Pregnancy during a pandemic: birth workers, mothers navigate COVID-19

Pregnancy during a pandemic: birth workers, mothers navigate COVID-19
*Note: This is a stock photo. (Source:

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt practically every sector of society, life literally goes on. There were 22,965 births in Virginia between March 1 and Monday.

And the United Nations estimates 116 million babies will be born globally before the pandemic ends. The uncertain nature of COVID-19 has challenged doulas and other birth workers to innovate in providing support to mothers and infants, inside and outside of hospital settings. 

“The main way my practice has changed is that I am no longer seeing clients in person,” said Cheyenne Varner, a doula based in Richmond. “Prenatal meetings … [now] happen through Zoom. So I’m not able to offer some of the physical education to clients, like demonstrating hip squeezes and counter-pressure techniques, and showing how they can move around during labor to relieve pain.”

Nikiya Ellis, a doula, reproductive justice and food advocate and executive co-director of Birth in Color RVA, also had to adjust her methods in recent months. 

“Most of my clients were already pregnant [before the pandemic], and we’d met in person. When COVID came, we had to go to phone conversations,” Ellis said. “Another one of my clients, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet her until she came to the hospital in labor.”

Most hospitals limited visitors to reduce the spread of the virus, starting in the early weeks of the pandemic in March. Doulas in the Richmond region say they were shocked, however, to find that they had been barred from visiting some of their laboring clients, as well. Some Richmond-area Bon Secours hospitals — including St. Mary’s, St. Francis, and Memorial Regional Medical Center — enacted a visitation policy that barred doulas from assisting their clients giving birth inside their facility.

“It felt like a slap in the face,” Ellis said, “especially with the years of work and advocating we’ve been doing to get hospitals to see us as part of a pregnant person’s care team.”


The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.