 has been really hard on most of our birthing families. And truly, it is hard on the doulas, too. We want to be there, in person. We want to help your labor room feel safe and comfortable." —Bethany Brown, Director of
Birth Doulas of Pittsburgh
Doulas are helping screen new moms for issues that arise postpartum.
"My clients, both pregnant ones and those who recently delivered, have a lot of anxiety about all of this. A large part of my job right now is trying to be positive and to reassure them — I tell them that I'm available
virtually whenever they need me! Via FaceTime or other video means, I am able to help with lactation and other services because I have the necessary materials at home and can demonstrate various feeding positions, etc.
"I'm also continuing to assess if a new mom needs more assistance from her physician regarding postpartum depression. It has its challenges, but I have worked hard to make sure my clients feel well prepared going into the birth." —
Sue Chargo, New Heart Doula Care
Birthing people are more worried, and considering leaving the city.
"There is a fear of catching COVID while feeling very vulnerable as a pregnant person. Our jobs have shifted away from providing physical support and majorly into caring for their emotional well-being during this chaotic time. I have a client due in June who has recently looked back into home-birthing just in case the support restrictions and overall pandemic is still an issue by then. There has been talk amongst the doula community of their clients leaving New York City in droves to birth in other states outside of the hot spot." —
Allison Petrides, Gentle Beginnings Doula Services
Attendants at births are suited up in protective gear.
"I attended an in-person birth a few days ago and the hospital was eerie. It was somber and you could just
feel that it was a strained time. The staff was stressed and everyone had on PPE (personal protective equipment), which was visually unnerving. Social distancing isn't possible during birth as many birthing people need hands-on support, so PPE is essential, but also in shortage so that's an additional factor to consider." — HeHe Stewart, Tranquility by HeHe Maternity Concierge and The Birth Lounge
Doulas are dealing with their own disappointment at missing in-person work.
"At this time I am unable to be in the hospital due to policies, all I can do is be there via social media and texting. Which I hope can be enough. But it's all I can provide in this time." —
Elisabeth van der Wilt, Fruitful Womb Doula Services
Birth workers are starting client relationships earlier in the pregnancy.
"Those who are seeking extra support and information — like the families reaching out earlier in their pregnancy than we'd typically see — and others who feel so overwhelmed by the crisis, they're opting out of everything. I really empathize with that. I was an overwhelmed pregnant person too at one point, and there wasn't a pandemic happening!
"My company has always been 100% virtual, so it hasn't changed the structure of how our doulas provide care. We hit the ground running from day one; not having to spend time and energy pivoting to remote care has allowed us to focus on other things — like working with more families before the birth." —
Mandy Major, CEO of That's Major! and doula
People are adapting their birth plans.
"I was still available virtually, but it can’t replicate the human touch. Even though I was there to help guide and answer questions, there was a very evident feeling of helplessness as I couldn’t be there with them. I think almost every one of my clients has had to adapt their birth plan in some way. Some have told me that there’s a lot of pressure to schedule an induction instead of going into labor naturally, to get an epidural early on, and that there is little hands-on support in the labor/delivery room as hospitals are trying to minimize the number of patient interactions."
—Talitha Phillips, CEO of Claris Health and doula
Virtual support networks are expanding.
"I decided to team up with a group of 30 doulas to launch a
Doula Hotline to provide 24/7 donation based virtual support to the pregnant community. We continue to community join and I’m really glad we are able to offer these services to anyone that needs them. We can help the partner in the room, lead breathing exercises, and help them not feel alone." — Melissa Murphy, Boho Birthing
People are needing more sessions with their support team.
"My doula packages have always included unlimited texting and phone calls, plus two prenatal meetings and one postpartum meeting. During this pandemic, I tend to have a lot more prenatal and postpartum meetings with clients, depending on what they need and are going through. Sometimes our conversations are about the anxieties they’re experiencing; sometimes we are discussing how their partner can be their hands-on support with me not there; sometimes I’m consulting with them about their provider and birth place changes. I’m even calling and reaching out to providers in other states to find the best fit for clients who’ve left the area.
"Whatever we can do to make birth a less scary and more positive experience, we do, and that’s more important now than ever." —
Francie Webb, Go Milk Yourself
Partners are having to step up.
"Emotional care has to be acknowledged too! I've virtually supported clients in labor, and I found it surprisingly similar to being there. I'm still present, acknowledging what is happening, offering guidance and reassurance. We are still breathing together, even if it's through the phone. The partner just has to step in as the masseuse! That said, I do look forward to being back in the hospital rooms." —
Claudia Gerbracht, Tot Squad
Birthing people are handling the challenge.
"Birthing people are so powerful and amazing, and now they get to find and hold this power within them earlier in their journey to parenthood." —
Gili Levitin, Inher Body Interviews have been lightly edited and condensed.