The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives. Some are more affected than others.
But life goes on and with it – the milestones and monumental changes that are part of life.
For most people navigating pregnancy during this time, they may have had a very different experience than what their pregnancy and childbirth intended.
Baby showers, birth preferences, and postpartum plans may have changed, but one thing has stayed the same – their need for support before, during, and after the birth.
What is a doula?
One of the greatest ways a pregnant person can find support is by hiring a Doula.
A doula is a non-medical provider that provides ongoing support during delivery and labor, as well as prenatal planning and postpartum check-ins.
How this looks logistically varies from doula to doula and from birth to birth. Some of the tools a doula uses to assist their clients are education, help with a “birthing plan,” practical massage and counter pressure techniques to relieve contractions ate and slept and much more.
COVID-19 and doulas
As you can imagine, a highly infectious virus makes it difficult for a doula to perform its services.
The risk of developing COVID-19 increases with exposure, which means that it is up to customers and doulas how much time they may want to spend in person. You can choose whether you would like to receive personal care before the birth or after the birth, while you support you virtually during the birth or vice versa.
Or they can be fully maintained virtually or by telephone.
Some doulas may only offer virtual assistance because they do not want to potentially expose themselves or their families
In the hospital
For example, in the United States, where doulas are usually paid out of pocket and not affiliated with a hospital, they need to stay abreast of rapidly changing hospital policies that now limit the number of people they can be with Birth.
Certain hospitals do not allow anyone outside of the childbearing person, while some allow a supportive person, who is usually their partner if they have one.
Fortunately for their clients, ingenuity, creativity, and adaptability are some of the main characteristics that make a good doula!
When allowed to hospital with a client, a doula must wear a mask all the time and may not be able to leave the room, which limits their ability to receive additional supplies. Or, they may not be able to bring their “doula bag” full of tools and tricks – like birthing balls and essential oils, which means they have to use what they have.
One option for hospitals that do not allow doulas is for the doula to stay with their customers in the hospital parking lot and offer their support until the last minute when the customer goes to the hospital.
This is only an option for those with low risk who are not planning an epidural, caesarean, or other procedure that would require them to be allowed to go into labor earlier.
Of course, there are many tools a doula cannot use virtually, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t an incredibly useful part of a person’s birthing team. For doulas assisting their clients virtually, they will still be able to speak to their partner through hands-on techniques, speak to clients through contractions, and provide advocacy and education.
Of course, not everyone gives birth in a hospital. More and more people are choosing to have home births amid COVID-19. In this case, it is up to the client, midwife, doula, and local regulations whether or not a doula can be present during labor.
My experience with Virtual Doula Support
While I’ve mostly been taking a sabbatical from doula work since the beginning of COVID-19, I had a client whom I supported completely virtually.
I think one of the greatest jobs of a doula is to “hold space,” which means to create an atmosphere in which the customer feels seen, heard and supported. For an experienced provider, this is entirely possible over the phone, even if it’s not the same.
For this client, it meant being up all night, speaking through contractions, using breathing techniques, visualizations, and affirmations as she went through work – just as I would personally do.
After she was admitted to the hospital, I was able to answer her questions about procedures, risks, and decisions that her providers did not provide her with adequate information about.
I explained what options she had when unexpected situations arose and how she could communicate with her providers so that she could still feel empowered during her birth.
Everyone who gives birth deserves the support they want in their birthing experience. Renting a doula, even if it’s virtual, helps them navigate the birthing journey with the steady foundation of someone dedicated solely to them and their needs.