A Virtual Doula? Learn About How Some Doulas are Serving Clients During the Pandemic

What is it really like to have a virtual doula?

The happy couple after giving birth in St. Joseph's Hospital with a virtual doula.

What is a Virtual Doula?

I recently did a socially-distanced interview with Whatcom County doula, Carolynn Slocum, of Birth By Design. Carolynn has been a doula since 2003, making her one of the most experienced doulas in Whatcom County! Many expectant parents are wondering if it is still possible to have a doula with our current restrictions. St. Joseph hospital is now limiting mothers to only one support person. But what if you really need a doula? Learn about how St. Joseph’s Hospital is using iPads to utilize virtual doulas.

What It’s Like to be a Virtual Doula

Carolynn: The current climate is constantly changing, so I used to be able to assure my clients that I would be at their births, now, because of restrictions I cannot guarantee my presence at the birth. My interviews are primarily via Zoom. I really miss the face to face interaction prior to labor. I also feel like I have to be careful to meet my clients’ needs and not put anyone at risk. 

Tell Us About Your Recent Virtual Doula Support Experience

Carolynn: The hospital policy changed limiting labor support 24 hours before my client, Emma, went into labor. We found out about the policy change after her water broke and she was getting admitted to the hospital. Her husband advocated for her to have the support that she had planned on, but was not able to have me attend in person.”

From birthing mom, Emma: “Shawn and I were really excited about having a doula, especially as I was nervous. So when we arrived at the hospital to check-in and found out we couldn’t have our doula it was quite a shock, definitely didn’t make the start of this adventure calm.”

The staff at St. Joseph's hospital provided an ipad for this birthing couple's virtual doula.

Carolynn: The hospital provided an iPad on a mobile stand for us to set up a Google Teams meeting. I had my AirPods in, connected to my computer.  I set up space in the corner of my house for privacy on the screen. My 6-year-old son kept trying to come to see the screen and ask questions.

I was very involved in the birth. The midwives and nurses kept talking to me, even joking around.

Emma: “We weren’t sure what it was going to be like having our doula on an iPad. But we didn’t have a choice, so we gave it a shot! Luckily Carolynn was amazing and we actually felt really supported through the whole thing.”

Carolynn:

My client asked me lots of questions and I was able to make some suggestions to her partner about positions. I told him about making designs with the showerhead, that was a hit! I had him put wet washcloths in the fridge and reminded him when to get them. I was afraid that it would feel like I was a voyeur making commands but it was not that at all. When it was time for medical decisions to be made, my client looked to me for clarification and the hospital staff asked my opinions as well. They were very aware of where I was in the room, making sure that I could see and that nothing was blocking my view. It was a bit awkward when I had to use the bathroom because we never logged off. I just muted my microphone and left my computer. 

My client decided to have an epidural and I was there for the whole process, reminding her how to breathe and sit for good placement. About 45 minutes after her epidural was placed, they decided to try to get some rest and wanted to call me back when things changed or she was ready to push.

Emma ended up calling me 2 hours later. She dilated from a 4 – 10 in just 2 hours! I helped her learn how to push effectively and gave some suggestions for different positions. It was a bit strange to be in the living room (at this time my family had all gone to bed so I had to be in the living room) talking and getting excited for the pushing process. My dog kept thinking I was talking to her, she was getting super excited when I got excited and she came and sat as close to me as she could! My client ended up pushing for over 4 hours.

Emma:  “Carolynn was able to talk us through calming techniques, offered ways to lesson the pain, and was there to support us when the midwives were there to talk about medical decisions. We missed having her in person and there were many things we missed out on by having her online of course, but overall I’d say it was completely worth it!”

The happy couple after giving birth in St. Joseph's Hospital with a virtual doula.
Emma, Shawn, and their baby.

Carolynn: “The baby was born, and dad even got to catch. My client had lots of questions for me right after the birth and involved me in discovering her baby’s cute little body. She asked me about positions for breastfeeding and how to get the baby latched on. The nurse came to help and said how much she missed me being there. She told my client that I would be the one helping if I was in the room. I stayed online with them for an hour and a half after the baby’s birth and then signed off.  I was disappointed to not be there, but the whole thing was much better than I imagined it could be. I think we made the best of the situation. “

Emma: “Having some of a doula is better than none at all. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without her! Even with this crazy experience, I would want to have a doula at our next birth and am recommending it to everyone we know.” 

Thank you so much, Emma and Carolynn for sharing your virtual doula experience with us.

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