Overcoming Obstacles As A Covid-19 Era Community-based Doula

Ghost Written By: Gatini Tinsley as told by Ashli Burney

This year Black Breastfeeding Week aims to Revive, Restore and Reclaim, a heavy call for Black moms to fulfill in 2020. It has undoubtedly become one of the most challenging years as black moms face breastfeeding, giving birth and raising children amid a global pandemic due to Covid-19.

As a community-based doula, part of my job relies on building a trusting relationship with the moms I serve so they know I am here for them and their baby before, during and after labor. Typically, I have months to nurture our relationship. Normally, I have been inside the homes of the families I serve multiple times before labor and delivery. Close contact with the mom is imperative and establishing reliability and trust go a long way before reaching a live birth.

Getting moms to trust in the process in a global pandemic is a feat that has changed the course of my work as a doula. I have had to adjust my approach to continue to meet the needs of the moms. Gone are the days of home visits and coaching my clients through their birthing plans at the hospital. In the Covid-19 era, only one support person is permitted in the hospital and moms often elect family for that privilege. I now do virtual births through Zoom, Duo or Facebook Messenger Video Chat. These tools allow me to coach their support person through the phone on how to massage mom so she remains comfortable; and how to get into different positions that we often recommend during labor and delivery.

Moms often elect to have their video off during our chats. This, along with not having in-home visits decreases the personability I usually have. I’ve had to work hard to regain it by giving moms  24/7 access to me via phone or video calls. The unlimited access helps establish dependability on my part and gives moms a sense that I am always there if they need me. Challenges with in-home WIFI have made calls difficult at times. The video chat drops and I lose contact, that is why I’ve given my moms all access. They call at different times with questions that range from nutrition, breastfeeding, all the way to labor and delivery.

A few of the moms I work with have been nervous about hospital deliveries because of the virus. Some have considered home births and water births as a way of avoiding the hospital. I coach them through whatever feels best, each mom is different and has the right to decide how to bring their baby into the world. The most important thing I do is to help develop their birth plan no matter what birthing type they choose. From pregnancy to delivery, this is a plan they can rely on that they helped to create.

Another obstacle I’ve faced as a doula during Covid is lactation counseling. Previously, I would make sure the baby latched after birth so our moms had a great breastfeeding start. Doing this over the phone doesn’t give me the ability to see what position the baby is in. I have to coach the mom into exercising patience so she doesn’t give up. Hospitals often promote formula. Without me being there, I have to keep moms focused, reiterate that breastfeeding was part of their birth plan and keep them calm during the process of latching.

Despite Covid-19, my job has remained the same in one regard, I have continued to uplift moms, be a steady rock they can rely on and aid them in any way I can before birth, during labor and post birth. Though Covid may have changed the way I practice as a doula, it hasn’t changed my commitment to the moms I work with. Adaptability has allowed me to reclaim my service, restore my commitment and revive the doula work process to achieve immeasurable support for the moms I work with.

Cross-post on Lansinoh website.

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