What is a virtual doula?
When I tell people that I am a doula, half of the time people smile and nod and the rest of the time they say “What’s that?” The truth is, even the people who think they know what a doula is probably don’t fully grasp the extent of what doulas do unless they have personally worked with one. There are two main types of doulas: birth doulas and postpartum doulas. I’ll delve more into the nitty gritty of each of these jobs in a post soon but here’s the gist:
Birth doulas provide labor support. They meet with you before your birth to help you decide on birth preferences and to teach you comfort measures. Then, they are there for you during your labor to support you and your partner physically and emotionally. They can also help you navigate how to talk to doctors and nurses if you are having a hospital birth.
Postpartum doulas are exactly what they sound like. They support you with your newborn and your postpartum body. They do more than just help take care of your little one, they cook, they clean, they listen, they do whatever than can to help set up your new family for healing and success.
Once people understand what a doula is, I often tell them that I do virtual doula work too. Again, people look at me a little unsure. We still live in a society, especially in the United States, where the idea of asking for help when in comes to labor is totally foreign to most people. It wasn’t that long ago when men weren’t allowed or interested in being in the delivery room. Or when women were given drugs during labor and would come out of the hospital not remembering what happened between arriving and being handed their new baby.
Today, there are a lot of options when it comes to childbirth. Choosing where you want to give birth. Choosing who your care provider should be. Deciding who should be in the room and who shouldn’t. Weighing your options in terms of medication and interventions. With all this information out there it can be hard to know what is best for you and your baby.
I believe people can have a birth that feels low stress and “successful” when they are informed. For many people (but definitely not all), that means creating a birth plan. A birth plan is a map of your preferences for how you want your labor to go. First, the obvious basic stuff and then the “other” stuff for is something goes wrong or you change your mind during labor. The important thing to remember about birth is that things never EVER go as planned so the plan is really just a set of preferences. I really encourage my clients to not get too attached to any certain plan and help them to feel informed so that no matter what happens they know what’s going on. Since all the information for making a birth plan can be overwhelming this is where a virtual doula comes in.
As a virtual doula, I present my clients with concrete but clear information about labor and birth. We meet together over a video call and get down to the nitty gritty about what interventions may or may not happen during labor. A lot of these calls are just straight up information but just as frequently we end up talking about feelings and expectations. We unpack what each partner is hoping for and envisioning for the birth. We talk about how to create a physical space that is soothing and comforting for the laboring person. We talk about and practice comfort measures - hands on things like hip squeezes and acupressure points. We think about what would happen if a cesarean would be needed. We talk about how an epidural would go. We go over it all and I leave them with a basic birth plan mapping their preferences so they know but, more importantly, so that the other people in the room at their birth know too.
Sometimes, that’s all someone wants help with. GREAT!
Sometimes people want someone to call when labor starts or when they are at the hospital and it’s been 10 hours and they don’t know what to do next. This is the second role of a virtual doula. I can be there by phone to answer questions, to reassure you that something is normal, to give you a fresh idea for how to help with the discomfort. Doulas are not doctors or nurses or medical professionals. We are support people. So you should never rely on me, or any other doula, for medical advice. But when you need reassurance, ideas, another nonjudgmental mind to bounce thoughts off of...that’s what a doula is for.
If you live somewhere where doulas are hard to come by are or are having a hard time finding a doula that is the right match for you, a virtual doula might be for you. I’ve even worked with parents who like the idea of having the support of a doula but don’t necessarily want another person in the room during labor. Virtual doulas are also a little cheaper than what you might pay a doula you hire in person, so if your budget is tight but you still want a well informed, supported birth, a virtual doula might be for you.