As the COVID-19 pandemic rips its ways across the world we’re finding ourselves in a whole new world. And not in that fun, Disney way full of adventure and intrigue. This is a world of isolation, new regulations, a frightening virus that could be anywhere at any time. It could be on you, right now. It could be on me.
Some folks are, of course, in more precarious situations than others. For anyone whose due date is rapidly approaching this extra dose of uncertainty is exactly what the doctor didn’t order. The rules are constantly shifting. Masks are recommended, then required. No more schools, then restaurants, then all businesses. Stay home, officials implore, stay safe.
It’s a terrifying time to have to leave the house for, say, a prenatal appointment. Or even just to take a walk to help contractions along.
Not to mention the increasing shortage of ventilators and lifesaving equipment in New York City hospitals. The overworked doctors and nurses. The risk of the parents or even the newborn contracting coronavirus during their time at the hospital.
Many hospitals in the NYC area are enacting strict policies. Briefly, a few local hospitals decided that women would have to give birth alone, without birth partners or doulas. This decision was swiftly overturned by a statewide executive order, but it lasted long enough to cause a panic. Guidelines now state that people giving birth can have only one person with them in the room, but that person must be tested for early coronavirus symptoms. No visitors. As a result, there are those who are opting to travel out of state to give birth. Some are choosing to stay and hoping that the hospital is, in fact, the safest place for them to be. Either way, it’s a gamble.
As a person who gave birth recently, I can only begin to fathom the anxiety of having to make this decision.
Gili Levitin, certified HypnoBirthing childbirth educator and birth doula, understood early on what this would mean for expecting parents in this era. “As soon as the news [came] about COVID-19 spreading into the NYC area I could feel the increase in [the] stress level among my pregnant clients,” she told me.
Levitin saw a need among the birthing community and knew that she and her colleagues had the power to do something about it. After a brief moment of figuring out the best way to support birthing folks during this new reality, she began to organize the NYC Doula Hotline in collaboration with Golda Fleischman and Melissa Murphy. The Hotline provides 24/7 virtual support for expecting parents, with 26 doulas taking four-hour on-call shifts. Levitin, Fleischman, and Murphy run all the administrative efforts. Everyone involved is volunteering their time, wisdom and compassion.
“I reached out to the doula community in the city, New York, asking for volunteer doulas to join this initiation, and the response was so humbling and heart melting,” said Levitin in a recent interview. “68 doulas showed up [at] the first zoom call, and many others, who missed the call, asked for details later.”
The hotline has been active since March 29. The Facebook group they’re using to sign people up already has 93 members, 60 of whom are expecting moms, and is growing daily. Once they’ve worked out all the administrational details, the three women aim to replicate this support system nationwide.
“Working with a doula virtually was not what I’d anticipated for my pregnancy,” said Aliyah, a recent client of the Hotline. “Connecting virtually is obviously different than in-person, but my doula has still been able to create the time, space, encouragement, and support I’ve needed, even if we can’t be in close physical proximity to one another.” The doulas commit to being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a response time of under 20 minutes. Doulas take on rotating four hour shifts to make sure that someone is available at all times. According to their guidelines they can help to “facilitate communication between the laboring person and their provider or partner,” but according to some client testimonials they do a whole lot more.
“When I went into labor it was during the start of the corona pandemic in NYC and I was not allowed more than one guest to accompany me in the hospital,” shared Kimberly P. “My doula and I decided to work together virtually. The support was amazing. My doula was on FaceTime with me while at home, during the early stages of active labor. She was able to guide me through breathing techniques, as well as guide my husband on ways he can support me through the process. We were also able to bounce questions off of her, such as when to leave for the hospital, and options to take in the hospital; especially when my labor started to go into a different direction then planned for.”
Levitin was quick to mention that there are a great number of wonderful initiatives in the works to support birthing folks during the crisis as professionals from myriad areas are innovating ways to provide support. “[There are] virtual prenatal yoga classes, emotional support circles, virtual services, webinars, and zoom calls that share a variety of free information and tools [for] pregnant people,” she said, clearly moved by the sheer volume of work being done.
“Birth is a spiritual, deep learning journey,” Levitin told me. “In general, spirituality is [a] connection to something bigger than our material needs and wants.. One can practice spirituality by taking the focus from the external into the internal and connecting to his/her inner wisdom and inner power. This is exactly what birth is all about. During labor and birth, you shift your focus from the external into your deep knowingness, into your birthing instincts and into your innate wisdom [and to] the feeling of surrendering to something bigger than yourself.”
“Many birthing people say that during birth they felt closer as ever to a higher power,” she adds. During this era that is rife with anxiety and external fears, Levitin and her colleagues aim to preserve this connection to the spirituality of childbirth.
Until things begin to become clearer and hospitals figure out the best way to keep everyone safe, the NYC Doula Hotline will be at the ready for anyone in need of support and guidance. All you have to do is visit their Facebook page and sign up. “The hotline does not replace in person doulas,” said Levitin, although she made it clear that all the on call doulas had training in providing virtual support on a plethora of platforms. In this time of fear and uncertainty, having someone to rely on at any moment is a true blessing.
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