Doula adapts to providing virtual support

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Dawn Thomas

Doula trainer Dawn Thompson said the biggest ‘Aha!’ with most of the doulas she has trained through the COVID-19 pandemic has been the moment they realize they can still serve as doulas while social distancing.

“What I’ve loved about my journey as a doula trainer is showing doulas all these online tools. The tools they’re learning how to use right now are going to take them well beyond coronavirus.  Even past this, it’s going to change how we function, seeking out alternatives,” Thompson said.

She describes how social distancing has potentially changed the field for the better:

“Mothers are going to be able to take a childbirth class on demand without having to rush through traffic to make it to a class.  And now, they can have a birth coach literally at their fingertips. The opportunity for doulas to be able to take more clients, the way this can be made more affordable for more families— there are so many possibilities.”

Gingerly Doula Care owner Ginger Armstrong recently learned from Thompson how to apply technology to maintain and grow her business while social distancing. She spent decades as a high school art and drama teacher before beginning her second career as a practicing doula and doula trainer across San Diego county; she leans on that background for an analogy:

“You go through months and months of rehearsal before a play opens. Well, we’ve been in the birth room and supporting clients for years, essentially rehearsing for what we can do virtually. We’re still able to support our families, we’re just not in the same room,” Armstrong says.

She says that more than ever, she’s relating to a partner or spouse who is allowed in the room for the birth.

“They’re my eyes and my ears, even with Facetime (the video phone application). They’re my hands on comfort for the mother, able to calm the situation or encourage, hands-on,” Armstrong said.

Thomas says whether she is in the room with a mother or on the phone, she can still interpret where a woman is in her labor.

“We can tell timing through videophone or even just a regular phone call, help determine when someone is in active labor and actually ready to go to the hospital. Pretty consistently, my clients get to the hospital when they’re at eight centimeters but we’ve spent 12 hours already on the phone at home. The number one mistake parents make in this day and age is they go to the hospital too soon,” Thompson said.

Armstrong said she has always relied on virtual visits and this is just a test of her skills.

“I was always in the practice of being on call after 37 weeks with an evening check-in to see how they’re feeling or have any questions, I’ve always done that in the virtual sense.  I have a client who is due in September but she’ll be in Texas and I’ll be supporting her virtually,” Armstrong said.

In addition to serving her own clients and training other doulas, Armstrong also manages Beautiful Beginnings, a county-wide doula referral resource and network dedicated to childbirth and parenting.

Thompson says the biggest thing she is doing for many doulas in the county is teaching them how to make work manageable.

“We’ve discovered tools that work really well like Calendly and Zoom, and have all of those things connected so they can take payments online and everything can become seamless,” Thompson said.

This story has been edited to reflect the correct name of Dawn Thompson from Thomas.