Volunteer Doulas in a Pandemic
In March 2020, the world of maternity changed for Ireland.
Like everything else, things grew a little more difficult, and we all had to learn quickly how to adjust. Sensitive to the changing times, the Doula Association of Ireland quickly tried to find ways to continue supporting people despite new restrictions and policies popping up across the island.
From this, the DAI’s Free Virtual Doula Consultations were born.
Launched at the start of the first lockdown, doulas across Ireland began volunteering their time to fill the void left by cancelled pregnancy classes, restricted access to perinatal services, and prevention of in-person postpartum support.
A booking system was set up and members of the Doula Association of Ireland started to provide free consultations for anyone who needed them. These 30-minute video or phone meetings were available on a variety of platforms in order to make them as accessible as possible to as many people as needed it.
From the very beginning doulas reported an almost overwhelming outpouring of frustration, grief and relief. New and expectant parents began to realise that here they had found a source of support that not only allowed them to fully express the broad range of feelings brought on by the unique experience of birthing their children during a pandemic, but also allowed them to explore options and alternatives still available to them.
“I felt (Michelle) understood where I was and she was able to support me without judging me. She has supported and contributed positively to our parenting experience.”
– Rosario & Peter, Co. Sligo
It came as no surprise to our volunteer doulas that they were called upon to fulfil the very essence of their doula work. Emotional support and the ability to supply people with evidence-based and up-to-date information proved invaluable, and the feedback received was heartening to the doulas who also felt frustrated at not being able to do their work in the same capacity.
The virtual system offered a safe and confidential space for people to be completely open, without any need to censor themselves.
“My husband and I will be forever grateful to Shelly, for her wisdom, her support and her friendship. Shelly is the perfect combination of common sense, educated knowledge and emotional intelligence that makes her so excellent at her job.”
– Tara, Co. Limerick
Not surprisingly, this was also a learning experience for the doulas. As Ireland began to realise that this pandemic would not be short lived, certain work was allowed to resume under the right conditions. The Doula Association of Ireland rolled out guidelines and access to trainings which helped their doulas return to in-person work where safe and appropriate.
The volunteer system, intended initially as an effort to simply see new and expectant parents supported through this time also developed into an opportunity for those same individuals to connect with doulas in their area and learn about what services they could still provide.
Although restrictions on doula services remained unchanged, many were relieved to realise that, by summer, they could still provide in-person support during pregnancy and postpartum, as well as labour support at home. They were able to attend their clients during homebirths, and in cases where a person chose them as their nominated birth partner for a hospital birth. This opened up new avenues for expecting parents to explore, a realisation that despite much having been closed down in terms of maternity services, there was still a strong network of support available.
“Doulas are not just doulas! I am constantly amazed by the professional and cultural diversity in the Association and feel like I am continuously benefiting from the wisdom of fellow members.”
– Anita Petry, DAI Member
Many of our members have furthered their knowledge in the world of birth and perinatal health by undertaking various additional trainings and developing other specialities. Among our members you will find lactation consultants, childbirth educators, and birth trauma practitioners. Some of these can be found at our Resources Page. Yet another valuable addition to Ireland’s maternity support network.
In the beginning, as with many presumptions at that time, it was believed this would be a short-lived service. As the weeks passed, the DAI realised this would need to be continued even when restrictions are eased as so much has changed. As one of the founders of this project, I am proud to say that come March 30th this system has been live for a full year, available every day of the week.
This past year, our members have supported dozens of families through this system, as well as continuing, whenever possible, to provide in-person support to many, many more.
In short, doula work is still going strong. The support is still there. And you still have options.
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