On a roller coaster ride while blindfolded. It’s as if we are all riding one right now, but we did not buy a ticket. We did not ask to be here. And we have a ton of uncertainty as to what is around the next corner. Many of us have a handful of unanswered questions swirling around in our heads regarding the things that make us feel the most secure: income, food, housing, health, wellness. And then there are questions about doula support for pregnant families who may be birthing in the coming hours, days, or weeks.
There have been a lot of changes for most of us in a short period of time. Because of the current conditions in the United States surrounding COVID-19, hospitals nation-wide are instituting mandatory visitor restrictions. In some areas, a person admitted to a labor and delivery unit in labor is not permitted to have any support person present, though the most common limitation we hear about are hospitals stating only 1 support person may be present with the birthing person. For those who have hired a doula to support them prenatally and throughout labor and birth, that means they are facing a decision between having their partner alongside them at the hospital or having their doula’s in-person support. This is not something that any person nearing the end of their pregnancy should have to consider.
If you find yourself having to shift your birth preferences a bit as you head into labor without your doula’s physical presence, here are a few things we want to share with you.
Your doula’s support does not have to end when or if you enter the hospital without them.
Your doula is an incredible resource that you hired to help you navigate this significant time of your life. Their support can go beyond face-to-face interactions. You probably have already had some form of electronic communication with your doula beyond any in-person prenatal meetings. This type of virtual communication can continue throughout labor, birth, and postpartum. Nicole Havelka, a doula and birthworker in North Carolina, shares, “I have been conveying to my clients that I can fulfill all of my support role as a doula virtually, outside of physically providing comfort. This will be okay. Different? Yes, but okay. We will continue to be there for our clients.”
Virtual doula support may not have been something you previously discussed in depth with your doula. But now is the time to have that conversation with them – before labor is eminent, before you find yourself heading to the hospital, even before your local hospital implements visitor restrictions if they have not done so already.
Your doula can still be on call for your birth.
We have heard from many doulas not able to physically be with their clients that they are continuing to provide on call support for those who are nearing labor. Ask your doula about this if you have not discussed it already. Will they still be on call for your birth? Is this an option for you? Can you reach them via phone or video? At what point will they be available? You can talk about virtual support and when you plan to reach out to your doula, just as you would discuss these things are you prepare for in-person doula support.
Virtual doula support during labor can mean different things to different people.
Just as with in-person support, the way you want your doula to support you during labor can look different than what another person needs from their doula. You may want to update them periodically when big changes happen such as your water breaking or when you decide to go to the hospital. You may want to reach out to them when your feel your very first contraction. You may want to talk with them when you are faced with a decision to be made. Or, you may want to have them stay on the phone for a while as you work through a challenging part of labor. “I have clients checking in once an hour or anytime clients feel a chance emotionally or physically,” says Tanya Grabbe, a doula in Tennessee. There is no right or wrong way to utilize your doula’s support when you connect by phone or video.
Virtual doula support is not just for labor and birth.
Tanya Grabbe provides 3 forms of virtual support for the families she works with: prenatal visits, labor support, and postpartum visits. Prenatally, your doula can learn about your birth preferences, discuss their role in your birth experience, share comfort measures you and your partner can do throughout labor, and help educate you on labor stages as well as your birth options in the hospital setting. All of this can be discussed with the click of a mouse or swipe of an app. Your doula could also virtually attend a prenatal appointment with you and meet your midwife or doctor. Take your tablet or phone along, and contact your doula during your appointment. Doing so would give them the opportunity to virtually meet your care provider before labor begins. Not only can it serve as a way to break the ice between your doula and care provider, but it can help send the message that your doula is and will be an integral and valued part of your birth team even if he or she is not physically going to be with you in your birth space.
Postpartum virtual doula support can help you adjust to your new normal with your tiny little baby. Your doula can help you and your family transition and learn what are typical expectations for your postpartum recovery. They are there to help connect you with resources and information if you need additional help, and they are experienced in identifying when something is beyond the normal expectation. Most hospital-based care providers do not follow up with postpartum parents until 4-6 weeks after they birthed. While your doula is not a medical professional, they can still connect with you during this season of social distancing, regularly check in on you postpartum to ensure you are recovering as expected, see how you are feeling, and answer any questions you may have.
Make a virtual plan.
Even if you wind up in hindsight not needing to come up with virtual support, plan ahead for the possibility of your doula not being with you in the physical presence for labor and birth. There are many options for virtual communication when it comes to having your doula involved in your prenatal, birth, and postpartum experiences. Before you need their support, go ahead and download any relevant apps or programs you may want to use when you connect with your doula. The following programs are free for basic use for communication and video chats, and they can be accessed from a computer, phone, or other device such as a tablet:
- Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts
- Facetime (for Macs and iPhones)
- Google Duo (for both iOS and Android)
- Facebook Messenger Video Chat
Test your preferred method of communication before labor begins. Make sure you learn about the features of each, as some programs have a time limit on each video chat session. Do a mock session with your doula. Make sure you pack your computer or device’s charging cable and perhaps even a small extension cord in your hospital bag. You would not want to lose battery power when you need your doula the most.
“Thank goodness we live in a time where we can connect in so many ways.” said Nicole Havelka. Hospitals are taking a hard stop. Whether we believe it is extreme or not, we have to figure out a way to support families that are birthing in the coming weeks and months. Virtual doula support can do just that: help keep the connection between doulas and their clients. If ever people birthing in the hospital needed a doula’s support, the time is now.
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About the author: Candace Edwards LaFon is on the board of ImprovingBirth and serves families of all types as a doula and previously a homebirth midwife assistant. She also enjoys Lindy hop, working in theatre, and listening to vinyl records.